This Weeks Vinyl Revival Is a Priority and this Is A Play On Words! by Philip Mayaab
The year of our Lord 1985 was a great year for music, it was one of the best in the 80s. On the mainstream side, we saw the release of Whitney Houston's debut album, and Mr. Mister's Welcome To The Real World, which in my humble opinion was one of the best rock albums of the entire decade. On the Christian side of the coin, this would be the year that CCM became BIG...the list of great albums from 1985 would be too long to list on this blog, but titles such as Unguarded, Medals, Let The Wind Blow, Black And White In A Grey World, Beat The System, and others made it a phenomenal year for Christian music.
One album that was largely overlooked, but had major historical implications, was the debut album for a four part male quartet from Oklahoma Baptist Bible College. The group was called Priority, and their self-titled debut is the subject of this blog, and Vinyl Revival on CCM Classic this week. There is little to no information about the group on the internet, which is shocking, because it seems you can find just about anything you want on any obscure music artist in history, but these guys are virtually nonexistent online. Anyway, I'll just go with what I do know about the group and this album...I think it's probably safe to say that this group was heavily influenced by The Imperials, and I base that theory on two facts, first the group has the same name as The Imperials' Grammy and Dove award winning album from 1981, and second, one of the two producers on their debut LP was a man named Paul Smith, who replaced Russ Taff for The Imperials' Priority tour four years earlier. I have not been able to confirm my theory, but it's hard to imagine that those two facts are just a coincidence.
In the personnel of the group, CCM fans will definitely know one of the members, and if you are a Southern Gospel fan, you will recognize a second one as well. In the case of the latter, tenor singer Kurt Young would leave the group for a very short (about 4 months) stint with the premier quartet in Southern Gospel, The Cathedrals. Priority's original lead singer, Kirk Sullivan, would leave after the release of this album, and join Roger Breland's vocal supergroup Truth. From there he would meet Andy Chrisman, Mark Harris, and Marty Magehee, and you know the rest...those four gentlemen would become the 90s powerhouse vocal group 4Him. I'm getting too far along the timeline though, so back to 1985 we go - you have met Kirk Sullivan and Kurt Young, the other two members of Priority were baritone (and later lead singer) Scott Crawley, and bass singer Brian Rose. These four guys put together a really good sounding group, and their harmony is pretty tight, as you will hear when you listen this week. The quartet was signed to the Benson Company's Impact Records, which at the time was trying to rebuild its artist roster, after being the longtime home of people like The Imperials (there they are again), The Bill Gaither Trio, Doug Oldham, The Lanny Wolfe Trio, and other CCM pioneers. The label recruited the aforementioned Paul Smith and Southern Gospel super producer Wayne Hilton to call the shots in the studio.
As I stated earlier, this is a much better record than its commercial success, or lack thereof, would suggest. There are nine solid songs on the album, and the vocal performances are much better than most would expect on a debut recording. While they may not have been quite as polished as either The Gaither Vocal Band or Imperials, Priority possessed the tools to become a major force in the industry for a while to come, but we'll get that momentarily. The musical summary of this album would be a more classic sound, meaning that the keyboards were not as prevalent on this album as they were on most of the biggest selling albums of the day, in fact I would venture to say that had this record been released two years earlier, it might have sold better, but I digress. There really are some great tracks on this album, starting with the leadoff track Good News Gets Better, which was co-written by WhiteHeart keyboardist Mark Gersmehl. This one features Kirk Sullivan, and though he was not quite as skilled vocally as he would be in his 4Him days, he still showed some of the vocal styling that the fans still know and love today. Another standout track is a cover of Mylon LeFevre's More, which I actually enjoy a lot - the bass vocal that Mylon's version did not have adds more fullness to the feel of the song. Two other ballads Let It Be Jesus and the album's closing song Be Strong are great additions to the disc, while Follow On and my personal favorite track from the LP, There Is Still Time (which was co-written by yet another WhiteHeart member, Billy Smiley), have great hooks in the chorus to sing along with. I want you to experience the album for yourself this week, but I can tell you that these guys were a great quartet, and when combined with the solid production, and some well known studio musicians (Gersmehl, Keith Thomas, Phil Naish, Mike Brignardello, Gary Lunn, and others), Priority is an album that I am happy to have in my vinyl collection, even if it took me a while to find a copy that didn't cost an arm and a leg.
As for the group itself, Impact Records did nothing to help their cause...they did not promote the album to CCM radio, which meant no real big hit singles, although there were tracks on the album that should and could have been. Impact folded in late 1985 or early 86, and so the group had no record label. You already know what happened to Kirk Sullivan, and it's fairly safe to say that he has little to no complaints about the aftermath of Priority's debut LP. As for the other three members, they added a new baritone named Greg Gillette, with original baritone Scott Crawley moving to lead, and the group became a Southern Gospel quartet. In 1988, they released their sophomore album My Redeemer Lives with the newly formed Homeland Records. Despite being on a label who's roster included groups such as The Cathedrals and Speers, Priority was once again dogged by the same trouble...no promotion. Redeemer is a great album, just like their first, but once again, nobody bought the album, because the record company did not promote it. If you would like to read a really comprehensive review of My Redeemer Lives, you can go to https://fusonsfindings.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/classic-album-review-my-redeemer-lives-by-priority/, and check it out. Kurt Young left for four months in 1991 to sing with The Cathedrals, a move which did not work out for either party...Young would rejoin Priority, and The Cathedrals would hire their final tenor singer, Ernie Haase. In the end, Priority would release two more albums as a Southern Gospel quartet, and then disband in the mid 90s. Looking back,it is such a shame that this group is not recognized more than they are. As I stated earlier, there is little to nothing about them on the internet. I attempted to contact Kirk Sullivan for a short interview on this debut album, but he never got in touch with me, which I understand, because he is still busy working and singing.
Hopefully I have provided enough of a background into a group that turned a pretty decent debut LP, but don't just take my word for it, listen to the album this week, as we feature it on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival. While this might be an album you know very little about, I still believe that won't stop you from enjoying it as much as I do!
Side 1 -
1. Good News Gets Better (Mark Gersmehl & Dwight Liles)
2. Fight For Me (Marie Armenia)
3. More (Mylon LeFevre & Tim Huffman)
4. Still Be Believing (Paul Smith & John Rosasco)
5. Take Me To The Top (John Rosasco, Paul Smith, & Debbie Gray)
Side 2 -
1. Follow On (Phil & Marie Armenia)
2. Let It Be Jesus (Paul Smith & Mark Baldwin)
3. There Is Still Time (Billy Smiley & Greg Davis)
4. Be Strong (Bob Bailey)
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