Great Albums: Albums with strong songs or albums without weak songs?

Every Southern Gospel – or, at least, every Southern Gospel good enough to get reviewed here – contains good songs. The greatest albums are distinguished from the good ones by an above-average number of good songs and a below-average number of weak songs.

Of those latter two categories – presence of great songs and absence of weak songs – which is a more significant indicator of an album’s greatness?

Put another way: Suppose I am reviewing two CDs. One has three five-star songs, four three-star songs, and three two-star songs. The other has only one five-star song, but it has four four-star songs and five three-star songs, and no one- or two-star songs. Which album deserves a higher rating?


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51 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. With advent of the compact disc came the skip button. Then, with the advent of digital music purchasing came the ability to not just skip, but to not purchase individual songs if you don’t want them.

    So now, more than ever, an album will have more impact if it has strong individual songs.

    I know this is the case personally for me. It is a very, very rare scenario that I pop in a commercial CD and listen through it. I put the music on my iPod, and I take out the weaker songs. No big deal. When I think about and talk about great albums, I’ll say things like “Wow, it has incredible songs like ‘There Rose a Lamb’ and ‘If God Be For Us’…” I don’t know if I’ve ever thought “But I’m not a big fan of ‘Beneath This Armour,’ wish they hadn’t included that.” I’m drawn to the positives.

    • That’s interesting. Even in this era, I generally listen to complete albums, all the way through. I suspect that the presence of weak songs plays a significantly higher role in my ratings than in other SG writers’ rankings.

      • I’ll take it a step further in terms of listening habits. Even when taking out weak songs, I almost never listen to the remaining songs in sequence. 95% of the time, my iPod is set to “shuffle” all songs on it. Pretty much the only time I’m listening to “an album” is when I am listening for the first time.

      • Wow!

      • So, combining your two comments: If a song strikes you as weak on first listen, you might never hear it again?

      • Absolutely! Better make a good first impression! πŸ™‚

      • Quite interesting. There are certainly times when a song I later came to deeply appreciate didn’t strike me as strong on first listen. “I’ve Just Started Living” would be one of them.

      • I will say that, if I am review an album, I do listen to it more than once, especially if it’s a more in-depth review.

      • I figured you must. Your reviews contain too much insight to be based on one listen!

      • I have probably only 8-10% of my music collection on my iPod, and that’s pretty much the only way I listen to music these days, since I can plug it into my car stereo now.

        So yeah, I’m pretty selective. I take the songs I like and listen to them a lot. If an album can put 7-8 songs in my iPod rotation, that’s a really good album. The other 2-3 songs are made irrelevant to my ears. Not even for my #1 album of all time is every song on my iPod. (“Dig a Little Deeper” puts me to sleep. :))

      • I’m exactly the same way Brian! For me, an album is good if it has 4-5 really strong songs on it (out of 11 lets say), and GREAT if it has 7-8.

  2. Popular songs are popular for a reason. Sometimes it’s the music, other times the lyrics. There are occasions when it is even just the timing of the song like when it is released.

    The issue today is exposure to the ‘new’ music. If you don’t like the 45 second sample of a song you test on iTunes you are less likely to buy it. If you are unable to attend concerts or buy DVDs of the artist you may never hear it. The bottom line is you are right, by not giving an entire album a chance you are robbing yourself of getting to hear some amazing music.

  3. For me, personally, it is the absence of weak songs. (And perhaps, oddly enough for the same reason that was mentioned by Brian.) How can you consider an album, as a whole that significant if everyone just likes one or two incredibly strong songs from the album and just go to the digital store and buy those songs. Seems to me like that makes the rest of the album a bust.

    For my part, regarding the success of an album as a whole, I’ll take one with no weak songs any time. If I can buy the entire album and enjoy every song…there’s a lot to be said for the consistency and quality that went into making the recording in the first place. I love a great song just as much as the next guy (or gal)…but when it comes to the evaluation of an album, the point is to look at the album as a whole. But, hey…to each his own!!

    • “If I can buy the entire album and enjoy every song…there’s a lot to be said for the consistency and quality that went into making the recording in the first place.” – Yes, that’s how I see it. Well put.

