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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Kingsmen- Anchors Aweigh (1988)

The Kingsmen – Anchors Aweigh (1988)

By 1988, it had been 4 years since the Kingsmen released a mainline studio recording. I imagine there was a lot of pressure going into the studio to record “Anchors Aweigh”, and ensuring the final product was a top-notch studio album!  I bought this album when I saw the Kingsmen on November 6, 1988, in Hillsborough, NC at the Hillsborough Church of God.  I will admit, coming off the high of 3 consecutive live albums made “Anchors Aweigh” slightly anti-climactic for me, as it took me a few years to fully appreciate this album.  Over time, as I listened to this album more and compared it against all their other studio albums, I realized this truly was an outstanding recording and it has slowly become one of my favorite studio albums by the Kingsmen.  “Anchors Aweigh” truly captured that Kingsmen excitement and rivaled anything else being released by other groups around the same time!

“Anchors Aweigh” would be the first Kingsmen album that was recorded at the new Hear Here Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, with the only exception being the strings and brass, which were recorded in Nashville.  As mentioned in a previous article, the upheaval at the Benson Company a couple of years prior had lit a fire within Foxie to open his own recording studio and record company.  In addition to Hear Here Studios, Foxie created his own record label called, Pinnacle Records and began signing various artists to the label such as the Hayes Family, Teddy Huffam, Roy Knight Singers and others; but all the while Foxie was biding his time until his own company was ready to bring the Kingsmen on board, which wouldn’t happen for another 4 years.

“Anchors Aweigh” was produced by Eldridge Fox, with Norman Holland serving as Executive Producer.  This album was truly a team effort for the Kingsmen as Greg Fox was Assistant Engineer for the album, and Anthony Burger, Arthur Rice and Gary Dillard were all playing on the album along with such notable names as Terry McMillan, Glen Worf, Mike Seavers, David Johnson, Tony Creaseman and Jerry Douglas, as well as future Kingsmen member, Tim Surrett.  Also, string and brass arrangements were all handled by Steve Mauldin.  Throughout the 1980’s and even into the 90’s, Foxie was producing recordings for other groups such as the Greenes, HeavenBound and Gold City, and often utilized Steve Mauldin for orchestral arrangements.  Steve was (and still is) a wonderful orchestrator whose work can be heard on multiple recordings through the years by such artists as the Legacy 5, Carroll Roberson, Cathedrals, Pfeifers, Collingsworth Family, Gaither Vocal Band, Speers, Kirk Talley and Nelons, as well as artists outside our genre including Sandi Patti, Avalon, Donnie McClurkin, Amy Grant and Cece Winans.

Before we dive into the songs, I must mention the cover shot…given the title of the album, the cover shot was perfect in every way.  Taken over the Memorial Weekend while the Kingsmen were singing at Opryland, the picture was shot on a boat that was docked at a marina along the Tennessee River near Opryland.

Garry Sheppard kicks things off with the brass infused, energetic title song, “Anchors Aweigh”, which was written by Phil and Carolyn Cross, along with Lari Goss.  Also featuring step-out lines by Ray on the chorus, the song did very well for the Kingsmen in the charts, peaking at #4 in March and April 1989.  Foxie was in Nashville working on an album he was producing for someone else, and Phill Cross was there pitching songs to Foxie.  Foxie loved it and knew it would be a perfect song for the Kingsmen.  Using the classic Navy song by the same title as a backdrop, this was such a unique song for the Kingsmen, and they had a lot of fun on stage with this song.  I’ll admit, I was not a huge fan of this song until I saw them perform it live!  Once I saw them perform the song live, I was hooked!

Arthur Rice slows the pace down as he sings the majestic feel of the Chris Campbell penned, “Jesus is Coming for Me”.  Beautifully ornated with strings and horns, this was such a strong and meaty song, and was the second single from the recording, only topping out at #24 on the Singing News chart in December 1989, but oddly enough, the song soared to #1 in Cashbox for January 1990!

Keeping things in slow mode, Ed Crawford steps up to sing the encouraging “Battle Scars”, which features the mournful strains of the harmonica, fiddle, and steel guitar, but also highlighted by some nice acoustic guitar and mandolin work, all culminating in an almost western/bluegrass/acoustic type song.  This unassuming song was the last song chosen for this album, and it’s long been one of my personal favorites, as well as one of my personal favorite Ed features.  When I saw the Kingsmen in 1988, Ed had already left the Kingsmen, and the group began staging this song with Eldridge Fox taking the lead, featuring an updated arrangement with a big ending, and this became Foxie’s big feature song for the next year or so.

Kicking things into overdrive, the Kingsmen tear into the Darwin Moody penned, “More Than Enough”, which features Arthur on the melody, Garry on the second verse and step-out lines by Ray on the chorus.  I love the electric guitar work on the song, as well as the fiddle and harmonica embellishments, making it such an exciting and driving tune that fit the Kingsmen like a glove.  The song was introduced by a group called the Abercrombies back in the mid-80’s and then was recorded by the Singing Americans on their exciting live album, “Homecoming Live”, which was released in 1987.  Though the song perfectly captured that Kingsmen excitement, Hamill and Foxie disagreed on recording the song, as Hamill didn’t like it initially, but Foxie held his ground and after they recorded the song, Hamill decided he liked the song after all, and it became a concert favorite!

