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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Kingsmen – 1686 Pounds of Gospel (1974)

1974 was a banner year for the Kingsmen…“Big & Live” won the Dove Award for “Album of the Year” and Jim Hamill took home the “Lead Singer of the Year” award during the 1974 Singing News Fan Awards.  There were BIG happenings with the Kingsmen, and they were quickly becoming the heavyweights of gospel music…literally…and to capitalize on that, the record company released “1686 Pounds of Gospel” as a follow-up to “Big & Live”.  A couple of years prior to the release of this album, the Kingsmen stepped on the scale at a truck weighing station by the interstate and the group collectively weighed in at 1686 pounds, almost a whole ton, and the Kingsmen became dubbed, “The Ton of Fun”.  As the liner notes on the back of this album indicates, the group weighed in at 1686 pounds and they add 314 pounds of pure gospel singing energy to become the ton of fun!

The album was produced by Marvin Norcross, with Nick Bruno also assisting with music arrangements and played piano on the album.  Marvin was a brilliant businessman, but was not very musically inclined, thereby giving Nick a wonderful opportunity to work in the studio, laying the foundation for his future work as a much sought after producer, arranger, and studio musician.  This would be the Kingsmen’s first studio album with Canaan Records and was the follow-up album to the hugely popular “Big & Live”, and no doubt, this new album had massive expectations to live up to.  While the album did enjoy one chart song, as well as a few popular concert favorites, I think that despite all efforts, “1686 Pounds of Gospel” lived deep in the shadow of “Big & Live” and is often a forgotten gem in the Kingsmen discography.

The front cover features a nice shot of the group, while the picture on the back cover was more fun in nature, and just added to the overall impression given by the album’s title.  The shots were taken on the set of a television show at WFBC (Channel 4) in Greenville, South Carolina, where the Kingsmen filmed their TV show.

Rather than starting off the album with an exciting up-tempo number, the mournful strains of the steel guitar kick things off as the Kingsmen sing the emotionally tinged, “Hallelujah Square”, which was one of the hottest songs of the day.  Written by Ray Overholt and featuring Eldridge Fox on the first and second verses (I appreciate Foxie’s genuine performance on both verses) and Johnny Parrack on the final verse, this is one of those songs that everybody sang during the 70’s, and was recorded by a plethora of artists including the Blackwood Brothers, Dixie Echoes, JD Sumner & the Stamps, Cathedrals, Thrasher Brothers, Jerry & the Goffs, Dixie Melody Boys and many others.  It’s not really clear who “owns” the song (meaning who made the song a hit), though the Florida Boys and Lamar Sego Family probably had the most popular versions.  The Florida Boys, Lamar Sego Family, Sego Brothers & Naomi as well as the Kingsmen all charted the song between 1974 and 1975, with the Florida Boys taking it all the way to #5 in January 1975 (the Kingsmen’s version only charted briefly, stalling out at #38 in October 1974).  It’s one of my favorite songs from this era of gospel music, and the Kingsmen did a great job with the song.  In fact, if memory serves me right, the Kingsmen were the first group that I heard sing this song from their record, “The Best of the Kingsmen”, that Canaan released in 1978, which was one of the first albums I bought of the Kingsmen when I was a kid.

With nice guitar highlights and a lilting piano track, the tempo picks up for the highly enjoyable, jazz infused number, “I’ll Have a New Song”, which was written by Squire Parsons (the first of 5 songs he wrote on this recording), and features Jim Hamill.  The group needed one more song for the album and asked Squire if he could write them a new song, and in the span of about 10 minutes, with a tune and idea already in his head, Squire wrote the song.  It was a popular concert favorite for the Kingsmen and went on to be recorded the same year by JD Sumner & the Stamps on their “What a Happy Time” album.

With Hamill taking the lead on the verses and Johnny singing the step out lines on the chorus, “Get a Little Touch” keeps the tempo light and is another Squire Parsons penned tune that fit the Kingsmen like a glove.  With some nice piano fills, it’s such a fun song showing off Johnny’s tenor virtuosity, before the tempo slows down slightly for the sentimental feel of “I Can Hear Mama Singing”, which features Ray.  With a bit of a country feel, the song features some nice steel guitar, fiddle, dobro and piano accents.  It  was written by Ruby Moody (famed songwriter of the classic, “Walking My Lord Up Calvary’s Hill”) and published through the Kingsmen’s in-house publishing company, Kingsmen Publishing.  During the early 60’s, Eldridge Fox worked for the Statesmen Quartet and handled their publishing (Faith Music), and being a songwriter himself, took that knowledge and created Kingsmen Publishing (originally called Heavyweight Publishing), and advocated for many young writers (such as Squire Parsons and Conrad Cook) by publishing their songs, giving the Kingsmen a seemingly endless well of songs to pull from when it came time to record.  In fact, this album included 7 songs that were published by the Kingsmen!  Over the years, several groups (Nelons, Goodmans, Rambos, Downings, Hoppers, Cathedrals, etc.) heavily utilized their own publishing companies to publish and record songs from unknown writers, and it usually benefitted both parties very well, as the writers get their songs published and recorded and the groups usually found some really wonderful gems to sing and record.