    • I rate song to song as far as favorites and album to album for favorites. I suppose a stronger song on an album might make me favor the album slightly more, but overall when assessing an album, I go by the entire album. How can you rate an album as great when it only has two great songs? That to me is an album with two great songs, not a great album.

      Sometimes there will be an album that I like mostly consistently that I consider a great album there could be an other album with a song or two greater than the greatest song on said album. Nonetheless, that doesn’t make a great album. For instance, on the secular side, I feel “American Dreams” by the Oak Ridge Boys is one of their (if not totally) best album in totality. There is only one song I don’t like (although understand why it is there). There is a second that is okay. Otherwise, every other song is good or great.

      On the recent SG side, the Perrys’ Almost Morning is also a near perfect album. There is only one song I don’t care for (stylistically even though the message is good enough). Otherwise every song is good or great. The Perrys have some select individual songs that beat some or maybe even all of the songs on there (some are hard to compare), but I can’t think of another of theirs that has such a strong selection of songs.

      I think typically, the artists that are more over the place stylistically (GVB for instance) have a less chance of having such an album because they are all over the map in style and at least with me, hit styles that I am not so fond of. Nonetheless, they have such great other songs that I still think favorably of albums because the others are so great. Nonetheless, I still don’t consider the entire album great, just the songs I like.

      I guess I have always had the thought that if I like one song by an artist, I might like others. So, I would buy other stuff fearing I would miss out. Now, I don’t quite as much as I did (I might not hang in quite as long), but I still have the hope that there are others. I too have often preferred songs not always released as singles to the singles at times.

  4. JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY, HOW MANY (PROJECTS-ALBUMS, TAPES, CD’S) CAN YOU NAME THAT YOU ACTUALLY LIKE ALL 10 SONGS, OR HOWEVER MANY THERE ARE ON THAT PROJECT. NOT KINDA, OR IT’S OK, BUT LIKE EVERYONE. WITH OVER 2500 PROJECTS I HAVE, I CAN COUNT THEM ALL ONE HAND.

    • Probably 25-50, depending on how much like you’re talking about. πŸ™‚

      • It would actually be a neat exercise for me to find just how many albums are on my iPod in their entirety. I’m thinking it’s not very many. Can’t do it ’til after work, though.

      • Finally got around to looking at this. I currently have 1871 songs on my iPod…these are the songs I listen to. If they’re not on my iPod, there’s not a good chance of me ever hearing it. This is about 11.5% of my total music collection.

        There are only four albums that are on my iPod in their entirety (besides new albums that are on there for first-time listening purposes). Three are by Gold City (Standing in the Gap, Within the Rock, Pressed Down…), and MTQ’s Lifetime is the other one. There are quite a number of albums with only one song missing.

  5. I think the greatness of an album comes down to the overall experience. By definition, there are only two strong songs on the Weatherfords In thr Garden album, but because of the overall experience it is the greatest gospel album of all time. Also albums were meant to be listened to in order. I can name almost all of the cathedral songs in order because that was the only way to listen to them. Shuffling ruins the overall experience. For example, if I am shuffling Symphony of Praise and room at the cross comes on after revive us again, it would be ineffective, but because they were brilliant enough to put This ole House next, it gave bothe songs the kick they needed. A groups job when putting together an album is to make the overall experience the best that it can be. And everyone said…

    • The concept of the album as a work of art itself, to be judged as such, is becoming a thing of the past. And there is a beauty that is lost because of that. Increasingly in the digital age, the “album” is nothing more than a set of songs that happen to have the same release date and are packaged together.

      That’s one thing I loved about your Lifetime project…it was a true project, with a theme and a purpose. And when I reviewed it, it received high marks for that particular reason.

      But I do admit that when I listen to music as a motorist and not a reviewer, I am usually in “shuffle” mode. I gain a sense of spontaneity and variety, but I lose the sense of context.

      • Well, I still have just a cassette player in my car and a record player in my music room so thankfully shuffling is not an option. :O. Lol

      • Hah! Nice…but you must not listen to much music made in the last 10-15 years, including nothing by MTQ or MTT. πŸ™‚ You probably get enough of that anyway.

    • I completely agree that the overall experience is what matters, at least to me. That’s what prompted this topic.

      • Certainly, great songs can raise an album’s marks (I believe I said as much), but I still don’t think that 3 great songs make up for 7 poor ones. Now, sure I would still pick up the CD, but only listen to those songs repeatedly after giving them a chance.

