Does Southern Gospel copy CCM?

Fairly often, reviewers of progressive Southern Gospel CDs draw comparisons to Contemporary Christian Music groups 15-20 years ago. Sometimes the comparisons are positive (“brings to mind 4HIM or Phillips, Craig, and Dean”) and sometimes they’re critical (“this keyboard/synth sound was cheesy in ’90s CCM, and it’sย still cheesy today!”) Okay, I didn’t actually say that last one, but I did thinkย it not too long ago!

But when these comparisons are made, dissenters frequently pop up in the comments, asserting that said songs sound nothing like an earlier iteration of CCM.

While one blog post is unlikely to permanently settle the debate, I would be intrigued to hear from the frequent dissenters (as well as, naturally, those who would agree.) Do some progressive Southern Gospel soundtrack arrangements copy trends popular in CCM 15 or 20 years before? Why or why not?

Should they? Why or why not?

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61 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. In my formative years, I wasn’t allowed to listen to CCM. In my adult years, I haven’t had the desire. So I plead ignorance! In this case, ignorance is bliss! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You weren’t allowed to listen to it…really?

      • Yes…I don’t think that’s all that uncommon among particularly conservative Christian denominations.

      • same here, wasn’t allowed…it was preached against in the circles i was raised in

      • Very interesting…I guess I can see that. Just never thought of that music being off limits. Thanks for the reply.

  2. From different songs that I have been hearing these days, I would say progressive Southern Gospel has a more country flavor to it. Of course what is classified as “Southern Gospel” these days is a lot broader than it was even 30 years ago. Just my opinion. Maybe I am way off base. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • This raises an interesting question of its own, a side discussion but one that (as moderator) I’ll rule as sufficiently germane to the topic: Does Southern Gospel take more cues from CCM or from (secular) country?

    • I was actually thinking the same thing. Many of the more recent southern gospel recordings I have heard are hard to distinguish from country recordings. The new Martins recording could very easily be a progressive country recording with the exception of its message. I guess the biggest reason I would answer “no” to the question posed at the end of your post is that the progressive southern gospel reminds me of music I hear today in CCM and country, not CCM from 15 or 20 years ago.

  3. In general, country is a much closer cousin to southern gospel than CCM. But it is not uncommon for 80s or 90s CCM feel to crop up among artists who lean toward an “inspirational” sound. And sometimes they will cover CCM songs directly from those eras.

    A lot of it will probably relate to what the artists themselves grew up on or are familiar with.

    • I would agree that country is, in general, a much closer cousin. But I’m really not sure which has a bigger influence today.

  4. Gaither has also had a hand in this as well. Many of the CCM artists from the 80’s and 90’s are now constant on the videos. He has mixed the two so much in the last 10 years that it is hard to tell the difference. I will say that I personally enjoy much of the contemporary music but it is getting a little muddy trying to find a difference between the two.

    • Good point – there have been quite a few CCM artist appearances on his videos. Though he’s occasionally had an appearance by a group who’s really new and hot at the time (the Katinas come to mind), these appearances are more often from artists who were popular back when the younger generation of performers was growing up.

  5. Something else i found very interesting was an advertisement I saw in Mississippi. It was for a “southern gospel” concert featuring Ce Ce Winan, Russ Taff, and Another artist that I can’t remember at the time. All of them have appeared on a Gaither video, but NONE of them would be considered southern gospel.

    • Wow!

    • I saw the same thing advertised here in SC. “Southern Gospel?!”

  6. You know, now that you mention it, most GVB members have been contemporary outside of their GVB work: Steve Green, Jim Murray, Terry Franklin, Jomathan Pierce, David Phelps…Back on topic, it’s mostly SG praise songs that resemble contemporary music, imo.

    • Well Murray started SG as did McSpadden and English.

      • Oops, I meant *Jonathan* not *Jomathan* Pierce. Anyway, thanks for the info.

