Top Ten Songs For 1977 Chosen by The Members of The GMA and The Stories Behind Them; by Philip Mayabb

Not too long ago on Vinyl Revival, we brought you the very first set of ten songs that were nominated for the 1970 Dove Award for Song Of The Year.  Even though most of the songs in that collection were traditional Southern Gospel songs (the lone exception being The Imperials' amazing rendition of If That Isn't Love), I wanted you to hear the songs that first competed for this prestigious honor.  

This week, we're doing that again, but with a different year...there were a LOT of major events that took place that year, in January, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th President in US history (let's not go there...), while Elvis Presley, the King Of Rock And Roll, passed away in August.  Disco ruled the airwaves and clubs in America, and the biggest entertainment events of the year was a miniseries (Roots) and a MAJOR motion picture (Star Wars).  The Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl, The New York Yankees won the world series, the Portland Trailblazers were crowned NBA champs, and the Montreal Canadiens captured one of their many Stanley Cups.  The world was a much different place back then, but Gospel music was alive and well, and starting to experience something of a renaissance, due to a new musical subgenre called Contemporary Christian Music.  

Now we have discussed the genesis of CCM, and how it's early days were split into two eras, those being the Jesus Music Movement, and plain old Contemporary Christian Music, so we're not going to hash that over again, other than saying that by 1977, the Jesus Music era was coming to an end. Artists were becoming more organized, with managers, booking agents, etc.  The days of bands crisscrossing the country, and playing anywhere they could find a gig were being replaced by artists performing on full blown tours, much similar to their mainstream counterparts, which plays into the story of the songs on our featured album, which is the Gospel Music Association's Top Ten For 1977 LP.  We will hear the ten songs that were chosen by the members of the GMA  (which were still primarily folks involved in Southern Gospel) to compete for the Dove Award that year, and there are some memorable hits contained in this collection, so let's break this down, track by track.  We'll start with the album's opening song, and go down the list.


One of the neatest things about Southern Gospel music is that there really isn't a limit as to how long an artist's career will go.  By 1977, The Speer Family had been travelling the quartet circuit for about 56 years.  Started all the way back in 1921 by George Thomas (Dad) Speer and his wife, Lena Brock (Mom), The Speer Family had seen personnel changes over the years.  GT Speer was responsible for some MAJOR hit songs over the years, and his children, Brock, Mary Tom, Rosa Nell, and Ben would eventually take over the family business, continuing the group into the early 1990s.  In 1977, the Speers were still major players in Southern Gospel, and this song, which was written by super producer Lari Goss, put them in the year end top ten.  Most CCM fans (including myself) would prefer the version recorded by the much younger Cruse Family, however there is a reason as to why the Cruse's recording was not used and it is...

He Was There All The Time - The Cruse Family

Even though this family group started in Southern Gospel, they were beginning to make a move toward a more contemporary sound, like several younger artists were at the time.  From their major label debut album Heaven Bound, this recording of Gary S. Paxton's classic song was chosen for inclusion in the 1977 top ten.  Fun fact - on their next album Faith, which was also released in 1977, The Cruse Family covered a little ditty written by a two guys named Keith Green and Randy Stonehill (you've probably heard of them) called Love Broke Through (I KNOW you've heard the song a time or two).  By the late 70s, the Cruse's had made the jump to CCM, much to the chagrin of their longtime Southern Gospel fans, but they never looked back once the deed was done.


Let me just say this, right off the bat here...Dottie Rambo is one of the greatest songwriters in the history of Christian music, and NOBODY can debate that fact.  She is a rarity, in that she has written songs that were huge hits on the Singing News charts (Southern Gospel) and the CCM Magazine charts as well (CCM).  I could spend hours writing about some of the many amazing songs that came from the pen of this most talented writer.  By 1977, The Rambos were starting to experience a drop off in their hit singles with Singing News, and part of that could have been due to the fact that this longtime staple of the SG world was starting to use more modern arrangements with Dottie's great songs.  Daughter Reba had already released a contemporary solo record called Lady earlier that year (you heard it two weeks ago on Vinyl Revival), and it in fact won a Dove Award of its own - for Pop/Contemporary Album Of The Year, so there were already contemporary influences weighing on the group.  From the album Naturally, The Rambos were honored with a GMA Top Ten nomination for a song that is still widely used in praise and worship services to this day, Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome.  If you find that hard to believe, listen to this song, and just see if you don't feel like lifting your hands...


Mentioned earlier, the CCM industry was just starting to gain its sea legs around this time, and in 1976, it got a MAJOR player, when pop/country star Billy Joe Thomas (B.J., to the fans) announced that he had became a born again Christian.  While he continued to record mainstream (secular, as it was called then) albums (3 of them in 1977), he also recorded some amazing CCM albums, and his first was 1976's Home Where I Belong.  Produced by an up-and coming producer by the name of Chris Christian, Home was the album which contained one of the contemporary songs on the 1977 Top Ten, called I Wanna Be Ready, which was actually written by Southern Gospel writers Aaron Brown and Garland Craft.  Over his short stint in the Christian music industry, B.J. Thomas was several awards for a category called Album By A Secular Artist, and it just so happens that in 1977, he won the very first Dove in that category...for the album Home Where I Belong.


I will say something else now, right off the bat...I am NOT a fan of The Florida Boys at all. You might find that rude or condescending, but since I'm writing the blog, I have that privilege!  This is actually a very good song, written by Harold Lane, the tenor singer of The Speer Family, who's version is the one most Southern Gospel fans think of first, but since The Speers contributed Cornerstone to this album, and an artist could not have more than one song in the year end top ten, this recording by the Florida Boys was chosen.  It must be noted that Les Beasley, the owner and lead singer of the group was one of the board members of the GMA at the time, and I'm sure that had nothing to do with them being on this record, but quite honestly, this is the one track that this album could've done without, just saying, and let's move on...