        Yes, an album’s pacing can help. I used to be able to listen to several great ballad s in a row or upbeat songs. I am sure I still can. However, it is more effective at times to mix it up.

        As far as “Symphony of Praise”, it doesn’t hurt that “Revive Us Again” is in Db and so is “This Old House” to begin with. πŸ™‚ Those sort of fit together the same was that “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” and “There Rose A Lamb” do for Gold City (both in Av) or Chronicles (You Are Exalted) and No Other Name did for the New Gaither Vocal Band.

        Sure you can shuffle, you lift up the tone arm and move it to another groove (or fast forward). πŸ˜‰

  6. Great conversation & subject. Don’t have time to join in the whole thing, but to follow up on your last remark…I don’t get too much packed into my iPod & I do have varying styles of music, but I did a quick run thru, and only found 14-16 full SG albums, Greater Vision notwithstanding. 5 Cats albums, 2 Singing Americans, 2 Talleys, 1 Gold City, 1 GVB, 1 Hinsons, 1 Kingsmen. and 2-3 others from other groups. That’s not a big number in comparison to the amount of music I have either. Although, there are some full albums that I might add if I had time to think about it.

  7. Funny:-) I actually don’t listen to a lot of the last 15 years. All sounds alike to me. If I enjoy a group in concert then I will buy a cd but mostly just spin the records.

  8. I am pretty in line with Brian. There are very few albums that I actually listen through in their entirety. I carry my entire music library on my phone, either though purchases or Spotify, and leave my phone on shuffle. About as close as I get to listening to a complete album would be through playlists I’ve created. I understand listening through the album as is to keep the artistic integrity, but I prefer creating playlists to control what songs I hear and precisely when I hear them. That suits my taste much better.

  9. I believe that it’s more important to have the presence of strong songs than having the absence of weak songs. The absence of weak songs will produce reactions like: “Well, this is a good album”. The presence of strong songs will make you feel like: “Someone wrote down the plate of the truck?” Something like that…

  10. As George used to say I have more miles behind me that I have ahead of me………been goin’ to Sangins and have just loved the music for over 50 years. Like most mature folks I tend to love the old stuff more, possibly for nostalgic reasons, but probably because it’s tough to beat a good quartet with a dynamic piana player! Having said that, here is a personnal list of four albums which I have always felt that you just got way more quality songs than the price of the album indicated. The Statesmen Quartet with Hovie Lister-All Day Sing and Dinner on the Ground; In The Garden-The Weatherford Quartet; Wanted Live-The Happy Goodmans and a must for every collection The Oak Ridge Boys with
    Sounds of Nashville. Love your thinkin’ Pat!

  11. All good thoughts, but we seem to have strayed somewhat from the original premise of this post. To talk about your play preferences using digital media (and the ability to pick and choose what songs to include on your various playlists) doesn’t necessarily address the question at hand. In fact…it seems to describe, perhaps, how to make better use of albums that AREN’T necessarily the greatest by eliminating the “less desirable” songs to make more room for the more desirable.

    However, if you have an album that lacks “weak” songs…you have an album that doesn’t need to be picked apart on a playlist to include some and exclude others. Hence my personal opinion (as mentioned above)…when evaluating the overall “greatness” of an album, the lack of any weak songs seems to me to be a better trait than containing just a few exceptional ones. Then there’s no need to pick it apart and remove songs for your playlist. Just put it all on there and “let ‘er roll”!

  12. Good thread subject! In my opinion, when I purchase an album I attempt to listen through once in it’s entirety before forming an opinion. My brain tends to focus more on the singles or current single (depending on time of purchase). Often I find that as I go back and listen again after a few weeks or months have went by that a song grabs my attention in a way it did not do before. I think there are albums built around a couple of songs and the rest are fillers that artists put in order to have a complete album. On the other hand other artists may wait more than 12-15 months to release an album because they are finding the right songs and GOOD songs to make an album complete, which I think makes for a better project. Although artists typically cannot release every song that could be a single, artists and record companies are tending to release at least 3 songs from an album now days.

    • I’ll also often intentionally revisit albums a while later, too – say, six months – to see if there was anything that didn’t catch me the first time around that does now.

