Translation Series #1: Broken and Spilled Out

This column was announced in March, but yes, it did take me this long to find an entry of the caliber I was seeking. This is a series of songs from other genres that would translate well to a Southern Gospel arrangement.

In 1984, after two or three years singing tenor for the New Gaither Vocal Band, Steve Green embarked on his solo career. His debut project included the mega-hits “Proclaim the Glory of the Lord” and “People Need the Lord.” Perhaps overshadowed in such august company, the song “Broken and Spilled Out” is nevertheless one of Green’s finest early works.

The song was penned by Gloria Gaither and Bill George. As is typical of a Gloria Gaither lyric, the lyrics are insightful and memorable. It starts with the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil:

One day a plain village woman
Driven by love for her Lord
Recklessly poured out a valuable essence
Disregarding the scorn
At once it was broken and spilled out
A fragrance filled all the room
Like a prisoner released from his shackles
Like a spirit set free from the tomb

The chorus and second verse discuss Jesus being broken and spilled out for us:

…Broken and spilled out
And poured at my feet
In sweet abandon, Lord, You were spilled out
And used up for me

The arrangement wouldn’t have to be changed much to work in Southern Gospel. But while a number of male voices come to mind who could do creditable renditions of the song, and while the song’s melody would adapt quite well to the power harmonies of a male quartet, the song should be taken in a different direction.

After all, you simply cannot outdo a classic on its own terms. Any arrangement that sticks too close to the original will spark distracting discussion over whether it is as good as the original. So if you are daring enough to tackle a classic, bring something fresh to your rendition.

Besides, most of Gloria Gaither’s lyrics are broad enough to be sung with equal ease by men or women, but I would posit that this is one of the rare exceptions. For a minute, let’s set aside the fact that we have known this song for over a quarter century as a male vocal solo. Both the topic of the first verse and some of the phrasing in the chorus (“In sweet abandon / Lord, You were spilled out / And used up for me”) would actually better fit a female solo.

With that point in mind, this song could not find a better home than in the capable hands of the Collingsworth Ladies. Their tight harmonies would give the song an entirely new vocal texture. The song would be as different from the original as the Gaither Vocal Band rendition of “Let Freedom Ring” is from Larnelle Harris’s mid-80s rendition. They can deliver a soft, tight blend where the lyric calls for it, yet their voices are also dynamic enough to deliver on the power lines that bring the message home.

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28 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. This is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I’ve actually heard a couple SG artists do it. Fantastic lyric with a beautiful melody!

    • It’s one of my favorites, too, Chris. I haven’t heard anyone else sing it. Who have you heard?

  2. I’ve never heard the song, but overall the lyrical theme is good and Biblically sound. I would quibble with a couple words that, while they add a sense of “drama” or “emotion” to the lyric, are Scripturally specious.

    I would not characterize Mary’s actions as “reckless”. She knew exactly what she was doing and what purpose it served. I can reconcile this lyric, though, because her actions were reckless from the point of view of Judas Iscariot, which is hinted at by the following line, “disregarding the scorn”.

    But I can’t reconcile using the word “abandon” in the context of Christ’s willing sacrifice. “Abandon” implies recklessness or wildness. It’s obviously used to further relate the metaphor of Mary’s actions from the verse, but in Christ’s case, it most certainly cannot apply. The plan of salvation was established even before the creation…there was nothing reckless about it.

    • To whatever extent Gloria’s lyrics are theologically defensible here, it is as it is understood from the human perspective. What was indeed part of God’s eternal plan appeared to be reckless abandon to the onlookers.

      Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough syllables left in the line to say

      “With what appeared to be the bystanders to be reckless abandon”

      in place of

      “With reckless abandon”!

      • I understand that and agree. It’s just harder to get that from the chorus than it was from the verse. I have no doubt that Gloria would agree with you and me on that Scriptural point. I just like it when you don’t have to work hard to “reconcile” lyrics…they ideally should speak for themselves.

      • Yes, I also prefer it when lyrics speak for themselves!

      • “reckless” is not just a Highway Cop word :-),
        it also means ‘not counting the cost’ – which Mary did not do. in her total adoration she not only poured out ALL the ointment – she also broke the container, or “alabaster box” (Mk 14:3), with no regard for the cost or any further use – all for Him.

