Should groups always record the strongest songs?

When a top-tier professional group is preparing to make their next recording, should they always record the ten strongest songs they can find?

The answer might seem obvious, until we start throwing in some other considerations.

Should they be careful to get a mixture of topics? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs they can find are about Heaven?

Should they be careful to get a mixture of songs suited for the different voice types in the group? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs are suited for lead and baritone solos?

Should they be careful to get a mixture of time signatures? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs are 4/4 time, and there aren’t any 3/4 or 6/8?

Should they be careful to get a mixture of tempos? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs are slow (or fast)?

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36 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. Good topic! I think they need to be careful to get an all around mixture. You want to feature everyone and different types of songs. Example a quartet should have 2-3 straight ahead quartet numbers, these are usually not the “strongest” songs but good for the quartet feel and excitement. I think the best example of this type of project that Daniel is talking about would be the Booth Brothers Declaration project. This is a great project but they intended to this and I dont think it would work to do every project like this.
    Just my humble opinion.

    • Yes, Declaration is a great example. They found ten incredibly strong songs; most of them were slow, medium-slow, or mid-tempo, but the songs were so strong that I loved the project and gave it a five-star rating. Not everyone agreed.

      • I will agree with 5 stars πŸ™‚ But can see this being hard for most to do. Of course when you have the Booth Brothers and Lari Goss! Speaking of Lari would Greater Visions Hymns For The Ages fit into this category?

      • More or less, I do think it would.

      • I rated _Declaration_ at 4 1/2 stars…nearly perfect, despite the slow tempo songs, and my main complaint was the packaging. I think they ended up repackaging it later, but the first release lacked any type of liner notes.

        The slow songs generally avoided the stereotypical approach to arranging a slow song: light piano or acoustic guitar at the beginning building to a screaming orchestra at the end.

        And, even though the CD mostly had slow songs, there were a few exceptions and arrangement choices (an a cappella intro, for example) to keep it from being too monotonous.

  2. all of the above

    • Of Torchmen fame?

      • I believe so; THE Mike Moran has been known to drop by on occasion. πŸ™‚

  3. I think the masters at putting out perfectly balanced records were the Cathedrals. A perfect example would be the album High and Lifted Up.

  4. I think Daniel has an opinion as he echoed the first comment. I would side with that as well. Sure, if you have 8 strong songs that are slow to mid-tempo, you might want to find a couple to pick up the pace…maybe something that would go over well in a live setting. But at the end of the day, if you have an album full of 10 songs, all of which are strong, I think it becomes a moot point. I think in the end it comes down to the group’s vision of the project. Asking yourself, “what’s the most important thing?” An album of truly full of good to great songs will excuse the pacing and vocalist features. You’ll try to find something of a balance, but great songs and a good production team will outlast the pacing and vocalist features of an album in any era.

    • You’re right, I have an opinion, but it is not fully formed yet. πŸ™‚ That’s why I’m asking.

      By and large, I’d rather see groups pick the strongest songs possible, period. I understand the case for adding 1-2 weaker songs for balance. But I don’t understand the case for picking four incredibly strong songs and picking six for balance, if you have (say) eight incredibly strong slow songs.

  5. There are strong songs at any tempo suited for any vocal range. If an artist is struggling finding a strong song with a particular tempo or vocal range, look to the past and reinvent a classic or look at other Christian music genres and see if a song could be southern gospelized.
    One needs to only listen to the hundreds of versions of a Christmas song to see the various ways it could be interpreted musically. I believe today’s SG “artists” are often like home buyers unable to see past the demo or original recording to see the potential.

  6. Lyrical content, in my opinion, should be the first consideration. I’m of the opinion that the lyric should be able to stand up on its on; essentially meaning it could simply be read or quoted and have a major impact. The music, arrangement could then be added to support and/or enhance the lyric. If you want a barn burner or sweeping ballad, then let the creative process take you wherever you want to go. I think one of the best of saying a lot (including a literal mouthful of words) is Rodney Griffin (ex. He’d Still Been God, Paid In Full Thru Jesus Amen, Looking For The Grace, etc) All very strong, “in your face” type lyrics but with great driving arrangements. Just my $.01 worth. It used to be $.02 worth but my insurance premiums……oh well better not go there. πŸ™‚ Blessings!

  7. What an interesting topic! You know how some of the groups usually share that they look at X number of songs to pick the 10 or 12 they put on their new projects ! I always wonder about that…… however, sometimes I buy the latest project of one of my favorites, and listen thru a time or two and maybe 1-2 songs make me want to hear them again. I’ve been wondering if it is just “me”?? Or am I getting tired of SG/ Heaven forbid!! I don’t know what I would listen to if that were the case…….I”m thinking what makes the difference. I buy CDs and listen when I’m alone in my car (which is much of the tine), never listen to radio (always my own CDs. So I do listen carefully. I am still mostly a quartet favoring person, and enjoy male singers most, as well.
    I don’t know anything about “Declaration” and will be doing some research on them. I will continue to read comments on this thread.

    • Some groups do better at picking songs than others; some try harder and listen through more possibilities than others. Though you’re right in that some groups come out with CDs filled with mediocre songs that I get tired of quickly, others still put in the work to find good enough songs to record great CDs.

      • FYI: Daniel, in reading the other posts I found that Declaratiion is the name of a Booth Bros. release, not a group I had not heard of. However, I love their trio, just do not have that one yet!
        not necessary for you to add this post to the thread.

  8. “Should they be careful to get a mixture of topics? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs they can find are about Heaven?”

    Not a problem. I like CDs that have a thematic element, so an entire collection of songs about heaven, or Easter or Christmas is not an issue.

    “Should they be careful to get a mixture of songs suited for the different voice types in the group? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs are suited for lead and baritone solos?”