  7. If we are talking about influences, maybe we should start naming off CCM songs covered by Southern Gospel artist. Not sure which is better – that or groups attempting to cover praise & worship songs. You know, those “7-11” songs. Take 7 words and repeat them 11 times. LOL!

  8. I like a couple of others in the first few post was not allowed to listen to CCM “it was to close to rock”. I was raised very conservative and have no issues with that. I also think that southern Gospel gets its influence from country! And I believe the proof is when most of were growing up country was more accepted than CCM! Think about it! Time and exposure can mold us. I agree that some Southern Gospel songs are riding the fence with some CCM, but some also ride the fence with some country as well. The term “Southern Gospel” keeps getting broader covering other titles such as progressive gospel, and country gospel. And some of it is product distribution! The more varieties of genre you can cover the greater the distribution! Just saying!!!

    • I’m slightly puzzled. Could someone who grow up in such an environment explain the sort of thinking that would lead to a position that a song about Jesus with rock guitars and synthesizers is less acceptable than a song about cheating or a broken marriage with a really nice soundtrack?

      I’m not trying to start a firefight. I’m genuinely puzzled and genuinely don’t understand that thought process.

      • Daniel, that is a common thing I’ve seen. There are plenty of folks who come down on CCM, but not on secular country music. In the case of those folks, it’s probably more of an issue of “young people music” being inherently sinful.

        That said, it should puzzle you, and anyone else. That’s a pretty hypocritical stance.

        I don’t listen to CCM. First of all, I don’t think, in general, the lyrics present the gospel in the light that they should. Even with progressive SG songs I find the doctrine lacking. Second of all, I don’t like it, musically. While I used to listen to country music, I never cared for pop, rock, or rap. The music didn’t, and doesn’t, appeal to me.

        Will I come down on someone for listening to CCM? Nah. Will I allow my kids to? Well…

      • Brian – thank you so much for the well-balanced and thought-out reply.

        Yes, many CCM/progressive SG songs are weak doctrinally. Thankfully, there are a few exceptions; I even heard about a Calvinist rapper rapping the Heidelberg(?) Confession a few months back! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ๐Ÿ˜†

      • To me that demonstrates that more likely than not those people who preach CCM as evil, but listen to country (at least certain types) don’t do so much for moral stances, but preferences. Now, some might think that CCM’s instruments are of the devil, but that doesn’t fly with me. Country uses some of the same instruments and who is to say drums, guitars etc. used in SG or country are fine, but not in CCM or pop? Why is CCM considered worldly because it sounds like secular pop, but country which is secular is okay?

        Now, I want to qualify and say that not all country is bad. Not all pop is bad etc. Some country although secular in that they might not mention God or the gospel, talk from that worldview. Think about Gold City’s What Children Believe. There are songs in country more gospel than some SG. Other country, might not have any strong messages, but talk about life in a way that isn’t contradictory to the gospel. Other might talk about things not talked about in SG, but doesn’t glorify them, they simply talk about life’s problems that people might struggle with even if they brought them on themselves. They discuss issues that cause people pain while not stating they are right. Yes, others glorify sin, but we should be careful in not painting the whole genre with the same brush.

      • I didn’t and don’t mean to imply that every Country song was about cheating; I was intentionally giving a common but dramatic example. Yes, some songs that reflect a Biblical worldview have indeed come out of the genre.

      • Don’t get me wrong i’m not picking at anyone or anything! And didn’t say that I agreed with that way of thinking! I was simply trying to express my feelings on where southern gospel comes from. As the others said that was when we were growing up, i’m 47 and don’t care for some CCM and most country. There is a slogan “Keeping the Message in the Music” if it’s in there, it’s good! By the way I love Gold City they one of my favorites.

      • If it has the Message, I’m all in favor of its success, whether or not I personally like it musically.

      • I too have often been puzzled by parents who are opposed to their children listening to music that clearly has Christian lyrics based strictly on how the music sounds.