      I appreciate it when an artist takes the time to fill an album with really solid songs.

  13. We’ve heard from the listening habits of those who tend to just listen to the strong singles from an album. What do people who listen to whole albums do? Here’s my take: I tend to listen to albums as complete units. So if an album has too many weak songs, I tend to not listen to that album at all, even if it has a song or two that I like.

  14. I think a lot of artists, especially “arsty artists,” tend to agree with Daniel. They write with the whole album experience in mind. I heard one say he doesn’t like greatest hits collections because it just takes a handful of songs out of their initial album context. You don’t get the sense that all the songs are built around a theme, or a character, or a musical flavor, or anything. Personally, I like both in their own way, but I see where the artists are coming from.

    • Meant to say “artsy artists,” lol.

    • I, too, don’t like greatest hits compilations, for the same reasons you just outlined. πŸ™‚

  15. What is considered a weak song is very subjective to personal taste. A great song lyrically may be considered weak by a mediocre performance, production or arrangement. A weak song lyrically may be considered great because of a great vocal or arrangement.
    I’m definitely with those of you on the overall album flow. Song order is very important. I love the Talleys Love Won, but think the song order is all wrong. The songs Love Won into Make Way are too similar. The faster songs should have been introduced sooner.
    I hope Mark doesn’t read Pat’s comments on recent music all sounding alike!

    • Hey guys, really enjoying the discussions here about my favorite subject, Southern Gospel. In my opinion one of the groups putting out the strongest material for the entire album right now is Brian Free and Assurance. Enjoy all the groups though. Kirk

      • I’ll have to agree with this point on FF&A. Their latest album is brilliant on every song.

    • Well obviously Daniel would say that a great song is all of the above!

  16. I read this thread with great interest, because it’s enjoyable but also VERY relevant and educational for the songwriter. In answer to the question, I’m reminded of what my friend Rusty Golden says (great songwriter AND great producer); this is his philosophy about putting a recording together: “All killer, no filler”. In the days we’re living in, competition is SO keen for the strong songs, and I realize that may be a consideration in song selection for many groups. But I agree with Rusty as to the objective for the recording…it should be to have a record-ful of potential radio singles if at all possible. It may not contain all new songs; there are some powerful and brilliantly-crafted songs on CDs that never went to radio that still have life in them; the grand old songs of the past as well. But overall, if I were a recording artist, my standards for each song chosen (if I had complete control…rare, I know) would be very high. Hold our feet to the fire, y’all…keep us writing to the top of our ability. The Lord deserves no less!

    • Well, based on hearing one of the two records where you did have a major hand in picking the songs, I’d say you have a good ear for picking songs. πŸ™‚

  17. Can this be characterized by how many songs are staged in concerts? I know that there are groups who put more emphasis on the concert and groups who put more emphasis on the albums, but I think this may be something worth considering.

    • That’s a fascinating angle. I think, though, that how many songs are still being staged in concert one or two years after an album’s release is a good way of approaching that angle. Most groups will try every song.

      Incidentally, back in the days of live bands, it wasn’t uncommon for groups to narrow their possibilities down to finalists, and then to pick the ones that actually connected with live audiences. That’s one reason why there were so many strong albums from certain groups in certain eras.

      • I think this angle would tend to favor albums with strong songs, simply because an average song probably isn’t in the set list two years down the road.

      • That depends on the group! But both songs that are good and songs that are great do tend to be staged for a while. Songs that are weak, no, but it would probably help determine which songs ended up being weak (as far as live reception goes.)

  18. I love this topic, Daniel. Oh how I wish I had the time to write something significant. But since I don’t, here is the headline. Great Songs make Great Albums. The more GREAT songs you have on an album, the greater the album.

    Karen Peck and New River’s – Journey of Joy project immediately comes to mind.

    PS. I’m a big fan of your blog. You are so very kind to songwriters and I personally appreciate it.

    Highest regards,
    Rick Shelton
    Vice President of Music Publishing
    Daywind Music

    • Rick, you’re welcome! Songwriters deserve everything nice I say about them!

      Great songs make great albums – I like the way you put it!

  19. Give the album with no weak spots. If there’s anything I hate, it’s listening to a CD with some great music and then having to skip a real stinker.