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VINYL RECORD REVIEW:The Kingsmen – It Made News in Heaven (1976)

Much like 1975, the year 1976 saw the Kingsmen release 2 more label albums for Canaan, the first being the hugely popular, “It Made News in Heaven”, which was actually their biggest selling studio album!  Once again, the album was produced by Marvin Norcross with Nick Bruno playing piano and providing music and string arrangements.  Squire had gelled very nicely with the Kingsmen and had truly added so much to the Kingsmen sound both vocally, musically and through his songwriting, as this latest album featured 2 new songs written by Squire.  The album also welcomed a new drummer for the Kingsmen.  After a few months without a full-time drummer, Chester Arms, who previously played drums for the Hinsons, had joined the Kingsmen by late 1975.

Whereas their last couple of albums were very upbeat in nature, “It Made News in Heaven” had a more laid-back feel to it and it seemed to resonate extremely well with Kingsmen fans.  I always thought this was a cool cover shot of the Kingsmen taken from a unique angle.  Taken by Mike Borum, the picture was captured between a row of office buildings in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

The album kicks off with the Gordon Jensen penned title song, “It Made News in Heaven”, which featured a commanding performance by Squire and the Kingsmen.  When Squire slows down the last part of the final chorus and then Johnny Parrack chimes in, it’s just magical and truly electrifying, and I imagine the song went over exceptionally well in concert, as that final tag absolutely sold the song in a live environment!  This became a huge hit for the Kingsmen, spending over a year in the charts, but never quite making it to the #1 position, thanks to a little song called “Learning to Lean” by the Blackwood Brothers which remained #1 from August 1976 through October 1977!  The song eventually stalled out at the #2 position in the Singing News chart for October and November 1976 and again in January 1977, and spent 8 months in row in the Top 5!  After Squire joined the Kingsmen in 1975, a hunt then ensued to find him the perfect song, and this song was specifically picked for Squire, and it was perfect in every way and quickly became one of the Kingsmen’s biggest and best loved hit songs.

Eldridge Fox steps up to the mic as he delivers what is probably my all-time favorite song he sang, “Hello Mama”.  Written by Squire, the song became a huge concert favorite for the Kingsmen and eventually went on the be recorded by Gold City, Dixie Melody Boys as well as by Squire himself, on his 1983 solo album, “He Redeemed Me”.  Inspired by an experience with someone Squire grew up with who got in with the wrong crowd and ran from the Lord…his mother was a praying person and was always praying for her son to be saved.  While Squire was visiting family in West Virginia, his friend showed up and when Squire opened the door, he saw a changed friend, as he had given his life to Christ.  As he shared what happened, he stated that while he was far away from home, his mama’s prayers put him under conviction, and he told Squire the first thing he did was find a telephone booth and called his mom and told her, “I found Jesus, now everything’s alright!”.  Inspired by his story, within just a few days, Squire wrote the song, and it became one of his best loved classics.  Though I’ve never been a fan of “mama songs”, this one is very special to me, and Foxie’s performance is pure gold.

Picking up the tempo slightly, Ray Reese is featured on the medium tempo tune, “I Wouldn’t Stop Now If I Could”.  Written by Colbert and Joyce Croft, the song features nice steel guitar and harmonica highlights, and Ray does a really great job on the song, before the tempo slows back down for the ballad, “Jesus Have Mercy on Me”.  Written by Roger Horne, the song features nice string and steel guitar accents and as Hamill takes the melody and Squire singing the second verse, it’s a beautiful prayer in song and was a nice inclusion for this album.

After 4 medium to slow tempo songs, the pace finally picks up for the up-tempo song, “Things That I’m Seeing”, which features multiple step out lines by Ray, Jim, and Johnny.  Published by the Kingsmen, the song was written by Morris Stancil, who wrote several songs the Kingsmen recorded over the years.  Stancil was a wonderful country style singer/songwriter who was popular on the campmeeting circuit and has had his songs recorded by multiple artists over the years including Gold City, Inspirations, Nelons, Singing Echoes, Triumphant Quartet, Primitive Quartet, Greenes and Perrys.

