Vinyl Revival's 1st Double Album Set: Read All About It: By Philip Mayabb
Ah, the double album set...yet another facet of the music industry from days gone by that has been largely forgotten. Oh I know that a majority of the new reissues on that really nice 280g vinyl are multiple record sets, but you must realize that is out of necessity. In order to get the sound quality the labels are going for, the grooves on the record must be wider than the ones on traditional vinyl discs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, so we're not counting the new LPs (some of which can be VERY expensive, by the way). No, we're talking the double LPs from back in the day, mostly the 70s, when there was so much good stuff slated for an album, that it couldn't be contained on one disc, or the double live albums, which were meant to showcase a performer's live prowess. In a first for Vinyl Revival, we are featuring our first double album set this week, and it's a virtual CCM history lesson. The album is simply titled Classics, and the artist featured on the recording is the legendary Bill Gaither Trio.
I know that some people find Bill and Gloria Gaither (mostly Bill) to be an easy target these days, especially since the couple and their organization defected from CCM to the opposite side of the highway, the Southern Gospel industry. I have my own criticism of Uncle Bill, but it is based on what he has done to the SG community and business model as a whole, and I may address that somewhere down the road, but that notwithstanding, I will tell you that the large majority of CCM artists correctly hold the Gaithers up as the legends and icons that they truly are. If we began mentioning all of the CCM artists that were helped along their path by Bill and Gloria Gaither, it would take up the rest of this blog posting, and we're here to focus on our album. But even with the vast wide open world that is the Gaither empire, the bread and butter of the couple has always been their songwriting, and the original vehicle with which to get their songs to the masses was the Bill Gaither Trio.
The BGT released its first album in 1964, under the name The Gaither Trio. The album was titled He Touched Me, and the title song of that album became the genesis of one of the most successful brands in the history of Christian music. At that point in time, the personnel of the group was not the not the classic lineup that everyone knew - Bill had not married Gloria Sickal yet, so she was obviously not there, neither was Bill's brother Danny, who in my opinion, is one of the most underrated lead singers in Christian music history (just throwing that out there). Instead, The Gaither Trio consisted of Bill, his sister Mary Ann, and another young lady who I must confess, I do not know her name, and can't find it anywhere on the internet (if you know who she is, please let me know). I don't need to address the cultural and historical significance of that debut album's title song, because everybody and their mother knows He Touched Me, or has heard it at some point in time...the song has been recorded by many, many Christian music artists across multiple styles, and was the title of Elvis Presley's final gospel LP from 1972.
Since we have the Gaither Trio's beginning covered, let's get to this wonderful double LP...20 songs, released primarily from 1969 to 1976, the only two exceptions being I Believe In A Hill Called Mt. Calvary, and Why Should I Worry Or Fret, both of which were recorded before Gloria joined her husband and brother-in-law, while Mary Ann was still singing with the trio. These are songs that cross musical boundaries, meaning they could be played on Southern Gospel stations (although some music directors were hesitant to do so, citing the fact that the actual music was not southern enough for their listeners) or contemporary stations years after their initial release. As you read through the tracklist at the bottom of this post, you will begin to remember some of the many iconic songs that have been written by this talented couple - their resume is rather impressive. No matter which of the Gaither's songs you think of first, whether it be Because He Lives, There's Just Something About That Name, The King Is Coming, Let's Just Praise The Lord, or any of their other early hits, there's a good chance that it is one of the 20 tracks on this album.