We have said it before, William J. and Gloria Gaither are the greatest songwriting team in Christian music history - they are this genre's Lennon & McCartney.  In 1976, The Gaithers recorded an album titled Praise, which included this track.  This is a song that the Bill Gaither Trio used for many years to conclude their live concerts, and it is a powerful song in its own right.  The Gaither Vocal Band covered this classic Gaither track on the album Everything Good, which was Russ Taff's debut as the GVB baritone.  This is one of those songs that may not be remembered as fondly as The King Is Coming or He Touched Me, but in my humble opinion, it should is a magnificent song!


It is hard, no next to impossible, to find a quartet that is more unapologetically Southern Gospel than The Kingsmen.  For over 60 years now, this quartet from Asheville, North Carolina has been one of the crown jewels on the Southern Gospel quartet circuit, and they still sound amazing to this day.  This song is one of two tracks on the 1977 Dove Awards Top Ten record that was a repeat was also nominated a year earlier, on the 1976 record, and one of the reasons why is that this is one of the group's biggest hit singles of all time.  From the 1976 album of the same name, It Made News In Heaven: is one of the songs on this album that I believe our listeners will thoroughly enjoy listening to, probably not so much for the music (this is as Southern Gospel as it gets), but for the lyrics.  Songwriter Gordon Jenson's views on how the angels of Heaven rejoice at the rebirth of a soul will stir yours, as you remember when God saved you by His amazing grace.  Great track, I think you will love it.


Throughout the 1940s, 50s, and the first half of the 60s, two groups dominated Southern Gospel music...they were The Statesmen (featuring Jake Hess, the founder of a group called The Imperials), and The Blackwood Brothers (yes, they are related to Terry Blackwood of Andrus, Blackwood & Co.).  They dominated because they were in a class of their own, in regard to showmanship and harmony, and they set the standard that Southern Gospel groups still aspire to today.  But by 1976, The Blackwoods had fallen on hard times, partially due to a scandal involving these same Dove Awards in 1971.  The scandal resulted in every single Dove Award that had been given to be nullified, thereby causing industry wide consternation with the group.  If they needed a comeback, they sure found it in 1976, with the title song of their album Learning To Lean.  This song actually holds a music industry record, because it held the number one spot on The Singing News Top 80 Chart for an unprecedented 26 consecutive months, a record that will never be broken by a song in any musical genre.  It is also the second repeat Top Ten nominee of 1977.


Have you ever heard the phrase the next big thing?  It indicates that something or someone is going to be a major factor in their field for years to come.  It's been used in athletics, fashion, and all kind of other industries, and music is no exception.  The Telestials were considered to be one of the next big things in Southern Gospel in the mid 70s, but they could never get past one teeny weeny fact...they sounded WAY too much like the group who was top dog at their label, Calvary Records, and that was The Hinsons.  Since they were on the same label, with the same record producer, some fans could overlook the similarities, however it didn't take long for most SG fans to view The Telestials as a HInsons knockoff, and the group quickly faded from view.  One Way Flight, from the album of the same name was The Telestials biggest hit of all time, as well as one of the top chart position holders of 1977.


FINALLY, you're thinking...a song that I know!!!  This song needs no introduction to anybody who a halfway serious CCM aficionado, because it is one of the songs that bridged the early gap between CCM and Southern Gospel - it was loved by both camps.  Of course, you know the reason why, it is one of the most powerful Easter songs in Christian Music history, and is still sang in churches all around the world on Easter Sunday.  Recorded in front of a small gathering of friends in Lindale, Texas, Rise Again is widely considered to be the finest song ever written by Dallas Holm, and I tend to agree.  It's hard to argue with success, and the album Dallas Holm And Praise Live has sold over 500,000 certified copies.  For that distinction, Dallas and the other members of the band have RIAA gold records hanging on their walls, signifying the position of both CCM and Southern Gospel fans on this iconic song.  Dallas Holm is a member of the GMA Hall Of Fame, and this song is one of the many reasons he is rightfully there.

Okay, we've covered them all, and I bet you're probably wondering which one of these songs won the Dove for Song Of The Year for 1977?  Well, I have the answer for you...drum roll please - the winner of the 1977 Song Of The Year is...


In closing, before I get any comments or messages saying I thought Rise Again won the Dove for Song Of The Year, that is correct.  Rise Again in fact did win a Dove Award for Dallas Holm as the GMA Song Of The Year, however it was the following 1978, as a repeat nominee.  In 1977 however, The Blackwood Brothers were the toast of the Doves once more with their record setting chart topper.  So there you have it - The Gospel Music Association's Top Ten Songs Of 1977, all featured in their vinyl glory this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival.  We hope you enjoy taking a look back at this historic year, and the Christian songs that made it so great!


Side 1-

1. Cornerstone - The Speer Family

2. He Was There All The Time - The Cruse Family

3. Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome - The Rambos

4. I Wanna Be Ready - B.J. Thomas

5. I'm Standing On The Solid Rock - The Florida Boys

Side 2-

1. It Is Finished - Bill Gaither Trio

2. It Made News In Heaven - The Kingsmen

3. Learning To Lean - The Blackwood Brothers (Dove Award Winner)

4. One Way Flight - The Telestials

5. Rise Again - Dallas Holm & Praise

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