Whence comes the Inspirations’ popularity?

Whence comes the Inspirations’ popularity?

I’ve been pondering that the last few days, and came to a conclusion today. It’s the songs.

Sure, they are helped by a stable lineup, and no matter what critics may say, they can carry a tune. (If they couldn’t, then kindly explain to me how one of the singers can launch into an acapella reprise and hold the group on key throughout a chorus so that Martin Cook comes back in on piano at the end in the correct key.)

I came to this conclusion when listening to their rendition of “Shoutin’ Time” for the first time. I got to thinking about the songs they’d introduced or popularized that other groups have recorded.

Take “Glory to God in the Highest.” John Scheideman–far and away the best Southern Gospel historian among the fraternity of Southern Gospel bloggers–let me know that the Inspirations actually introduced the song in 1992. Since then, Brian Free & Assurance has recorded the song, the Old Friends Quartet made it a radio hit, and Signature Sound is currently setting stages on fire with their energetic rendition of the song. But the Inspirations introduced it.

The Inspirations introduced another classic in “A Rose Among the Thorns.” The Bishops did a nice rendition of the song a few years back, but again it’s an Inspirations song.

“Shoutin’ Time” was the breakout song that put the Hoppers at the head of the list of the most popular family groups of the ’90s. Yet it was an Inspirations song originally.

Of course, the Inspirations are known for being nearly the only group introducing innovative, new songs with a walking bass part on every album. Take “Overwhelming Joy,” “He Broke the Chains,” “In the Twinking of an Eye,” “Is That Footsteps I Hear,” and dozens of others. They have a good selection of songs that address America’s Christian heritage and current direction. Then there are the tenor songs that feature Archie Watkins’ instantly recognizable voice: “Golden Street Parade,” “Touring that City,” and “Two Shoes.” (Off-topic: “Two Shoes” drove me crazy the first twenty times I heard it, but it has really grown on me to the point where it makes me cry now.)

The Inspirations seem to have a knack for picking classics with every album. There are groups like the Mark Trammell Trio and Palmetto State that get to where they are despite their song selection, but the Inspirations would have to join groups like the Kingdom Heirs and the Perrys who manage to fill a ten-song album with at least eight songs that their average fan would really like. I think their songs are the secret of their success.

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11 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Good Analysis! I never liked their recordings and just knew I wouldn’t like them when I heard them for the first time in the Reynolds Auditorium in Winston Salem, NC a couple years ago. I still don’t like their recordings (even though I predicted “I Have Not Forgotten” would go to number 1 with Jim Stover when it first came out.)

    But that night at the Reynolds Auditorium those guys nailed it. Song after song they knocked it out of the park. I came away a fan.

    I think there are some artist who can go into a cubical and sing into a studio mic and it work. And I also think there are artists (like the Inps) that need that interaction with the live audience. ( It could also just as well be since Archie produces most of their stuff ) that his hearing is not up to par for good production. It’s a thought? Naah…

    I think I’ll stick to the “needs a live audience to do great.)

  2. Charles,

    It’s not a coincidence that my comments now are after hearing them live for the first time a few days back. 🙂

  3. I’ve onlyheard them twice in person, and I don’t see much difference. You either have a good voice or you don’t. I think (and it’s just me probably) that those guys just aren’t very good singers and this goes back to their “country” heritage. They don’t blend well. You can listen to the great quartets–the Statesmen, the Blackwoods, the Cats, etc. The sound is uniform and of one voice with parts interwoven. With the Inspirations you usually hear one voice (usually Archie’s or Matt’s) louder than the others. It’s may be (for lack of a better word) sophistication they lack.

    Do they sound good? Not to me. Local church quartets sometimes sound better to me, but some like them a lot because of the “meassage.” Friends, if we ever have sg groups that don’t deliver a “message” in their songs, we are in big trouble. The Inspos are popular among their fans, but the quality of musicianship is not there. Daniel cited a feew songs like “Glory to God”. I challenge anyone to thing it is better sung by the Inspirations than the Old Friends or EHSSQ. If so, then I have nothing else to say.

    If we’re talking quality of musicianship, it’s not the Inspirations we’re talking about. If we’re talking about fine Christian men, that’s another matter.

  4. Daniel, I think you pretty well nailed it. You can put the McKameys in the same category. I don’t know beans about the technical aspects of music, but I know what blesses me and without fail an Inspirations or McKameys concert does that. This, I think, is one of the problems over at averyfineline. He is a musician and tends to evaluate everything from a technical music standpoint. I’m not a musician and I evaluate everything a bit differently. I will admit that other groups may have more polish and skill, but they don’t effect me the same. That’s what made the Cathedrals (and Blackwoods and Statesmen) so special; they were great musicians but also nurtured you spiritually while entertaining you. There are precious few groups going today who can say that.

  5. I have always said that groups like the McKameys and Inspirations are popular because they sing songs that “ordinary” people can sing. You can take their songs and sing them on Sunday Morning at your local church. Many groups start this way and once they become “popular” they try to showcase their talent by singing difficultly arranged songs, that while they are nice to listen to, are almost impossible for the average Sunday morning singer at Pine Grove Baptist in South Georgia to sing. (I use that church name because my wife and I joke about there being a Pine Grove church of some sort in nearly every little town we go through here in Georgia)

  6. It never ceases to amaze me how certain bloggers and ” vocal pro ” folks denigrate The Inspirations…They have had a consistent sound for decades ,great songs, and mass appeal to thousands of fans. Thier testimony has been consistant as has the biblical content of thier songs. The fact that thier detractors are so vocal about it on the various forums does not matter one whit !! The thousands of fans that love them and support them do !!

  7. I have great respect for both the Inspirations and McKameys – and have seen them both in concert, been deeply blessed and wanted to hear more.

    However, I do not own their recordings because they don’t appeal to me personally. That is the difference in live versus recorded music.

    I own literally hundreds of CD’s – mostly really good all male quartets, but a few GV, Hoppers, Perrys & Talley Trio. I buy CD projects I want to listen to while driving.

    Everyone has different taste. In addition to what I mentioned above – I own every Twila Paris recording she has ever made. I even own and listen to Nicole C. Mullen some.

    You can’t knock success. The Inspirations and McKameys are two of the most successful groups traveling today – or ever. I wish them well and can’t wait to see them again.

    Just my thoughts… Great topic Daniel.


  8. If you don’t think the Inspirations are successful just try to book them sometime. Good luck trying to find an open date! I also remember a conversation I had with Mickey Gamble one time about the challenge of getting product into the major retailers. The Inspirations are there because the demand is there. It will sometimes surprise you at what sells and what doesn’t.

  9. Good post on the Inspirations. Their song selection, constant quality, and especially their spirit are what keeps me listening.

  10. I am searching for a song that touched my heart and has left me wanting to hear it again and again…The Rose Arose, I thought that may be the title but not sure, the story in the song was that the devil thought he had won when Christ went into the tomb, but the Rose arose….not sure the proper title or artist…any help would be magnificient!

  11. I’m reminded of something Martin Cook said in the May 2008 Singing News, “…there is one thing that is a “must’ for a group’s success: You don’t change your style- you present your style.”

    Very profound words for sure. A ‘gold nugget’ of wisdom.
    If only the majority of today’s groups would understand and could “get a hold of” , putting this concept into pratice……
    Southern Gospel could be immeasurably better off.