I won't waste time trying to say something about these songs or their writers that hasn't already been said somewhere by somebody else...let's face it, writers with much better skills than I have had written some wonderful thoughts about the Gaithers and their music. I am however, going to give you some thoughts about the music included on this album, because that's my job. I was about 11 years old when I first became acquainted with the Bill Gaither Trio. After having been exposed to nothing but Southern Gospel music my entire life, I found it refreshing to listen to a group that used horns and strings more extensively that their SG counterparts, and I found it particularly intriguing that their lyrics were more sophisticated and intellectually engaging than the ones I had listened to previously. I began sweet talking my parents into buying me as much of their music as I could get my hands on, and I still have the majority of those recordings today. Classics was my go-to album when it came to the Gaither Trio. It had songs I had heard in church, and it had songs that nobody in my home church could have sang, but mostly because it had songs that ministered to me, even as a child. That ministry aspect was what kept me as a fan, even as I got older and began listening to the likes of the Imperials, Amy Grant, WhiteHeart, and others. That's also the aspect that I miss with today's modern Christian music...the ministry. In a day and age when people are bombarded with stress and situations that didn't exist in my childhood, we no longer have songs that speak directly to these situations - instead we have too many writers, artists, and Christians consumed with ministering to God himself, which is almost laughable, when you consider that He has the angels of Heaven to minister to Him. Anyway, I digress...Bill and Gloria Gaither were MASTERS of their craft, writing songs that spoke to the listener. What Christian can't relate to the lyrics of songs like The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference, or The Longer I Serve Him? As a grown adult, I still find my soul stirred when I hear the final verse of The King Is Coming, and I still find strength in the fact that because He lives I can face tomorrow. The reason for all that is because these lyrics and songs speak to me, not try to make me feel euphoric while I'm in church, and that is one of the reasons why I still love this album so much.
For the record, let me tell you that the Gaither Trio were not the best singers on the scene when these songs were released. They weren't bad singers, but I can certainly name many other singing groups in Christian music that had tighter harmony, had better voices (even though Danny Gaither was one bad cat), and had a more exciting stage presence than the Bill Gaither Trio, but when you record songs as good as these, you don't necessarily have the be Russ Taff or Steve Archer...the songs speak for themselves, and believe me, these songs do just that. The 20 songs on this collection were gleaned from nine different albums, which is an impressive catalog to choose from, but the biggest selling point of this album is truly the songs themselves. Even the songs that you might not remember off the top of your head are really good, and as you listen to them, you will most likely find yourself being drawn in to the message, and that is what a great song is all about. It's also one of the biggest reasons that the Gaithers are revered within the Christian music community the way that they are. There have been several well known classic CCM artists who have made appearances on Gaither Homecoming videos, and it is mostly because of the respect and reverence they have for Bill and Gloria. Even though the couple has spent the last 25 or so years fully involved in the Southern Gospel scene, their connections to contemporary Christian music are still evident, and probably will be until the day they both go home to be with the Lord. Those ties to the early days of CCM were all because of the couple's songwriting, and the Bill Gaither Trio's music, which will be legendary until the Lord comes back to take his children home.
In closing, let me just confess something to you...you will be listening to the third copy of this album that I have owned in the last 41 years. The first copy I had was am 8-Track tape that wore out so quickly, it never even had a chance (oh Lord, it wasn't pretty). The second copy was vinyl, and it was actually signed by Bill, Gloria, and Gary McSpadden, but the records were shot...I played that thing so much that I scratched it to death. This one I have taken better care of, but it too has its flaws, as you will probably hear this week. This is one of my most treasured recordings in my vinyl collection, because I still enjoy listening to the songs on it, and also because it serves as a reminder to the history of contemporary Christian music, and the early days when it was all about the songs and the ministry involved, and that is something that I truly wish we could bring back, but rest assured that as long as CCM Classic is on the air, and we continue to do shows like Vinyl Revival, we will continue to do our best to keep music like this alive for those of us who grew up on it, and for future generations, and that is something that all of us can Get All Excited about!!
Side 1 -
1. The King Is Coming
2. I Believe In A Hill Called Mt. Calvary
3. He Touched Me
4. Something Beautiful
5. Why Should I Worry Or Fret
Side 2 -
1. The Family Of God
2. There's Just Something About That Name
3. Get All Excited
4. Let's Just Praise The Lord
5. King Of Kings
Side 3 -
1. Because He Lives
2. Rejoice, You're A Child Of The King
3. The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference
4. The Longer I Serve Him
5. The Church Triumphant (Is Alive And Well)
Side 4 -
1. It Is Finished
2. Thanks For Sunshine
3. Bethlehem, Galilee, Gethsemane
4. Plenty Of Room In The Family
5. My Faith Still Holds
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