Guest Post: Translation Series #3: “The Coloring Song” by Petra

This is a guest post from NewSoGoFan.

Who??? Yeah, you read right. Petra.

And what, you may ask, is a hard rock band doing in a translation series for Southern Gospel?

Good question. The answer is, normally you’re right, and this group wouldn’t be within 100 miles of anything remotely connected with SG. But today, we’re going to be looking at one of their (very few) redeemable moments, and that’s “The Coloring Song.” From their 1981 release Never Say Die, it’s surprisingly atypical of what most people would think of as a “Petra sound.” It’s not a rock song by any definition of the word. If anything, it has a folk sound. The melody is very spare but very catchy (I’ve caught myself humming it around the house with some frequency of late). The lyrics are poetic and, as the title implies, revolve around colors, specifically red, blue, gold, and brown. They point to Jesus as the only hope, life, and salvation for the soul of man. Give it a listen:

Now, we’re not asking if this could be turned into an SG song, because that’s not the point of any of these entries. The question is, could an SG group take this song and do an arrangement that would work in an SG context?

I think that the answer is yes, but it would have to be done just right. Personally, I can see it working extremely well as a complex acapella piece, weaving together unison, harmony, and even a counter-part or two (a round is just one idea, but something else might work better). Some “doom dooms” could be laid down at the beginning to set the rhythm, then used throughout the arrangement to good effect.  As already mentioned, the tune is very spare, so it would take a skilled arranger to thicken the harmonies and add interest to the piece.  Which artist should give it a try? I would suggest the Ball Brothers. They have shown an uncanny knack for acapella singing. Plus, they have a very smooth, tight blend, and the light timbres of their voices would fit well with the fresh folk feel of this song.

Too far-fetched? What do you think?

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35 Letters to the Editor

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  1. It is a catchy tune, I too now hum it all the time. The message is solid truth, no missing it. My suggestion – The Talleys arrange it, Roger sing the first verse, Debra the second, Lauren the third, and all three sing the last verse. Very simple, very true, very good – life changing !

  2. I think both times you meant “sparse” instead of “spare.” 😀

  3. Petra actually had a number of songs from the same era that were in a similar style. “The Road To Zion” is one example.

    When I was much younger, I called WLFJ-FM in Greenville, SC and requested “The Coloring Song.” The lady DJ on duty that day said they couldn’t play anything that “heavy” on a Sunday afternoon.

    I noticed you categorized them as “hard rock.” I’d say they’re more in the vein of commercial/pop rock.

    Back in the 1990s, it became a running joke in the retail industry that Christian bookstores always recommended Petra anytime a young person asked if they had music similar to a secular artist.

    “Do you have anything that sounds like Green Day?”
    “We have Petra.”

    I once saw a karate exhibition to their song “Creed.” That was interesting, to say the least.

    I got to see them a few times at various music festivals. My favorite song by Petra is “Dance.” I wonder if it could be translated into a style that Southern Gospel artists would appreciate…probably not!

    • On that last one – from the title alone, I suspect it would not be a welcome number in 2/3 of the churches that host SG concerts. 😀

    • I like that one a lot. Very nice minor folk sound.

  4. I think “Godpleaser” would be pretty easy to translate to a Southern Gospel style.

    Or if you’re into novelty, there’s “Lucas McGraw,” already a bluegrass song.
    (Yes, that’s really Petra.)

    • “Godpleaser” sounds like an old Michael W. Smith/Amy Grant song!

  5. Well, I managed to make it halfway through the song before having to stop it. I consider that an accomplishment. 😉

  6. You can get an idea of what a Southern Gospel arrangement might sound like at this link. Country singer Tim McGraw did a live version of Petra’s “More Power To You” at a benefit for Katrina victims.

  7. I love the song. Sure, a southern gospel group could do this song. Wouldn’t be hard at all.

    My favorite Petra Cd was a many moons ago called “Petra Praise”.

    • I’ve got both the Petra Praise records and love them a lot!

    • I find myself listening to different genres all the time and when I feel like listening to Petra, I listen to Petra Praise. I have this particular song on a cassette tape somewhere.

  8. I’m sorry Daniel – but this comment wasn’t need: “we’re going to be looking at one of their (very few) redeemable moments”

    You may not like the group – but making a statement like that makes it sound like it’s a fact. Petra is the quintessential Christian rock act of the 1980s and early 90s – MOST Christian bands and artists today are quick to cite them as early influences on their musical career.

    I don’t understand why we have to put down other genres of music just for the sake of putting them down. Let’s move on already…

    • Chris,

      Before you take offense, would you mind reading the line at the top to see whom you’re taking offense with? 😉

      Actually, though, I would tend to agree with my pseudonymous contributor that, at least to ears attuned to appreciate what would be considered a decent song in Southern Gospel, it’s one of their very few moments that is actually listenable all the way through.

      • Cross-post.

        (filler, filler, filler)

    • This wasn’t Daniel, first.

      And in the context of the translation series, I guess it would be hard to “redeem” them into SG.

      (Didn’t fool me this time, NewSoGo Fan. This post was identifiably your style!)

