Observations – Add-A-Chorus in P&W vs SG

Observations – Add-A-Chorus in P&W vs SG

A common tactic in SG music songwriting and production is to insert a portion of one song into another similarly-themed song. For example, in “Calvary Came Through,” written by Terry and Barbi Franklin and recorded first by Gold City in 1994, a chorus of “I Will Glory In The Cross” is inserted towards the end of the song as a final coda/tag. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound did something similar with “It Is Done,” where the chorus of “It Is Finished” is worked into the ending of the song. When done correctly, it’s not only effective for an emotional response, but also feeds on nostalgia of the audience.

In P&W music, there is a similar trend, but instead of inserting an old chorus into a new song, they’re inserting a new chorus into an old song. The most notorious culprit of this is Chris Tomlin, who has made a good chunk of his career out of taking older hymns and adding modern choruses (such as “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” or “Crown Him With Many Crowns (Majesty)”). Other artists who have done this are Todd Agnew (who did his own take on “Amazing Grace” with the song “Grace Like Rain”) and Casting Crowns, who re-wrote “Glorious Day” with a new bridge and a modified chorus, on top of a whole new melody (I once was taken to task by an older congregation member who said that I’d ruined her favorite hymn when introducing Casting Crowns’ version).

More recently, CCM artist are taking a cue from SG music and inserting well-known songs into modern compositions, but instead of just dropping in a chorus, they’re using the original titles to write new songs, then dropping in a chorus of the original, as if to say, “Yes, we know this has been done before.” The most blatant example of this is Matt Maher’s “Because He Lives (Amen),” which drops the classic Bill & Gloria Gaither composition into a new song with the same title. One could argue that Maher did something similar with “What A Friend We Have In Jesus,” only this time, it is an entirely different song with no reference to the original hymn.

Triumphant actually turned this concept on its side a bit when they adapted a modern praise and worship song, “I Will Rise,” into a SG arrangement, and replaced the existing bridge with a chorus from the Gaithers’ “Going Home.” The fact that the original song was co-written and performed by Chris Tomlin only makes it even more amusing (one has to wonder how Tomlin feels about having a song he wrote re-done with different pieces).

What are your thoughts? Does adding pieces from other songs show signs of creativity, or is it just a lazy crutch when a song can’t stand on its own (or perhaps a little of both)? What about artists who adapt (or entirely re-write) existing songs and passing them off as “new”?

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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13 Comments

  1. Sean
    Reply August 28, 14:11 #1 Sean

    I think in Southern Gospel it can be both really effective or sound like they just added it as a crutch or just a poor judgment in arrangement. I also think it can be overdone, if I hear it more than once on an album it makes me feel like they’re over doing it. To use your example I think EHSS excel in using it, I can’t think of a really bad example with them.

    When it come to P&W, I cannot think of a hymn that I have not considered ruined when they feel the need to add a chorus or the super annoying habit of having to repeat a line 10,000 times (or both). I do not have a problem with a new P&W song using a hymn as a tag but again it can go either way.

    In the end I guess I’m saying I don’t like the repeativeness that is associated with P&W songs and how it’s common to make hymns hybrids and that using songs as tags can be effective if don’t right and too much

  2. Daniel J. Mount
    Reply August 28, 14:53 #2 Daniel J. Mount

    I’ve thought this for years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever said it publicly:

    I view hymn bridges as a de facto admission that either producer (or original writer) felt that the song wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own merits.

    You’re not going to hear a hymn bridge in Midnight Cry, My Name is Lazarus, or Four Days Late. They don’t need it.

    • QwertyJuan
      Reply August 28, 23:12 QwertyJuan

      Question…. in “There Rose a Lamb”, there is a bridge at the end of the song that goes, “He Arose….He Arose…. Hallelujah, Christ Arose…. He Arose…. He Arose…. Hallelujah, Christ Arose.” Is this an example of a “Hymn Bridge” or is it a bridge written specifically for this song?? If it’s a “Hymn Bridge”, in all due respect, it completely destroys your theory! ;)

  3. Dustin
    Reply August 28, 15:23 #3 Dustin

    I share some similar sentiments with the above posts. It can be effective at times. For instance, Amazing Grace, It Is Well, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and some other classic standards do not need choruses added to them. They have clearly stood on their own merit for generations and can continue to do so.

    On the other hand, I applaud some creative writers that may try to add a singable chorus to a more obscure, lesser known hymn that simply didn’t age well due to the song structure or time sequence, etc. So often with some forgotten hymns, the words of the hymns are strong, but aren’t as singable for a congregation today.

    Although I’m hesitant to do well known classic hymns totally re-structured, recently, our church did “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.” No added chorus, but there was a nice tag added at the end that worked and didn’t take away from the song.

