Did You Know That New Song Was a Southern Gospel Quartet: by Philip Mayabb
If I were to ask which hit do you think of first when I mention the name NewSong?, which one would you choose? I don't have time to go through all of them, but some of the more familiar ones might be Arise My Love, or maybe This One's With Me or quite possibly The Christmas Shoes, but when I think of NewSong, my mind goes back to the very first time that I ever heard them on the radio. Believe it or not, it wasn't on our local CCM station, instead it was on the local Southern Gospel station, and the song was called Give Me Some Good Ole Gospel Music, and I actually liked the song (still do to this day). The DJ announced that he had just played the debut single from a new quartet named NewSong, and so when someone mentions the group, I tend to think of that first single they released to radio in 1984.
Now to most NewSong fans, this may sound impossible...they are known as a legendary Contemporary group, with a long and impressive résumé of both hit singles and albums, however before all of that started, NewSong was a SOUTHERN GOSPEL QUARTET, and we're going to prove it to you by playing their major label debut LP called The Word for you this week on Vinyl Revival. Now before you say oh no, not Southern Gospel and turn us off this week, I encourage you to give these guys a listen, because number one, they were a really good SG quartet, and number two, some of the musical elements that would define their sound as a Contemporary group were already in place on this album.
If you know the history of NewSong, this will be old history to you, but for those readers who may not know much about them, they started singing in 1981, three years before this album came out. From 1981 to 1983, NewSong released a total of four albums, three of which were done independently, so The Word is actually the group's fifth LP, but their first for a major Christian record label. They had been signed to Word Inc's legendary Southern Gospel division, Canaan Records prior to the release of this album, and the label teamed them with producer Andy Tolbird, who was becoming a rising star within the SG industry. Tolbird and Gary Chapman had produced an album for Tanya Goodman the previous year that yielded a minor hit on CCM radio, called Things I Believe In, and he utilized that experience on this album as well, because the music on the album has a more contemporary feel to it than any other male quartet (other than The Imperials) had at the time. Even the songs that are straight up Southern Gospel sound different, due to the use of compression on the guitars and keyboards, so even though NewSong was a couple of years away from releasing their first CCM album, this one set the table for their change in musical direction, which may have been part of the reason why their music was not well received on SG radio, and I'll get to that shortly.
There are two faces on the album jacket that should look very familiar to the group's longtime fans, and they would be those of Eddie Carswell and Billy Goodwin, who are still with the group to this day (pretty impressive, isn't it?). The other two gentlemen from the original lineup, which was still in place on this album were Eddie Middleton and Bobby Apon, and they were a legitimate Southern Gospel quartet, as you will find out when you listen to The Word this week. This album has several songs that are as good, if not better than a large number of songs that were radio hits at the time. I've already mentioned Good Ole Gospel Music, which I love, but songs such as On His Mind, the title song, and Out Of The Grave still sound good by today's standards for Southern Gospel. Another interesting thing to mention is that the opening monologue to He's Gone was done by special guest Jon Mohr from The Gaither Vocal Band. One of the most important things to point out to those who may be reading this before listening to the album, is that the music tracks do not (I repeat, DO NOT) sound like any other Southern Gospel group's music...trust me, the Cathedrals album from 1984 does not sound like this one. The vocals also had a younger, hipper sound to them (which may or may not have been by design), but they gave NewSong a different type of identity from most traditional four part male quartets, such as Gold City or The Singing Americans. However, it also presented them with a problem...Southern Gospel radio was, and still is a very traditional media outlet. They want their artists and music to sound a certain way, and if they don't, the records aren't played on the air. The aforementioned Give Me Some Good Ole Gospel Music should have been a HUGE hit on SG radio, but sadly, it was not, and to be honest, I don't remember ever hearing any of the other singles from the album on the radio (I still listen to some Southern Gospel from time to time). The result of all this was poor album sales, which a newer group does not want at all.
The execs at Word Records wanted to keep NewSong with the company, but the decision was made to move them from the Southern Gospel division (Canaan Records), to a brand new label called Word Nashville Records in 1986 for the release of their follow up LP. They had pretty good company at the new label, with artists such as The Gaither Vocal Band, and Tanya Goodman moving over with them, and even country superstars Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell signed on to record some new Christian Music. The label's forte was a sort of middle of the road type format, mostly an Adult Contemporary feel to the music they released, which meant that NewSong was going to switch gears musically, which history tells us they did quite well. In 1986, they released the album Trophies Of Grace, their journey to the world of CCM was complete, and they have never looked back. The group became one of the biggest Contemporary Christian artists of the 1990s, and are still loved by fans everywhere. It might be safe to say that some of that success was made possible by the not so successful result of our Vinyl Revival LP of the week, The Word.
Incidentally, this founding lineup of NewSong would stay in place until 1993, when both Eddie Middleton and Bobby Apon left the group. Sadly, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of Bobby Apon, but it also marks a resurgence for the group, with the release of a brand new Greatest Hits album, and a huge tour to accompany it with support from Point Of Grace, Nicole C. Mullen, Bob Carlisle, Avalon, and Rebecca St. James. It could be one of the premiere Christian tours of the entire year, as it seems some of the artists from the 90s are enjoying a return to the spotlight, which is a good thing for all of us. Anyway, if you would like to get more info on the tour, and check tour dates, you can go to www.newsongonline.com, and check it out. Make sure however, that you join us here at CCM Classic this week on Vinyl Revival, as we present the major label debut from one of the industry's giants...NewSong's 1984 album The Word.
Side One -
1. The Word (Eddie Carswell)
2. Out Of The Grave (Eddie Carswell)
3. Wrap Me Up (Eddie Carswell)
4. A Little Light (Eddie Carswell)
5. Give Me Some Good Ole Gospel Music (Gary Driskell & John Rosasco)
Side Two -
1. He's Gone (Eddie Carswell)
2. On His Mind (Eddie Carswell)
3. Conversation Peace (Aaron Wilburn)
4. This Could Be The Day (Eddie Carswell)
5. Jesus, Be Jesus In Me (Gary McSpadden, Sean McSpadden & Eddie Carswell)
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