    • Perhaps the difficulty comes from equating ‘abandon’ in the chorus, with ‘reckless’ in the verse?

      While Judas viewed Mary’s sacrifice – because it was such, as ‘reckless’, I would judge that Gloria used ‘abandon’ in its earlier meaning – ‘abandonment’ which does not contain the thought of reckless or impulsive behaviour.

      Early 20th Century Writers – such as Oswald Chambers frequently – used this word in the sense of our ‘surrender’ to God and His will – perfectly fitting in the context.

      • Interesting. So the phrase “in sweet abandon” could be read as “in sweet surrender.”

      • Yes, I think so. The words of the chorus also seem to carry tones of Gethsemane, as well as Calvary – ‘Poured out”, “spilled out”, “broken” all link with the Saviour’s sorrows in the Garden, and His, “Not My will…”

        Which in the flow of the lyric moves nicely to “sweet abandon” – maybe even with an slight word-play on ‘sweat’?

        While “Used up” may point more to the exhausting of God’s wrath, rather than the thought of ‘exhaustion’ on the part of Jesus.

        Ronnie Booth should consider this song!

  3. “There Is a Redeemer.” I can’t believe no SG artist has done that one yet (at least to my knowledge). It’s biblical, sweet melody, and adaptable. I’d like to see a Wes-led GVB rendition of this one.

  4. I had forgotten how powerful that song is. Can you not hear Gold City doing that in a SG style, with Josh taking the lead?

  5. Question: Into what genre would you say the 80’s Imperials fell? If you’re not thinking of them as southern gospel, I’d say a lot of their songs would make great SG material and already have to some extent. “Oh Buddha” (Dove Brothers) and “Sail On” (Booth Brothers) come to mind immediately, and I’m sure somebody in SG has done “Praise the Lord.” But songs like “Heed the Call” and “First Morning in Heaven” are not to be forgotten either—certainly much worthier of being brought back than “No Shortage.” 😉

    • Is “First Morning in Heaven” a different song than “First Day in Heaven,” which practically every SG quartet has done at some point or another?

  6. On GVB, Gold City, or Ronnie Booth doing it, they could all do it well. But I’m still thinking the lyrics are better suited to a female vocalist.

    And, of course, while a male quartet could do a rendition like Steve Green’s, I’d like to hear something entirely different.

    • Actually, though often labelled as “Blue Grass” – their stlye is sufficiently diverse and progressive to slip into several sub-genre – I could imagine the Isaacs handle this superbly, and with the requisite female lead that Daniel is looking for.

      The family history would also add powerful poignancy to the lyric. A good fit?

  7. This is also one of my favorite songs ever. I actually mentioned this song to George Younce one night in the mid-80’s. He knew the song and softly sang the chorus. I asked if they had ever considered recording it and the answer was that no – they never had. But once again – he said he really liked the song but saw it as a solo.

    I think the Perry’s could record this and go #1 with it. I can see a couple of encores. Let Peach sing the verses and the group go all out on the chorus! It might be more than a couple of encores – acappela of course!

    It was recorded by Steve Green with smoothness and finesse. That is how the Booth Brothers and Collingsworth Family would probably record it… That would be great – but not real different. My money is on the Perrys for this one.


    • The Perrys could do it quite well. But you actually think a female trio’s tight harmonies would be “not real different” from a power male vocal solo? 😮

    • How about George taking the first verse and Glen the second…I actually have this stuck in my head even though it nevere happened.

  8. If I’m going to hear a female do it – give me Janet Paschal. The seems just right for her…

    • She would be perfect for the song.

  9. Years ago the music director at church (when I was just out of high school and thus not yet 🙂 ) did it as a duet with another lady. I had the choir do an arrangement from a Gaither book as well.

  10. Candy Hemphill Christmas did do this on a solo album BTW

    • Interesting – I’ll keep my eyes open for a copy.

      • Be warned, she only does verse 1.

      • That’s like stopping a different song mid-chorus!

  11. Title of the CD is “Fully Alive” BTW