    But whether it’s my preference or not, in P&W or SG, I do see two positive motivations: 1) They are linking the theme of new song to a theme of an old song for nostalgia/emotional connection (as you mentioned) and that’s not always a bad thing, and 2) They are introducing old songs to a new generation who may never heard it otherwise.

    I’d like to believe most intentions are good.

  4. David Bruce Murray
    Reply August 28, 15:43 #4 David Bruce Murray

    A total makeover of an existing song is not good simply because it includes some familiar ideas. The songwriter must work to make sure it all meshes together. In general, it’s great when songwriters tinker with existing music to create something fresh.

    “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” retains a sizeable chunk of the old lyric, approximates the New Britain melody, and then extends the thought into a totally new, totally compatible chorus. It stands in sharp contrast to songs that merely reference a bit of “Amazing Grace” to ensure that people will nod and clap when they hear it.

    Of all the types Kyle cited, my least favorite is the hymn bridge, because in almost every instance, the song would be just as good and often even better without it. A slight nod can be very effective, like the brief “going home, going home” bit in the Mark Trammell Quartet’s version of “It’s Almost Over,” but “I Rest My Case At The Cross” by the Perrys would have been a huge hit without “In the cross, in the cross, Be my glory ever.”

    I do enjoy hearing what songwriters create when all they “steal” a familiar title. Even better is creating a brand new song using a line from a familiar lyric as the title. A couple of Christmas songs come to mind: “Heaven And Nature Singing” by Mercy’s Well and “The Saints’ And Angels’ Song” from the Russell Mauldin/Sue C. Smith Christmas musical, _The Love Of God At Christmas_. (Although, while I’m praising it, I should note that “Heaven And Nature Singing” incorporates entirely unnecessary bits of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” as, you guessed it, a bridge.

    We just need to remember that many current hymns we think of as being in their “original” form actually took years or even centuries to reach those forms.

    John Newton wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” in 1772, but that lyric was not paired with the “New Britain” tune until 60+ years later. A Jewish Rabbi wrote a poem called “Hadamut” around 1096, and then some 900+ years later, Frederick Lehman incorporated a verse of it into his hymn “The Love Of God.”

    I sure am glad someone came along later and paired existing words with new melodies in those instances!

  5. Chris G.
    Reply August 28, 16:09 #5 Chris G.

    The above comments are great and informative. As long as the old songs are not overdone and do not dominate the newer song, their use can be very effective.

    Can someone more knowdgeable than I tell us whether there could possibly be an infringement into copyright violations? (for the songs not in public domain).

    As far as P&W songs go I welcome any relief from the repetitions (!), with the caveats expressed above.

    Thanks for dealing with this topic and for the insightful comments on it.

    Great discussion!

    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply August 28, 16:48 David Bruce Murray

      Chris,
      For a song still under copyright like “Because He Lives,” the general rule is that permission must be granted from the copyright owner before a derivative work can be created.

  6. Penny
    Reply August 28, 19:48 #6 Penny

    I’m not musically educated but love SGM and enjoy your columns. In reading this – These are the Days of Elijah – came to mind which I suppose is a P&W song. I don’t remember the insert of “there’s no God like Jehovah” until the last 20-30 years. Or am I mistaken? I was in a very traditional church till then, may not have known the song earlier. Prefer it without.

    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply August 29, 09:52 David Bruce Murray

      “Days Of Elijah” was published in 1996, so there’s no way you could remember the song at all beyond 22 years ago.

      As far as I know, the “there is no God like Jehovah” bridge has been part of the song since it was written. Some recordings have more repeats of that phrase than others. I prefer the versions with fewer repeats of that line.

  7. Tad Kirkland
    Reply August 28, 23:09 #7 Tad Kirkland

    Both are overdone. It was cool at first with My Chains Are Gone.
    If I hear another SG ballad about grace with the chorus of Grace Greater Than All Our Sin, I may scream.

  8. Dean Adkins
    Reply August 28, 23:30 #8 Dean Adkins

    As mentioned by others, I feel that the addition of older songs into new ones is overdone. It seems that many songs I hear have a bridge or addition of an older SGM song or hymn. A good, well-written song doesn’t need that add on.

  9. JSR
    Reply August 30, 01:24 #9 JSR

    Great post and comments.

    I think Chris Tomlin’s “My Chains Are Gone” version of Amazing Grace is a wonderful work that is better than the original (I’ll glady receive my chiding). Most of the time I hate incorporating old songs into new songs.

    I guess the reality is that much of this is like other things in life. We all have opinions and none of them are right or wrong – just preference.

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