        I can more easily understand why the appearance of specific artists may be issue in some decisions, but it really makes no sense to me that a Christian parent would say their child can’t listen “ANY CCM at all.”

        If I had children, I would be happy they want to listen to Christian music over the truly evil stuff the world has to offer, even if it’s in a style I’d personally turn off.

      • With regards to the question of why people would condemn CCM: I sometimes hear the argument that the backbeat (placing emphasis on the second and fourth beat of a measure) is “bad for you.”

        I’ve heard it claimed that plants grow better on classical music than on rock music–although to me, that’s like saying fires burn better on diesel fuel than water, so we should drink diesel fuel instead. Actually, MythBusters found that plants grew best on death metal.

        There are people who say rock beats mess with the mind and incite anger and other unhealthy feelings. I can’t say I’ve experienced this, although if I did, I would probably find that reason enough to stay away from that music.

        And, of course, there’s the issue of lyrics; but that’s been covered already.

      • Southern Gospel does quite a bit of backbeat, songs that emphasize the second and fourth beats – and, I think, even predated CCM with it!

      • We didn’t/don’t listen to (most) CCM or country. If that makes anyone feel better! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Agree!! Reminds me of an interview done with Danny Riley in relation to Gold City’s Moment of Truth album, which had some fairly progressive songs on it. Danny made the comment something about needing to stay relevant in today’s world. I really think that is why some of today’s groups do what they do as far as pushing the envelope musically.

      • This was in relation to the last thought that Kevin had. Just didn’t want to confuse anybody. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Does SG copy CCM? Yes. Mostly solo SG artists do CCM. The reason for this is that SG requires a lot of vocal harmonising than CCM. Unless a Solo artist has great back up vocalists to fill in the gaps, the SG song doesn’t as good as it would if sung by three or more people. Thats why most SG soloists do a lot of CCM.

    Sometimes contemporary songs are so powerful lyrically and and so good musically such that SG artists cant resist the urge to sing them. It is however, unfortunate that CCM artists dont borrow SG songs, but when they do, they make it sound as contemporary as possible. Maybe SG artists should also strive to keep the SG sound as SG as possible, even with CCM songs.

    • I like your conclusion. I think that there is a place for different styles of Christian music, no matter how much I may personally like and dislike them. And I also agree that sometimes there are songs that are simply so good that they work across genres.

      But I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion. It is for the better of our genre, other genres, and music in general, if different genres retain those factors that make them unique.

  10. I think I can speak to one reason why parents who raised some of the folks posting on this thread didn’t want their kids listening to CCM. Whether people agree or not, I think a lot of it was connected with the appearance of some of the artists. People from that generation still thought Gospel singers should appear on stage in a nice suit and tie, and the ladies should wear clothes appropriate for church or perhaps something that the “mother of the bride” would wear (can you say “Connie Hopper”!). My mother passed away last year at the age of 87 and was actually a Gospel music pioneer in our area, singing in a trio with her sister from the early 1950s. She loved Guy Penrod’s singing, but she went to her grave saying, “that boy needs a haircut”. And if she ever got a glimpse of the Dove Awards while she was going through T.V. channels and saw a Christian Rock group who might as well have been Motley Crue from the way they looked, she was just appalled…and VERY vocal. That’s not me talking, y’all…but it’s just how it was – and to some degree, IS.

    • Great point. And a few too many female CCM singers are dressed in such a way that men really should divert their eyes.

    • Thank you Dianne, I guess I was to brief on detail!

      • Yes. Come to think of it, while the men in CCM often dress far worse (to this day!) than the ones in Country, the women often dress in equally inappropriately revealing ways in both genres.

        (And no, I don’t mean to say that Southern Gospel is absolutely perfect in this department.)

      • Quite a few years ago, I wanted a CD (Crossway’s first big splash), and my mom took me to get it. We walked into the music department of a Christian bookstore. I glanced around the room and took in the posters and CD covers, turned to my mom, and started to say, “Where’s the Christian music?” when I remembered where I was and that it was all supposed to be Christian.

