Self-Conscious Songs

Most Southern Gospel songs are addressed either to God or to the singer’s audience. But every now and then, a Southern Gospel song isn’t addressed to either. It’s addressed to other songs, or the singers singing them. Let’s look at three of these self-conscious songs.

“Sing Me A Song About Jesus” (Florida Boys) threw down the gauntlet to songwriters offering songs that had pretensions of being Christian but were so vague that the listener had to read between the lines to find Jesus.

“Songs that Answer Questions” (Gaither Vocal Band) called on songwriters to abandon songs about creeds and doctrines unless they pertained to a current issue prompting questions.

“I Want My Stage to Be an Altar” (The Akins) is the group’s recent breakout hit—unsurprising given that the lyric was more accessible than some of their previous songs. It talked about the heart and motives of the vocalist delivering the song.

Undoubtedly, self-conscious songs have a role. Songwriters comfortable with the challenge of distilling a message into twelve or sixteen lines of poetry sometimes find it easiest to send a message to vocalists or fellow songwriters through the lines of a song. At the same time, it seems rather odd to stage a song delivering a message to, let’s say, professional Southern Gospel songwriters in a normal concert setting.

What role should self-conscious songs play in our genre?

And are there other great examples?

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31 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. I don’t know what role they play, but the first one that came to mind was off of Brian Free & Assurance’s latest album, “It’s My Life”

    • Great example (and great song, by the way!)

  2. “An Old Convention Song,” of course!

    I think they’re OK in their place, as long as they don’t say something anti-Biblical. Maybe one song every two or three albums…no need to be saturated with ’em.

    • Yes. 🙂

      I likewise don’t mind hearing them on albums. What do you think of their use at (a) ticketed theater concerts and (b) church ministry settings?

      • Eh, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

        A lot of them are novelty type songs. One of those in a concert is fine by me, to lighten the mood.

        I suppose some could be serious songs. (I don’t know the Akins song, but it sounds serious.) In those cases, I would liken it to a preacher saying “I’m preaching this at me just as much as I’m preaching it to you.” The ones up on stage may use a song like to encourage their own hearts as they sing. And folks in the audience would surely be able to apply it to their own Christian walks.

      • Good points.

      • I know the Akins’ “I Want My Stage To Be An Altar.” The idea of the song is that we that minister (be it through song, through the preaching of the gospel, through the teaching, serving, or simply praying) should do so with humility. From the first listen, it might seem like the song is simply telling listeners that The Akins “want their stage to me an altar,” but in actuality, I believe it attempts to lead us, as Christians, down the same path. We should all promote the Gospel and do our part in building the Kingdom, regardless of the size or scope of our ministry.

        I can’t sing tenor with the Kingdom Heirs, but if I can sing a solo at church, then I am ministering. And if I minister, I should do so with the focus of “Kingdom-building,” not for selfish purposes.

  3. Oak Ridge Boys- Jesus Christ, What A Man.
    “I’ve heard all the songs you’re sing today.
    There’s on thing I don’t understand,
    why you don’t write more songs about Jesus, my hero.
    Jesus Christ, there was a man.”


  4. The Hinsons/Gold City.. “Ain’t That What It’s All About.

  5. Compositions like “Songs That Answer Questions” also affirm to an audience what a group’s convictions are.

  6. I take it the Florida Boys tune is the same one by the same name that the Stamps did.

    • “Sing Me a Song About Jesus” is an old Dad Speer convention song that many groups have done. I would imagine the Speers were the first to sing it.

      • No, the Florida Boys did a newer song with the same title. it was a Glen Allred feature.

      • Thanks, Grigsby! I didn’t have my LP collection handy.

      • Oh, really! I had no idea there was another song by the same title.

      • Well, what songs are the sole possessors of their title? In a culture where one writer even had the nerve to mess with “Amazing Grace,” are any song titles safe? 🙂

      • And I think I have that Florida Boys CD…I just either haven’t listened to or don’t remember that song.

  7. Jason/Gerald Crabb’s “Sometimes I Cry”

    • Thanks! I’ve heard that song start a number of times, but I think I’ve hit skip / gone on to the next YouTube video each time before the song ended. (I probably listened to it all the way through the first time; I try to make myself listen to any Southern Gospel song through to the end.) So it didn’t come to mind.

  8. “I Know What I’m Singing About” by the Perrys fits this idea well. The tune is so biographical for Libbi Stuffle that it seems autobiographical. “I Know..About” offers a perspective on the singer/songwriter’s self-evaluation of human abilities while sharing at least one factor of knowledge that surpasses the others – “I Know What I’m Singing About.”

  9. Perfect Heart’s 1998 CD Keepin’ the Faith had a song called “Who’s Gonna Sing For Jesus When They’re Gone”. It’s not so much a Gospel song as it is a list of SG’s Who’s Who.

  10. Hmmm, thought I was just posting a link. Sorry, if you don’t allow videos and I broke a rule…

    • No worries, I have all video links set to go through approval first, lest even a regular would post something that would offend readers. That’s all!

  11. Songs that come to my mind include the Collingsworth Family’s I Want a Principle Within, Lynda Randle’s On My Way, On My Own, Nrian Free and Assurance’s I Still Cling to the Old Rugged Cross, Mark Lowry’s Make It Real and even the Gaithers’ Now More Than Ever, among others.

    I think that these kinds of songs lend themselves more to personal emotional moment than anything else. They do have their place. It feel like it gives the audience member/listener an opportunity for personal connection and emotion, putting themselves into the song and really making it a personal time of worship.

    • “I Want a Principle Within” is a song for every believer, challenging all to live a life of holiness—not really a musician-specific song. But it’s a great song!