      • 🙂

        (filler, filler)

        Per Chris’s comment, Amy and Daniel are right that in this context, the question is “redeemable” as far as SG is concerned. However, I did in fact mean it generally as well. I have a wide appreciation for all kinds of music, not just SG. I can enjoy a good rock song, a good pop song. There are many CCM artists whose work I enjoy and some secular artists as well. So I would like to make it clear here and now that I’m not trying to “throw other genres under the bus” just to make “my genre” look good, because SG isn’t even “my genre.” CCM was my first love, and to this day I maintain that it can offer things SG doesn’t (although sadly, the quality of CCM has been on a decline of late, so “good CCM” has to a large extent become synonymous with “yesterday’s CCM” as far as I’m concerned). SG happens to be a genre I love and a genre I’ve been getting into recently. It is not the only good genre, by any means.

        I’m also not trying to disparage Christian rock as a genre in particular. I just happen to think that Petra isn’t exactly a shining example of great music. I enjoy this song and a few others by them, but I consider the bulk of their work to be, by and large, not worth listening to—just on general musical principles, not because it’s not SG. Others are free to disagree.

    • And Chris, let me add something else. I like you, and I sincerely respect and appreciate what you’re doing to promote good Christian music. I have no wish to antagonize you, and I see no reason for us to be at odds, much as we’ve debated on some of these threads. So… could we maybe just agree to disagree and live amicably together?

      [Virtual proffered handshake.]

  9. Reminds me of an older song, that I grew up singing as a child. “The Crayon Box Song”.

    I’ve always wanted to hear a SG group sing it… and perhaps they have, I just don’t know who has!


  10. Petra had three lead singers throughout their career as I recall. Rob Frazier, then their popularity soared with Greg X. Volx (who sang The Coloring Song)-and was my fave version of the band, and then John Schlitt (of Petra Praise era).

    Schlitt was also singer for secular 70’s band Head East who you still hear on classic rock radio on the song Never Been Any Reason (“…save my life I’m going down for the last time…”).

    My music trivia contribution to the discussion.

    On topic to the post, I think this song is a good call. Since you bring it up, i could hear the Penrod version of GVB doing this acapella.

    • Oops-Volz, not VOlx

  11. I thought the original post was uninformed on the “hard rock” designation, and like Chris, I thought the “few redeeming moments” line was somewhat condescending. Petra was highly respected by the general Christian music public. They sold out large arenas routinely for many years before gradually fading away, so they must have been doing something that made their music appealing to the masses.

    I certainly don’t expect everyone’s tastes to reflect my own, though, and I don’t begrudge anyone who dislikes a particular group’s style.

    My take is this. Petra was never at any point a “hard rock” band. Actual hard rock fans (those who enjoy groups like Mortal and POD) think of Petra as cheesy wannabees. I never considered myself a hard rock fan, but I liked Petra for most of their run. Their early stuff is interesting because they were pioneers in the field. Their middle material is my favorite. They were great up until their long-time keyboard player, John Lawry, left the group in 1993. They were never quite as good after that point. _No Doubt_, _God Fixation_, and especially _Double Take_ just couldn’t compare to _Beat The System_, _This Means War_, _Unseen Power_, and _Beyond Belief_.

    By the way, Petra’s original lead singer was Greg Hough. Greg X. Volz sang on two songs on their second album, and replaced Hough on lead vocals after that. Rob Frazier did sing some vocals on their third album. It’s possible he shared some of the lead vocal duties. It’s been a while since I listened to _Washes Whiter Than_, which was the only album on which Frazier appeared. Volz was their recognized lead singer after Hough left, though. John Schlitt replace Volz in 1986. They did a Farewell tour, CD, and DVD in 2005.

    A few months ago, the 1980s line-up of Weaver, Volz, Hartman, Lawry and Kelly re-grouped. They’re currently recording a CD that will include both classics and new songs. A tour is supposedly in the works as well.

    • I actually thought a moment before calling them “hard rock” since I wasn’t exactly sure if it was correct. Rock isn’t the kind of music I listen to most often, so I freely acknowledge that I may be off in my terminology when I discuss it. Thanks for the correction!

      • Don’t feel bad…all rock is “hard” to me, as in “hard to listen to”. The closest I get to rock is on the GVB’s “He Came Down to My Level” or Gold City’s “It’s a Matter of Grace”. 🙂

      • Ah, but I’m a perfectionist, especially when it comes to terminology. 😀

        But I appreciate the sympathy. For the most part, I’m right there with you, brother!

      • Meanwhile, the hardest rock I listen to is Vestal Goodman’s interpretation of “Rock of Ages.”


        OK, I know the joke is way overdone to the point of being cheesy, but I am too tired to resist the temptation. 😆

      • I do listen to some actual rock, but some of it is confined only to exercise music, e.g. Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Dive.” Talk about a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, I’m totally jumping up and down and digging it, on the other I completely hate it. The solution? Work out to it and just use it as a beat to keep me going!

      • But it was still funny! 😆

      • Yeah I wouldn’t consider “Dive” a rock song – but then again – we haven’t agreed yet – so I’m sure we won’t agree on that either. 😉

      • I was partly joking… of course it only qualifies as “rock” in the lightest sense of the word. Stevie never really got “heavy” despite what people might think. 😉

      • And we do agree on Andrew Peterson!

  12. An acappella version of this has been done. The group Acappella (Acappella Company) recorded it on a CD called Classics I. I would assume that CD is hard to get and has been put on a compilation called Classics Longplay which is a compilation of Classics I and II. This was not my favorite Acappella CD but for what its worth it is worth the listen.

    • That’s really interesting. The arrangement is actually similar to what I was picturing.

      However, I think the Ball Brothers could do it better. 😀

  13. Here’s a Petra song I always thought could have been done SG style:

    Why Should the Father Bother?