      • Wow! That anecdote is priceless, the sort of thing that can’t be made up!

  11. It’s a long way from a group like Stryper to a group like 4Him and it’s a long way to Hosanna! praise music. All of these are called “CCM” at one point or another.

    In the strictest definition, today’s Southern Gospel IS one of many forms of CCM. If it’s modern and it’s reasonably popular, then it is “contemporary.”

    Now, setting all that aside, and answering the question as it was intended:
    It’s clear that Southern Gospel, like most styles of music, is sometimes influenced by styles that would be classified under CCM. I do hear Country influences more often than I hear CCM.

    Should they? I don’t think it’s beneficial to copy anything in a verbatim fashion. The “We Will Rock You” intro that EHSS did on their Cathedrals tribute CD was a little too far over the top for my taste. It copied the exact feel of a secular song that doesn’t have a good connotation lyrically.

    A “similar, but not exactly the same” approach can be very good, though.

    “Greatly Blessed” by the GVB used an intro that was almost the same as a secular Larry Gatlin song. The rhythm and the chord progression were slightly different. I really enjoyed that. The song it brings to mind isn’t offensive to me, even though it’s secular, and I that fact that it wasn’t a PRECISE copy made it more interesting.

    Bottom line: I love to pick out influences when listening to music, but note for note reproductions don’t do a great deal of me. What’s more important is whether or not the arrangement “works” in a Southern Gospel framework.

    Do the influences take over to the point that it sounds out of place, or is it a clever (less blatant) nod to another style?

    • Your concluding point is a great point, but I can’t let this pass by:

      >>In the strictest definition, todayโ€™s Southern Gospel IS one of many forms of CCM. If itโ€™s modern and itโ€™s reasonably popular, then it is โ€œcontemporary.โ€

      Yeah, in the same sense that Skillet is Southern Gospel, since they hail from Tennessee. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Not really. Southern Gospel as a style is much more narrowly defined than CCM. Skillet definitely falls outside of SG despite their TN base (unless they’ve changed a great deal since I last heard them).

        You are a wordsmith, and you’re well aware of what “contemporary” actually means. Of course, I realize that Southern Gospel is viewed as one of the exceptions to “CCM” in actual usage.

      • Hey, let’s be fair here! If we’re going to use the dictionary definition of “contemporary,” let’s use the dictionary definitions of “Southern” (fits TN) and “Gospel” (which I assume/hope fits their lyrics)! ๐Ÿ˜€

        And if you can’t tell, I’m pulling your leg as actively as you were pulling mine! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • If you two are going to persist in this leg pulling, I would suggest a career path in orthopedics, physical trainer, fitter for artificial leg or related fields.

      • The funny thing is, DBM understood his initial comment to be witty, and somehow didn’t quite catch the humor (I think) when I did the same thing back! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I actually wasn’t pulling your leg initially.

        It’s more of a semantic division than it is a division based on style. SG circled the wagons in the 1970s. I have no doubt there would be a place in CCM now for groups like Gold City, Triumphant, the Hoppers, and Greater Vision if it had not been for that great parting of ways over 30 years ago. Current/popular SG would be one of the subsets of CCM right beside all the other vastly diverse styles under the CCM umbrella.

      • Oh, OK. ๐Ÿ™‚ And my point was that if we’re going with dictionary definitions of CCM, some SG groups would fit, while if we’re going with dictionary definitions of SG, some CCM groups would fit. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Here’s a website advertising a singer as “Contemporary Southern Gospel.”