    I don’t see this as much of an issue either at least not in terms of voice “types.” Maybe that’s because I arrange music from time to time. A bass singer can sing “O What A Savior.” Just about any song can be sung by any part except in cases where a singer has a limited range.

    “Should they be careful to get a mixture of time signatures? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs are 4/4 time, and there aren’t any 3/4 or 6/8?”

    Again…not an issue.

    “Should they be careful to get a mixture of tempos? What if most or all of the actual strongest songs are slow (or fast)?”

    YES. This is the only area you mentioned where I would compromise a bit. If there is no variety in tempo, I would generally count that as a strike against a CD. Like parts, though, this is an area that can be settled by the person writing the arrangements. I have heard “O What A Savior” sung quite a bit faster than most groups sing it, to go back to the same example.

    • Good point about how the arranger can cover – changing tempos, key/range/voice type, etc. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen!

      • It doesn’t happen as often as it should, for sure.

        Most song “covers” could be more accurately described as “clones,” which is too bad.

      • On my current Christmas CD, I played the most tender, moving version of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” that you will ever hear. πŸ™‚

  9. An issue you haven’t mentioned, which I find quite irritating, is when two (or more) consecutive songs are in the same key. To me it’s an indication of the muscisians’ limitations, the singer’s lack of range, or an under-challenged arranger. Or maybe I’m just uniquely irritable (?). πŸ™‚

    As for “Declaration” by the Booth Brothers – I bought it at NQC when it was newly released. I’ll admit, it took me some time to get used to it. With all new and greatly varied material; I couldn’t sing along with any of it. Now it is one of the CDs that’s in my “good” stack that gets frequent grabs. And even a few years later, I can still “hear” new nuggets and get blessed with the word-plays. Awesome project!

    • But there are times, I think, when two consecutive songs in the same key is actually the mark of a genius arranger at work – an arranger who was thinking in terms of the album as a whole and did it for intentional effect. A number of groups do this live on purpose, for effect, and sometimes it will especially make its way onto live recordings.

    • On the iconic Cathedrals album Symphony of Praise, the opener “Revive Us Again” leads right into “This Ole House” in the same key. Then at the end of the album, “Room at the Cross” ends in the same key as the closer “God Himself the Lamb” starts.

      • That’s exactly the sort of thing I had in mind, though no studio-album examples came to mind as I posted that earlier comment. Thank you!

      • On MTQ’s Lifetime, five of the songs start in the same key in which the previous song ended. (2, 3, 5, 7, and 10)

      • When it’s five, and when it’s a theme CD, and when there are this many transpositions and medleys throughout, and when it’s Lari Goss . . . everything starts adding up, and you have to think it couldn’t possibly have been a mistake. πŸ™‚

  10. I think Gospel quartet music is different from all other genres…in my opinion, they can do pretty much anything they like and it sounds great IF they’re a great-sounding group regarding harmony, very strong tenor, etc.

    With other genres, I prefer slower to mid-tempo songs for almost 100% of artists from Janet Paschal to Tony Bennett!! :~) What’s any better than Janet’s “The Body and Blood”?? (Probably my favorite song of all time!)

  11. Unless your name is Bill Gaither, the answer in this day and age (even for top tier groups) is “the ten songs that will let me break even on this project”. Jaded comment, I know, but it’s truly a calling for these folks. They’re not doing it in the hopes of “living large” by any stretch. We’re all blessed not only by the talents of these folks, but what they give up for their ministry.

  12. I have wondered, how much $ does it cost to make a 10 -12 song SG recording, & how much does it cost to release 1 single? Do the artists pay for it? Their producer? Their label?

    • SG recordings are made on virtually any budget. Top-tier-quality recordings are typically made for between $10,000 and $50,000.

      Singles: The label typically pays for that for label artists. I don’t know what independent artists pay.

      Who pays for it? Typically either artist or label. Rarely producer.

      • Thanks, Daniel!

      • You’re welcome!

  13. Concerning key signatures, it’s interesting to note that HeavenBound (the “classic” era of Jeff Gibson, Lawrence Eubanks, Allen Ham and then his replacement Rick Busby); most of their big songs and especially the #1’s all either started or ended in B-flat. This was verified by the Ken Eubanks, Sr. in a SN article some years ago as well.

    • I’d guess that was Allen’s most comfortable note for a tenor ending – a fairly common comfort note for tenors.

  14. I have enjoyed this discussion. In my opinion content (lyrics) should be the most important thing in picking songs. I have to agree that the Cathedrals always picked solid songs for their albums. They almost never had what I call “filler” songs on their records. Gold City also almost always has solid songs on their albums. Their “Somebodies Coming” cd is a great example. I really dont think they have a single weak song on this entire album.

  15. Here is a rebuttal to my own comment from Nov 18th: the Andrae Crouch release “Journey” from 2011 (I think) ends with an amazing group of songs that are all rolled together and are in the same key. Listen to “Let the Church Say Amen” followed by “God is On Our Side” then “Marvin’s Testimony”. It is Spirit-filled and moves me every time. Same song-writer – similar rhythms – varied singers; maybe that’s what makes the biggest difference.

    My original comment was wrought when I pulled some old LPs that were my dad’s when I was a child. [Since this is mostly critical, I’ll refrain from naming the artists.] Even back then (in the 60s) I found the recordings boring as they all were in the same key, with basically the same rhythm and the same voices (husband/wife) duet, and all the songs were written by the husband and had similar melodies. They are good songs, with good messages — individually. Many of his songs were recorded by other “better known” artists (i.e. Goodmans) and still get played today. I was really surprised to realize one of the songs the Rambos sang, I’d always assumed was a Dottie-creation (about a valley), was written by this man.

    Quiz: Name this couple. πŸ˜‰ Betcha can’t!