Picking the tempo back up and featuring some nice guitar work, is the enjoyable, “Who’s Gonna Hold Your Hand”, which was written by Colbert and Joyce Croft and features Hamill along with some exciting tenor singing by Johnny.  This is a typical “Kangsmen” type song and one of my favorites from the album, before this side closes out with “It’s Enough to Make Me Shout”, which features Ray.  The song was written by a lady named Hilda Ruth Hill (the Kingsmen recorded several of her songs during the early 70’s) and was published through Kingsmen Publishing.

Hamill kicks off the second side with an excellent performance on another Squire Parsons penned tune, “He’s Still Living”.  Featuring some nice acoustic guitar work and accented with strings, Squire penned this triumphant anthem as his answer to the world’s mantra, “God is dead”, which was popular at the time.  As the song builds to its climactic chorus, Johnny takes the lead, and this song remains one of Squire’s best loved tunes.  In fact, the Kingsmen would bring this song back to the forefront 13 years later, on their 1987 live album, “Mississippi Live”.

The Johnny Cash penned classic, “Over the Next Hill”, features Hamill once again, and was a pretty popular tune during this time as several groups recorded it including the Happy Goodmans, LeFevres, Jimmie Davis and the Blackwood Brothers.  The Kingsmen’s version had a bit more pep to it than most versions at the time and it was a nice inclusion for the album.

Johnny steps up next as he sings what became one of his most popular songs during his time with the Kingsmen, “Jesus, I Love You”, which was another tune written by Colbert and Joyce Croft.  Nicely orchestrated with strings that included some tasteful guitar work, this was a popular concert favorite for the Kingsmen.  The song is one Johnny still gets requests for to sing today and it’s probably my favorite tune that Johnny recorded with the Kingsmen.  Another version of this song I especially enjoy is by the Hoppers from their 1974 live album, “Alive and A’Singin’”.

With a nice piano and guitar intro, “Praise the Lord I’m Going Home” is another Squire Parsons penned tune that picks the tempo back up.  Featuring step out lines by everyone in the group, the song has a bit of a convention flare to it and it’s an enjoyable number before we come to another convention flavored tune, “Glad Homecoming”.  Using the same musical intro as the Statler Brothers’ classic hit, “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott”, which they recorded just a year prior on their 1973 album, “Carry Me Back”.  We’ll actually re-visit this unique musical intro, as the Kingsmen utilized it once again on another song 8 years later…so stay tuned!

Keeping things in a convention-style mood, the final song for the album is the last Squire Parsons penned tune for this album, entitled, “I’m Trusting in Jesus”.  Featuring Eldridge, the song also features some step out lines by Johnny on the chorus and is a nice medium tempo song to round out the album.

“1686 Pounds of Gospel” was a pretty happy and upbeat album, but it also had a pretty laid-back vibe as well.  Outside of some concert favorites though, it didn’t really yield any big, chart-topping hits for the Kingsmen.  As I mentioned at the beginning, I think it met the fate of many-a follow-up album coming behind a major hit record, and it lived in the shadow of “Big & Live”.  While it’s a great album and has some wonderful songs, I don’t think it truly captured the energy and excitement of the Kingsmen like some of their earlier studio albums may have, such as “Just Plain Singin’”.  When I first obtained this album in the early 90’s, it really took a few years for it to grow on me, and initially wasn’t one of my “go to” albums from this era of the Kingsmen.  But the more I listened to it over the years, the more it grew on me and the more I began to appreciate what this album has to offer.  While it’s still not one of my absolute favorites, I do enjoy the rawness of it and hearing them tackle some of these classic tunes.  It’s truly a gem of a record by the “Ton of Fun”…all 1686 pounds of gospel royalty!

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James Hales

James Hales, from Durham, North Carolina, has been a writer for since 2000. James is our featured reviewer and also contributes to monthly features periodically.
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