“I’m Looking Above” features nice fiddle and harmonica highlights, along with the banjo giving it a slight Dixieland feel.  Written by Robert Griffith, who was an outstanding singer/piano player/songwriter with the Gethsemane Quartet out of Greensboro, North Carolina, the song was published through the Cathedrals publishing company, Onward Bound Music, and features Hamill along with step-out lines by Ray and Garry.  This song was a highlight of the album and has always been one of my favorites from this album, as it embodies that classic Kingsmen feel and was a perfect song for Hamill.

Nobody could render a heartfelt, soulful ballad like Jim Hamill, and he kicks off the second side with one of his finest performances on Ronny Hinson’s beautifully penned ballad, “The Lost Sheep”.  Ronny pitched this song to Hamill at a concert one night in Dayton, Ohio because he wanted Hamill to be the first to record it, and Hamill turns in an amazing performance on the song, akin to that of 1982’s “He’ll Be To You” from the Kingsmen’s “Your Ride’s On The Way” album.  Very tastefully accented with strings and featuring the Kingsmen backed by the vocal group Assurance, which future Kingsmen member, Tim Surrett, was a part of at the time.  The song was a perfect culmination of lyric, music and vocals and is the crowning jewel of the recording.

Garry is featured next on his self-penned tune, “A Song Holy Angels Cannot Sing”, which was a song he wrote several years prior.  The Kingsmen first recorded the song on a budget recording in 1987, and Foxie loved the song so much, he wanted to re-cut the song for this album.  Featuring an easy going, country feel and nicely accented with strings and steel guitar, Garry does a great job on the song as he shows his softer side with this performance.

Lots of Kingsmen tunes through the years feature the high and the low, and “Can You Imagine”, written by Stan Shuman was a fun song featuring both Ray and Garry before the Kingsmen revive one of their sugar sticks from the early 70’s, “The Eastern Gate”.  I’ve always been a big fan of the Kingsmen’s arrangement of this classic Goodman tune, and they don’t disappoint here by adding an extra key change and hand claps for the final chorus.  I love the fiddle and steel guitar on this song and instead of Hamill taking the lead on the final choruses (as was the case on earlier versions of the song), Arthur takes the lead and it’s truly a highlight of the album.

Closing out the recording, Foxie sings the warm feel of the Squire Parsons penned, “It Doesn’t Feel Like Home”.  In an interview I did with the Kingsmen for my radio show back in 1988, Foxie stated he was not happy with his performance on this song, because he spent so much time tending to every other aspect of this recording, and he neglected his own song and just wasn’t happy with how his song turned out.  Nicely accented with strings and background vocals, I felt the song turned out great with its slight jazz undertones, and it finishes out the album perfectly.

From 1984 through 1988, the Kingsmen recorded 5 albums with the same personnel, and it was the longest streak without any changes in the group, but all that was about the change.  As I already mentioned, shortly after “Anchors Aweigh” was released, Ed Crawford departed the Kingsmen and began a successful solo ministry.  Several years later, he sang for a time in a unique group called the Mystery Men Quartet.  Sadly, Ed passed away on November 3, 2021.  Ed embodied all things “Kingsmen” and was a big part of their BIG sound during the 80’s.  I was a big Ed fan, and his presence and voice were deeply missed in the Kingsmen.  After Ed left, the group continued without a true full-time baritone for several months, as the Kingsmen utilized Foxie when he would make trips with the Kingsmen, along with Arthur pulling double duty playing bass and singing.  Eventually, the Kingsmen hired Tim Surrett to play bass, which freed up Arthur, but soon thereafter Arthur left the Kingsmen, and Tim stepped up to pull double duty to play bass and sing.  Eventually though, the Kingsmen hired Parker Jonathan to sing baritone later in 1989.

“Anchors Aweigh” would be the last vinyl album released by the Kingsmen, as all future recordings would be released on cassette and CD.  This was truly a fantastic album that completely embodied that classic Kingsmen sound and feel.  The musical landscape was changing though, and the Kingsmen knew they needed to change with it, as over the ensuing years they would start incorporating new things to enhance and update their sound to compete with the changing times.  More mixed groups were coming on the scene as well as all types of varying male quartets and trios, vying for the attention of the fans.  Nonetheless, the Kingsmen were still the reigning kings of the stage though, and were still topping the charts, as evidenced by the charting success of the songs on this recording.  Plus, they were still adding awards to their trophy case, as during the 1988 Singing News Fan Awards, Anthony Burger won “Favorite Musician” once again and the Kingsmen Band took home “Favorite Band” again as well.  Despite the aforementioned changes with the musical landscape, it was still “Kingsmen Season”, as they would continue riding the waves of success over the next few years, fueled by many more hugely popular songs and outstanding recordings.

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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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