Rounding out this side is the brisk tune, “There is Joy in Serving Jesus”, and it’s filled with lots of guitars and a solid drumbeat.  Written by Conrad Cook and published through Kingsmen Publishing, the song features Hamill along with step out lines by Ray and Johnny and became a popular concert favorite for the Kingsmen during this time.  The song has an exciting convention feel to it and it’s one of my favorites from this album.

Side 2 kicks off with the enjoyable, “Think About the Good Things”, written by Bill Cobb and published by the Kingsmen.  Featuring a rambunctious performance by Jim Hamill on the second verse, along with step out lines by Johnny and Ray on the chorus, this was a such an entertaining tune with a bit of a bluesy feel to it.  I truly believe that had Hamill not left the group shortly after the release of this album, this could have been a big concert favorite for the Kingsmen.  Obviously, the Florida Boys believed in the song as they picked it up the following year and recorded a great version of it on their 1977 album, “In Concert…Live”.

Slowing things down slightly, we come to the Dottie Rambo penned, “Don’t Lift the Anchor”.  With harmonica and steel guitar highlights, the song features both Squire and Johnny.  Though it doesn’t quite have that soulful feel like the Rambos’ version from their 1976 album, “The Son is Shining”, the Kingsmen’s arrangement fits them and their more traditional quartet style.

Featuring strings and nice piano, steel and electric guitar highlights, Johnny Parrack is featured on the beautiful song of consecration, “To Be Like Jesus”.  Johnny had a knack for delivering the goods on those meaningful, slower songs and the Kingsmen’s harmonies at the end are impeccable, showing that they could really show out on some beautiful harmony singing.  The song was written by a lady named Betty Layne, and was published through the Downings’ publishing company, Crown Royal Music, and was a perfect fit for this album.

Picking up the tempo, we come to the song “Resurrection Morn”, which was written by Gene Higgins and published by the Kingsmen.  With Hamill on the melody, as with a few other songs on this album, it also features step out lines by Johnny and Ray on the chorus and it was something totally within the Kingsmen wheelhouse, as is the convention style tune, “When the Redeemed Shall Gather Home”.  Written by Squire, the song features Ray on the second verse with Johnny and Hamill taking turns with the melody on the chorus.

Keeping things up-tempo, the album finishes off with the Stamps-Baxter classic, “I’ve Made a Covenant”, which was written by Robert S. Arnold, writer of the classic hymn, “No Tears in Heaven”, who was also one of our early pioneers as a music teacher and songwriter.  The song charted for a few months, peaking at #9 in the Singing News chart for October 1976, and went on to become a Kingsmen concert staple.  There are some songs that are concert favorites for a season, but this song has withstood the test of time and still remains a much-requested Kingsmen standard.  The song ended up being recorded by the Kingsmen on 2 future major recordings in 1981 (“Live…Naturally”) and again in 2000 (“Proven Time & Time Again”), so we’ll definitely be re-visiting this song again soon!  Coincidentally, the song was actually recorded a year prior by the Singing Echoes, albeit quite a bit slower than the Kingsmen’s rendition, on their 1975 album, “His Tomb is Empty Now”.

I had already mentioned that “It Made News in Heaven” was a bit more slower paced than their last few studio albums had been, and I felt it highlighted the fact that the group could do more than just the “Three chords and a cloud of dust” type of singing that they were known for.  While this is a great album with some outstanding songs, I still tend to gravitate to “24 Carat Gospel” and “Jubilation”, as those are my favorites from this era of the group.

As successful as the Kingsmen had become by the point, change was coming…and fast!  As I had already alluded to earlier, “It Made News in Heaven” was released in early Spring 1976, and by May of that year, Jim Hamill had departed the Kingsmen, which completely changed the overall dynamic of the Kingsmen’s stage presentation and sound.  Hamill’s hiatus was short-lived though (approximately 6 months), and before 1976 wrapped up, Hamill was back with the Kingsmen, and all was right with the world again.  There were other, more subtle, and behind the scenes changes that were taking place during 1976 as well, and we’ll dive into some of that in our next article, so stay tuned!

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James Hales

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