Can You Name The Album That Hold The Group's Personal Record For Most Chart Singles? By Philip Mayabb

There are weeks when choosing the album for CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival can really be a chore...I try to vary the type of music (pop, rock, inspirational, etc.), and above all, try to make sure that we don't feature the same artist too often.  That can be difficult, because I have a tendency to play artists that I personally enjoy, and while I am a fan of this music as well as all of you are, not everybody's taste's are the same.  Having said that, this week's album is one that I have waited a long time to share with you, partially due to the fact that it was never sold on vinyl in the United States, and quite truthfully, I am rather fortunate to have a vinyl copy of it.

Anyone who has read these blogs, or the many Facebook posts that I have done, knows that my all time favorite CCM artist is The Imperials, and for that, I am very unapologetic.  The group owns one of the most amazing catalogs of work in the history of Christian music, in any subgenre.  For 56 years now, there has been a group of men (and at one point, a woman) singing under the moniker of The Imperials, a record that may never be broken by any CCM act (there are southern gospel groups that have been around longer, believe it or not).  You already know the history of the group, so I'm not going to rehash that for this week, but I will say that the list of singers who have called themselves Imperials is one that reads like a who's-who of contemporary Christian music (southern gospel too, for that matter).  There are names that are instantly recognizable, such as Gary McSpadden, Armond Morales, Sherman Andrus, Jim Murray, Larry Gatlin, Terry Blackwood, Russ Taff, Paul Smith, Jonathan Pierce, on and on we could go, and as a collective enterprise, all of these voices have helped comprise the sound that has made this iconic group a member of Gospel Music Association Hall Of Fame...few if any members deserve it more.  Over their long, productive history, The Imperials have set standards musically and personally for Christian artists to follow.  The group is loved by their peers (even in southern gospel), and fans alike, so what's not to love about The Imperials?  They are one of the most essential chapters in CCM history, and as I said, my personal favorite CCM artist of all time.

Now, back to our regular blog - most everybody can name a song by The Imperials, but answer this question...can you name the album that hold the group's personal record for most chart singles?  It's not One More Song For You (their best album, period), Priority, Let The Wind Blow, No Shortage, Sail On, This Year's Model, or Heed The Call, instead it is the album that we are going to be listening to on Vinyl Revival this week, Love's Still Changing Hearts.  You read it here, the 1990 release that was The Imperials' debut issue for StarSong Records landed a total of five hits on the CCM Magazine chart, more than any other album in the group's 56 year history, and even more impressive, the WORST charting hit from this album went to #9 on that same chart.  That means five top ten hits off of one record, not too shabby when you consider the fact that Michael W. Smith's Go West Young Man, CCM's biggest album of 1990 turned out six hit singles.  

Now, on to the album...Love's Still Changing Hearts was the first album with a new label, after many years of continuous success at Word Records.  The record label was not the only change going on at the time for The Imperials, they were sporting a new member, and his name was David Robertson.  Robertson had replaced Jimmie Lee Sloas, who had sang tenor and played bass for the group from 1986 to early 1989, leaving not long after the release of the quartet's final album with Word, Free The Fire.  Added to the mix was a new record producer named Morris Butch Stewart, and if that name sounds familiar to those of you who watched afternoon television in the late 80s, it should be.  Through his music production company in Chicago, Stewart had composed the theme song for The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as a few other television tunes as well.  He was not new to Christian music, having produced songs for Steve Camp in the early 80s, so The Imperials were getting a well tested commodity as a producer.  The musical tracks for the album were recorded in the Windy City, and Stewart hired some fantastic musicians to play the tracks.  The vocals were recorded in Nashville, to give the group some more familiar surroundings in which to record.

The results speak for themselves - this album is a real sleeper within The Imperials' catalog of work.  While most fans and critics usually focus on the Russ Taff, Andrus/Blackwood, or Paul Smith era, this lineup of founding bass singer and manager Armond Morales, baritone David Will, lead singer Ron Hemby, and new tenor Robertson showed some real moxie in their polished sound.  The harmony on this album is exactly what you would expect from The Imperials, very tight, very professional, and the vocals fit right in to the musical tracks.  Fans liked what they heard on the radio, as StarSong was more than willing to sink some promotional time and money into their new artist, and that culminated in the aforementioned five hit singles.  The album's debut single It's Raining Again, which was written by David Robertson, soared all the way to #1 on the charts.  The follow up, I Will Follow You, co-written by Robertson, went to #3, while the third hit, the Hemby led Come Into My Life returned the group to that top spot for two weeks.  Single number four, which featured both David and Ron was called Come Let Us Worship, and it peaked at #5 on the CCM Adult Contemporary chart.  The final hit single from this album was the bouncy Original Love, and it peaked #9 one year and one day after It's Raining Again hit #1.  So in just over a year, The Imperials had scored five top ten hits from the same album, with a pair of chart topping songs in the bunch, proving that even after 26 years in Christian music, they were still a force to be reckoned with.

There are 6 other tracks on this album, and I'm not going to cover them all, because I want you to listen to some of them for yourself, however I do want to mention a couple of the tracks you might be interested in.  The album closes with a bonus cut called The Platinum Medley, which includes seven of the group's memorable songs from mostly the Taff and Smith era, and the track runs over eight minutes long, bringing a lot of good memories along with it.  The other is the funky, upbeat It's Gonna Be Alright, featuring Ron Hemby.  The funky, horn infused vibe of the song is reminiscent of producer Butch Stewart's days as a sideman for Earth, Wind & Fire, and it's one of the album's finest moments.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this week's blog, Love's Still Changing Hearts was never available on vinyl in the United States, however our friends across the pond in the U.K. did have the opportunity to buy it on records, and I was rather fortunate to get my hands on a vinyl copy online.  It wasn't cheap, but being an Imperials aficionado like I am, I was more than happy to spring for the money that it took to get  a vinyl copy into my personal was well worth it!

So it is our extreme pleasure here at CCM Classic to present an album that most in the United States have never heard on vinyl for your listening pleasure this week.  As you listen to some of the songs on this record, you'll hear why this album is a sometimes overlooked and underrated piece of work, in a catalog that features some of the finest CCM albums ever made.  New member David Robertson made his presence felt, writing three of the album's tracks (two of which were hits), and adding to the overall sound of The Imperials.  For those who are wondering, both David and Ron Hemby left The Imperials after the release of this album, and were replaced by Pam Morales (the first and only female member in the group's history), and a young lead singer named Jonathan (Pierce) Hildreth respectively.  The Imperials would release three more albums for StarSong Records in the early 90s, each doing well on the charts, and turning out several more hit singles during their time at the label.  We hope that each of you will be listening, during this first official week of autumn 2020, as we enjoy the rare, hard to find vinyl copy of Love's Still Changing Hearts, by one of the most prolific and iconic vocal groups in Christian music history, The Imperials.  It will play multiple times each week day on CCM Classic, and we'll let you know each evening when it will air, so be listening, and catch it on Vinyl Revival, you'll be glad you did.



Side 1 -

1. Big Ball Turning

2. Love Can Make It Happen

3. Come Into My Life

4. Original Love

5. I Will Follow You

6. It's Raining Again

Side 2 - 

1. It's Gonna Be Alright

2. Love's Still Changing Hearts

3. Come Let Us Worship

4. Goin' Away 

5. Bonus Cut - Platinum Medley

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