What Does It Take For A Song To Become A Signature Song?

What does it take for a song to become a singer’s signature song?

The song has to have a memorable lyric and a memorable melody. Those are givens. But that’s not all it takes, because you could name any number of songs that became signature songs for one singer that were first recorded by another singer.Β 

For a song to become a signature song for a singer, it is absolutely essential that it’s a song that moves the singer in such a way that a singer doesn’t get tired of singing itβ€”even with singing it every time the singer steps on stage.Β 

What other factors are crucial to a song becoming a signature song?


For more Southern Gospel news and commentary—follow our RSS feed or sign up for our email updates!

21 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. Now would that be one sung by Ernie Haase and his group? … LOL Soryy Daniel but that question was screaming ask me ask me … LOL And with that question out of the way we now return you to our regulary scheduled serious input.

    • Actually, an EH&SS song was one I had in mind – “Calvary Answers For Me,” which only became a signature song once the Perrys covered it.

      Another one I have in mind is “His Grace is Sufficient for Me,” which, though not an all-out signature song for the Booth Brothers, took 40 or 50 years to find its home (and find its ideal tempo).

      • Another one: “He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothing But Good,” which was never huge for Dottie Rambo but was a perfect fit for the Isaacs.

    • Nicholas, either Daniel ain’t “biting” or that one went over his head. Nicholas is making a play on the word “Signature” in EHSS. But, that is for their sound, not their songs. :p

      I think the Signature song has to be one that feels like it was written for a singer or the singer makes his own either as being the first to record it, or doing it differently than has been before (like Michael English did with “I Bowed On My Knees”. Some songs don’t fit some people and might not be signature songs for them even if the song fits the criteria thus far (memorable melody and lyrics) and maybe the one about the artist not tiring of singing it. Imagine if Roger Bennett had had the lead on “Champion of Love” or Mark Trammell on “We Shall See Jesus”. Although both could have put their own spin on them and I admire both greatly, I don’t think the results would have been the same. Those songs feel like they were written for the two who did them. Admittedly, Scott was close enough to Gerald that he could do the “Champion of Love” justice to some degree, Imagine if another member of MTQ had done “Loving the Lamb”. What if George had done “I’ve Just Started Living” or “Somebody Touched Me” or what if J.D. had done “Plan of Salvation”.

      Some artists CAN take songs and make them their own (either because they are similar to the other artist or they take the song a whole new direction), so there isn’t always one artist only for a song, but I think the arrangement needs to fit the artist’s strengths and the artist has to use those strengths to make that song their own.

      • On the flip side, I could imagine Glen Payne tearing up “Plan of Salvation,” and I actually could imagine George doing justice to “I’ve Just Started Living” (at least the verses).

      • Oh: I figured Nicholas was making a comment about “Oh What a Savior,” but I didn’t want to enter the Ernie vs. Rosie debate here, so I did a topic pivot.

      • I do think that Glen could have torn up “Plan of Salvation” and George could have sung at least a verse of “I’ve Just Started Living”, but imagine the latter being a bass lead clear through or as a solo piece. We are also not talking about whether they couldn’t pull of the songs or do admirable jobs on some, but whetgher they would make them signature songs.

      • Well, the bass singer almost never sings melodies on choruses, signature song or otherwise. πŸ™‚

      • Oooh, that statement just screams for me to put my thinking cap on…

        Tim Riley does half of the chorus of “Under Control”.

        Of course, there’s the convention songs where the bass does the step out lines, which is kinda not the same thing.

        Well, it’s off-topic for this discussion, but I thought it was a very interesting and thought-provoking statement.

      • Yes, I wasn’t speaking of convention songs with multiple melodies. πŸ™‚

        Bass singers do occasionally sing melodies on choruses, but those are the exceptions to the rule.

      • I know basses don’t usually sing on a chorus, but they do sometimes. Even on “Under Control” Tim Does on part of the chorus. πŸ™‚ But, it is hard to imagine “I’ve Just Started Living” to have become a signature song if George sang the verses and say Glen sang the choruses.

      • I realize this is an older post, but I heard a song the other day that reminded me of this discussion.

        “My God Delivers Again” by EHSS has Tim singing the first verse solo and then carrying the melody on the first chorus with Doug, Ryan and Ernie’s harmonies stacked above him.

      • Good example!

  2. I dont know about the part that a singer would get tired of singing the song. I would imagine that a lot of singers with signature songs get tired of singing them. How often does Gerald Wolfe sing Champion of Love in a concert any more? But it is still a signature song for him and I would imagine that he is asked to sing it in 9 out of 10 concerts. A very interesting question would be what one song(s) have been signature songs for multiple artist? Oh what a Savior would definitely be one with Rosie and Ernie.

    • Well, in my initial draft, I had something to the effect of either not get tired of singing the song or be able to do a great job of faking it. But that just didn’t sound good. πŸ™‚

      Also, “Champion of Love” is a signature song at one level for Gerald, but not all signature songs are created equal. There are a few singers and songs that are so connected that you can’t think of the singer without thinking of the song. Gerald can get away without singing “Champion of Love” if he wants to. But Squire Parsons couldn’t do a concert and skip “Sweet Beulah Land”; Ernie Haase couldn’t do a concert and skip “Oh What a Savior”; and I don’t think Ivan Parker could do a concert and skip “Midnight Cry.”

  3. I think a signature song is when the singer “becomes” the song, when the song becomes a testimony… This could be the case for more than one singer for one particular song, or more than one group.
    Of course, it helps if the song fits the singer musically as well. It’s a business after all. But I’m sure there are some “signature” songs that are not always sung perfectly musically, but because of the feeling and “life” which give meaning to the singing, it remains a “signature” moment.
    Perhaps there is a distinction between “signature” moment and “signature” song? I am thinking of “Worthy The Lamb” by the GVB on the “Give It Away” DVD – the live rendition is very special. Also “Through The Fire” by the Crabb family. When I first heard that song, I had never heard of the Crabbs, and yet I knew without a doubt there was something special about that song, because of the way they sang it. You could see it was a true testimony. The rendition was amazing, but the reprise was less than perfect. Yet I have never forgotten it and go back to it time and time again.

    • Good points. A singer’s deep connection to a song – especially if it’s that singer’s testimony.

  4. Would have to say that ‘Anchor Of Hope’ is Billy Hodges signature song. It became a hit with him during his Kingdom Heir days. He sang that song every day he was on stage with them.

    • You know, that is a fascinating illustration of the case I was making, because the Dixie Melody Boys did it several years before the Kingdom Heirs did it – somewhere around their Andrew King era, I believe, though I’m not 100% sure he’s the baritone on that song.

  5. Where’s McCray at on this one? I heard him explain this as good as I’d ever heard one time and wish I could remember word for word how he put it.

  6. One that comes to mind is The Lesters’ “He Didn’t Throw The Clay Away”. Others like Michael English and even the Cathedrals took it No. 1, but when you hear Brian Lester’s testimony about that song and to hear the way sing it, it’s very powerful.