Here at UrbanFaith, we believe that the recent past is a neglected element of black history. Jelani Greenidge, worship musician and music connoisseur, took a look back at some of the most momentous gospel music recordings of our era.
Go Tell Somebody, Light Records, (1986)
I can’t talk about back-in-the-day gospel music without talking about Commissioned. For my parents’ generation, their watershed gospel songs, the ones that strike them with nostalgia, are the Walter Hawkins or Andrae Crouch recordings from the late 60s and 70s. But for me, a (formerly) young member of Generation X… it’s Commissioned, all the way. And man, does this one take me back.
It is tremendously fitting that this song opens with a Fred Hammond bass lick, because Fred was one of the main creative forces of the group, alongside keyboardist and arranger Michael Brooks. And though the album from which this sprang was not their first, it was the one that really put them on the map.
One of the funny things about growing up black in Portland, Oregon is that even though there was a tightly-knit black community in my area, we were a lot smaller in number compared to other cities. And certain trends, dance moves, fashion, etc. took longer to show up here.
Consequently, there were a lot of cultural gaps in the overall awareness of my peers, especially my white peers. There were things they just didn’t understand that I thought would be obvious to everyone. (I mean, didn’t everyone grow up in my family? Oh wait…)
Nowhere was this more apparent than with my enthusiasm for the music of Commissioned. In the late 80s and early 90s, when a new era of male R&B groups was dawning, led first by New Edition and then later Boyz II Men, I kept hearing over and over, not only in their music but also in interviews and liner notes, that virtually all of them had been inspired, on some level, by Commissioned. (It was either them or Take 6.)
So why were Boyz II Men mega-famous, and not Commissioned, my pubescent mind wondered. And the answer came to me, many years later, as I pondered the meaning to the song that had been my jam for so long.
See, in the chorus, when the guys sing, “Victory, victory shall be mine”… that’s God talking. It’s not a celebratory, name-it-and-claim-it type thing. It’s actually a challenge to remain calm and not take matters into our own hands.
Hold your peace, vengeance is mine / enemies will bow down in due time / hold your peace, I will fight your battles / victory, victory shall be mine
There are certain songs that not only embody a particular idea, but also capture for the listener the spirit of its time. So when most of us think of classic 70s disco-funk, our minds often drift to Curtis Mayfield, Sly & The Family Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, or similar artists. But my mind immediately goes first to this song, the blistering opener from his classic recording, This Is Another Day.
It’s a bit of stretch for me to call this a song from my era, since I was born the year this song was released and didn’t come to appreciate it until I was seven or eight. But given that my parents had the good sense to play edifying music around the house instead of songs like “Lady Marmalade” and “It’s Raining Men,” I learned how to groove and shimmy to this one instead.
And man, I’m glad they did.
Andrae Crouch, eight-time Grammy award-winning artist and gospel music pioneer
One of the things that I love about this song is the use of sonorous contrast. When the intro comes in, sounding all smooth and dangerous and Shaft-like (come on, you know I wasn’t sheltered my whole life), the whole groove is rooted in C# minor, and as all of the wah-wah guitars and percolating percussion and cascading horns come to a crescendo, the melody kicks in – not in its relative major of E, but up a whole step to F# major.
What results (for those of you turned off by the music theory geek speak) is a sense of unexpected discovery that underscores the title. In the middle of a furious musical maelstrom, the melody lands softly onto a pleasant musical bed, like a baby sleeping soundly in the eye of a hurricane. And as the melody winds its way through the chord progression, the musical cues lend a sense of depth and pathos by reinforcing its meaning.
When Andrae and his singers echoed the words of Isaiah 26:3 – You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You – it wasn’t just a pleasant sentiment to be displayed on someone’s desk or refrigerator door. They were fiercely proclaiming Jesus’ promise to supernaturally uphold his children in the midst of life-threatening storms.
So for me as an adult, “Perfect Peace” is no longer just an exercise in nostalgia or an instructive in how to craft a funky tune, though it surely works as both. For me, it’s a reminder to trust God and don an essential piece of His full armor, one that allows me to walk freely in His plans, despite my fear of the unknown. I can put on my headphones and, for at least a few minutes, relax, knowing that God’s got this whole future thing on lock.
So break out your afro wigs and your platform shoes, and then crank up your speakers this classic gospel throwback. You can get it on Amazon MP3 here, and don’t forget to check out this incredible Norwegian cover here.