CCM vs. SG: Cover Songs

CCM vs. SG: Cover Songs August 15, 2011

Recently I’ve been pondering yet another one of the many things that sets CCM and SG apart: cover songs (and projects). In southern gospel, it’s quite common for even top-tier groups to fill up a good percentage of their main releases with covers, whether of relatively recent songs or old standards. It’s also common for groups to put out entire projects of covers, sometimes as a tribute to another group like the Cathedrals or the Happy Goodmans.
I don’t observe this nearly as much in CCM. On occasion, various artists will collaborate on some special event covers project as a tribute to somebody significant in Christian music (like Rich Mullins). Once in a while, a group will release a project of CCM classics covers (Avalon, Another Time, Another Place). Some praise and worship artists will cover each other, but those are generally songs everybody and his uncle is doing anyway (“How Great is Our God,” “Blessed Be the Name”). In general, it would be considered odd for half of an artist’s latest project to be made up of already-recorded songs. In fact, on the rare occasion that an artist chooses to re-interpret an old song (e.g. Bethany Dillon with Amy Grant’s “Lead Me On”), it’s focused on as a somewhat surprising/significant choice. And you never see current non-worship artists regularly incorporating each other’s songs into their repertoire.

Think about it. Has MercyMe ever covered Casting Crowns? Has Third Day ever covered MercyMe? Did the new group Sidewalk Prophets start out with projects of MercyMe, Casting Crowns and Third Day covers? No—each group has its own material. Going farther back, 4Him was often compared with the Imperials, but did they ever release an Imperials tribute project in between main-lines? No (although that could have been pretty cool). Come to think of it, there were a lot of similar-sounding AC harmony groups in the 90s (4Him, Point of Grace, Phillips Craig & Dean, Avalon), but they all did their own stuff and had their own styles.
Why is this? Is it because southern gospel has even more similar-sounding artists, thereby making it easier for the same songs to get bounced around among various groups? Is it because CCM has fewer adaptable “standards,” thereby making it more urgent that new artists bring all-new material?
Here’s another thought: I see more of the “covers phenomenon” in country than in CCM, although still less than in SG.

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  • quartet-man

    Interesting post. Maybe at least part is because SG is more about being traditional and that might include re-recording the same songs. Granted, some of the tribute projects concentrated on songs that were “newer” songs instead of standards. However, CCM is more about doing a new thing and constantly for lack of a beter word evolving.

  • Shrewd point. Heck, CCM critics get antsy when an artist releases several albums in a row that have the same sound!

  • Take a CCM listener to a southern gospel concert, and you’ll most likely hear, “I listened to this with my grandma at church.” It’s nostalgia.

  • So in other words, southern gospel listeners like what they know.

  • Q-man is probably right and a lot more knowledgeable than me, but I wonder if it could be that most newly written music is targeted for CCM and not SGM.

  • You’re right, although there are writers in the southern gospel industry who are steadily producing new material as well. And there are even a few like Tony Wood who work in both genres.

  • Jake

    Diane Wilkinson, Joel Lindsey, Wayne Haun, Rodney Griffin, jim Brady ….
    SG shouldn’t have any shortage of new music. Is it that the fans are slow to accept new songs, or are the artists unwilling to take a risk on something new?

  • Jake, that’s what I said—you can definitely find southern gospel writers churning out fresh stuff.
    I think you have asked an excellent question which may deserve a post of its own. I’m not entirely sure what the answer is, but I believe it’s a combination of both the reasons you suggested.

  • Amy Herrera

    “Make new friends, but keep the old.
    One is silver and the other gold!”