Well, here we are…1969. A year filled with Woodstock, the first man on the moon, Hurricane Camille, the Vietnam War, social unrest and peace signs…it was a year of so much trouble and uncertainty for our country and the world…but it was also a year of so much hope for the Christian! With all that was going on in the world in 1969, it was the year the Happy Goodman Family welcomed us into their happy house! After 8 albums, 5 of which with Canaan Records, the Goodmans close out the 60’s with the hugely popular album, “This Happy House”. This record “housed” some of the Goodmans’ most popular and best-loved signature songs. The album’s title, as well as the cover picture and artwork, convey a warm and inviting feeling. Some may think it’s a cheesy cover, and by today’s standards I would agree. But given the era, it’s pretty ingenious. There’s Howard and Vestal, standing at the doorway smiling, with outstretched arms as if to say, “Come on in!”. The rest of the group are in the windows with happy expressions, and you just feel like you want to come in and sit a spell in their happy house! The back cover shows the group inside the relatively new 800 seat sanctuary of Life Temple, where Howard and Vestal both pastor. Howard writes the liner notes, and it’s a fantastic read as he talks about each member of the Happy Goodman Family and their individual families. By the time you finish reading it, you feel as if you know them all personally. You’re also ready to eat one of Vestal’s homemade biscuits too!
The record starts off with a song that would be their first #1 song in the Singing News charts, “Thank God I’m Free”. The Singing News Magazine was first published in May 1969, and by January 1970, they had a bonified chart of top songs across the nation, and this song was #1 for April and September of 1970. Written by James McFall and featuring Rusty on the verses and Vestal taking the lead on the final choruses, the song encompassed all the “Goodman magic” needed to make a great song. It’s a song that has also been popular on the campmeeting/revival circuit as well, even to this very day; testifying to the power and popularity of this great song. Next to the Goodmans, the Hemphills also had a successful run with this song around the same time.
Howard then steps up to sing a great song from the Red Back Hymnal entitled, “O Happy Day”. The song was a popular one for the group and remained in the Top 20 for most of 1970 and into the first couple of months of 1971.
Rusty steps back up to deliver a dramatic performance on another big hit for the group, “Guilty of Love”, which stayed in the Top 10 for most of 1970. While Sam was usually the man on point for doing recitations, Rusty delivers this recitation flawlessly. I have a homemade live recording of the Goodmans around this time frame where they sang this song, and at the end of the spoken portion of the song, Rusty went into the chorus of “Who am I”…talk about chill bumps! What a perfect marriage between two songs, creating a dramatic and emotional moment on stage.
The tempo picks back up as Sam is featured on the enjoyable, “Live, Live, Live” before Howard sings the Duane Allen (Oak Ridge Boys) penned tune, “It Won’t Be Long”. Both have that trademark Goodman sound and are highlights of the album.
Vestal is featured on the Joel Hemphill penned tune, “I Found a Better Way”. This is such an infectious song and has remained one of my all-time favorite Vestal features. The happy steel guitar intro just makes the song for me, and before the first note is even sung, you know it’s going to be a great song!
Side 2 starts with Howard’s signature song, “The Sweetest Song I Know”. The tempo is a tad slower and the Goodmans are a bit more reserved than most live versions I’ve heard of the song, but it’s a gem of a song, as is the Rusty Goodman penned, “I’m Persuaded to Believe”. Rusty enthusiastically sings this invigorating number and it’s yet, another fantastic example of how Rusty could deliver these types of songs with such precision and energy.
The tempo slows down a bit, as Bobby steps up to sing his best-known song, “I Want to Stroll Over Heaven”. This was an immensely popular song for Bobby and the Goodmans, and it was a mainstay in their stage performances until he left the group sometime in late 1971/early 1972.
Next is one of Vestal’s signature songs, “What Heaven Means to Me”, and nobody could sing it like “Sister” Vestal. The song charted for the group and peaked at #4 in November 1971. One thing I’ll point out here is, what we hear on this record is a softer, more reserved vocal delivery than what is heard in every other live performance I’ve heard of the song. My assumption is the song took on a new life and new meaning when delivering it from the stage, rather than in a recording studio. When you heard Vestal sing it in concert, you knew you were sung to! Another difference…on the record, Vestal carries the lead out to the end, but what you normally heard in concert, was Rusty taking the lead at the coda, which I felt created a stronger ending to the song than what you hear on the album. It appears they adopted this alternate vocal arrangement after they began staging the song in concert, because there are a few early performances of the song with Vestal taking the ending, but every other version I’ve heard has Rusty taking the lead. The Perry’s had a good run with this song about 20 years later and I will say, Libby gave Vestal a run for her money!
Next, in a rare occurrence, we hear Rusty singing in his bass register on the quartet favorite, “Hide Me, Rock of Ages”. During the 50s and 60s, several male quartets were staging and recording this song, so the Goodmans churned out their version of it. I never thought it truly fit them, but we get to hear Rusty drag the bottom on some nice bass notes, so that was neat to hear. He had such a range and was such a talent!
The recording closes out with the old time favorite, “Come and Dine”. Howard and Vestal share solos on the 2nd and 3rd verse, respectively, and it’s my all-time favorite version of this song. It doesn’t “feel” like a hymn, but it’s delivered in that trademark Goodman style, and it’s a great song to close things out.
This album has a totally different feel than any of their previous records. It has a bit more of a country vibe to it and I think it set the stage for their sound during the 70s. There are no less than 8 songs on this album that were either huge hit songs or popular concert favorites. On some of the songs, the arrangements are little more laid back than what they did in concert too; but I think with this album, the group found that unique magic formula that continued to work for them and identify their sound going into the 1970s.
“This Happy House” was the catapult for a massive wave of success the group would encounter during the early 1970s, as it was the first of 4 successive records by the group, that marked tremendous growth and popularity by the Happy Goodmans. Between 1970 and 1973, the group consistently maintained an average of 3-4 songs in the charts each month (encompassing 16+ different songs), and constantly kept multiple songs in the Top 5 (some of those months they held 3 out of the 5 slots), including 12 months where they had the #1 song! But I’m getting way ahead of myself…we’re still in 1969 here! So, speaking of 1969, the Gospel Music Association (which was formed in the early/mid 1960s) handed out the first Dove Awards in 1969, and Vestal was voted “Female Vocalist of the Year” for that year! I’m a big “stats nerd” and just couldn’t help bringing up these fun facts; but I said all that to reinforce how pivotal this album was, and the immense success the group would encounter over the next 3-4 years, easily eclipsing the success they had when they literally exploded onto the scene just a few short years before. As you can surmise, 1969 was the start of some truly an exciting times for the group! Over the next few weeks, we’ll dive into the exciting 70s and we’ll be looking at some truly exciting music by the Happy Goodman Family…so stay tuned!
After 2 solid years of consistency and renewed success, change boarded the Nelons bus once again. Nonetheless, they came together to release this massive recording entitled, “We’ve Got to Praise Him”.