  12. When it comes to music, there’s no accounting for taste. I would rather listen to almost any kind of music – Stamps-Baxter, Welsh choirs, Charles Ives, British regimental bands, Elvis & fifties doo-wop, Stephen Foster and his contemporaries, 60s & 70s gospel quartet music, Anglican hymns, and nineteenth century gospel songs – than most kinds of CCM, worship muzak, or contemporary southern gospel. God bless those who enjoy all of these -they just don’t do it for me, but so what? Nobody’s right or wrong if our heart is in the right place before the Lord as we listen, and if we don’t leave Him out.
    It all comes to an emotional connection to the music, and more than that, whether it brings you closer to the Lord, regardless of whether it’s “Christian” or not.
    Imagination plays a huge role here and there’s a time for casting it down, and a time to harness it and soar on the music closer to Him.

  13. I haven’t read many of the comments, but the structure of the industry pushes to pride itself in “traditional industry”. So, we finally catch up 10+ years later. I think we sub-consciously copy it. And will continue to do so. We should be okay with that if you love it the way it is. It makes our small market unique. I wrote about exactly this, but Daniel beat me to it. ๐Ÿ™‚ Early bird catches the worm.

  14. Don’t know what SGM artists listen to today but when I discovered SGM in the 70s many were listening to country music. In fact, a bunch of country artists performed at the ’72 NQC and gospel groups often backed country singers on record. It made the Oaks wonder why SGM artists were so mad when they went country. Also interesting was that some of the country songs from that period that sounded the most in style like SGM had raunchy lyrics such as “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” by the Kendalls, “Bed of Rose’s” by the Statlers about a prostitute and “She Used to Sing on Sunday” by the Gatlins, another song about a hooker. And then there were all the country songs where the lyrics were changed to make them SGM songs like “Please Release Me” “One in a Million” and “Let Me Be There.”

  15. There would be no CCM without (Southern) Gospel Music. The Imperials single handedly opened that door and it has progressed(?!?) from there. As for Southern Gospel and Country being close cousins??? Not from where I stand. What I consider great (Southern) Gospel Music has no relation to country music in any shape, form or fashion. In 1964 the Goodmans and Rambos came on the scene, and as Rusty Goodman once said, the tail wagged the dog from then on. A brief mention here about attire….If major league baseball, the NBA, and the NFL all have a dress code, then why on Earth do we in Southern Gospel not show the same kind of respect to the audience?

    • …perhaps, getting back to the post topic, it’s because we are taking cues from…CCM!

  16. A couple of observations:

    1. Why would SG be a subset of CCM? I would think that they would be peers and part of a greater set. Just sayin.

    2. I think one of the reasons for the rejection of CCM and not country was because CCM was claiming to proclaim the same message that SG was but the appearance and presentation was similar or the same as the “worldly” music – rock and roll. While country could be condemned on its face so it was not like “us.” Devil in sheep’s clothing argument.

    3. While I think Ben is right in many respects, I recall the Statesmen in the very early years singing very “country” songs and even wearing “country” attire. But to follow that up I don’t think the SG music of the 1950s would be considered country.

    JMHO Just My Humble Opinion

  17. After listening to some of Brian Free & Assurance’s music, I’d say yes.

  18. Gospel music (forget Southern for a moment) began as a religious art form that was more related to Jazz and big band than any thing else. I remember coming to Nashville to record in the early ’70’s. The players hired for the sessions were like kids with a new toy. I remember Reggie YOung telling me back then, “We never get to play these kind of chords and progressions in the secular music field”, which was primarily country at the time. Most current SG fans don’t have a clue where our music came from, but believe me, Hank Williams or Earnest Tubb had nothing to offer in the way of musical inspiration in those years. It was more like the Mills Brothers and those kind of groups than country solo acts. Oh by the way, for most who are all about the music, it still is.

    • Now that is incredibly fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  19. I personally think the name “Souther Gospel” turns the next generation off. It all preaches the Word of God. Granted “CCM” makes you think a little more with “story songs” and “SG” is more about ‘heaven songs’. It’s still all Gospel. I think “SG” does draw from “CCM”, not a bad thing because that’s what todays generation is listening to.

    • That’s why I usually leave out the words southern and quartet when I’m taling about my music. Generally, I’ll say something like country gospel, especially when talking about the Hinsons or the original Gold City.