The Happy Goodman Family – Better Hurry Up! (1979)

by James Hales | May 18, 2022 12:34 PM

“Better Hurry Up” was the most unique recording the Happy Goodmans ever released. Sadly, this 1979 recording would be the last recorded effort for Howard, Sam, Rusty and Vestal, as a collective unit, until The Reunion was released in 1990. Recorded at Woodland Sound and not at their own studio, Electric Arts, this would be their most creative offering and their biggest undertaking to date. Like their last album, this was produced by Rusty and Rick, with Marvin overseeing everything as the Executive Producer. From what I understand, as had been customary during their last several records, none of the Goodmans’ musicians played on this record, and the music strays so far away from the Goodman sound, you almost wouldn’t recognize them as the Happy Goodmans. Filled with strings and brass, along with background vocalists utilized on just about every song, it’s completely different than any other Goodman record before it.

This was one of the albums “Santa” gave me for Christmas back in 1980 and I adored the cover shot. This was the first album with Vestal no longer sporting the “beehive”. I had already seen her on the PBS special, “That Great American Gospel Sound” and remember making comments about Vestal “putting her hair down”; as an 8-year-old boy, that was how I worded it. I had no idea back then that it was all wigs, but I still loved the Goodmans, and despite the dramatic changes in their musical direction on this album, I still loved this album to pieces.

The recording starts off with one of my favorite Goodman tunes, “We’re Almost Home”, which features an excellent performance by Vestal. Written by Rusty, it has an epic feel to it and it’s an encouraging tune backed by a full array of brass and strings and background singers. Right off the bat, you know this is going to be a very, very different sounding Goodman album.

Rusty then steps up to sing the hauntingly powerful tune, “For Loving Me”, which was written by Aaron Wilburn. Performed as a solo, it’s a striking performance and is one of the highlights of the album, before the tempo picks back up for the Joel Hemphill penned, “I’m in this Church”. This peppy, brass infused rendition features Howard on the verse, then Vestal kicks it up a couple of notches for an energetic bridge and finish. This too, is a highlight of the recording as it’s a very different rendition of the tune than most people remember.

The tempo slows back down as Rusty sings his own composition, “Did I Just Hear The Sounds”. This dramatic tune is probably one of Rusty’s most unique songs, as it paints the picture that Christ’s return is imminent, and you can hear it in the most mundane things in everyday life. It’s one of those songs that sticks with you long after the music stops.

Rounding out side one, Vestal steps back up for a solo on the classic, “Set Another Place at the Table”, which features some nice guitar work and strings, along with some nice piano fills. This is one of my favorite Vestal features and is a highlight of the recording.

Side 2 ramps things up bigtime with the energetic title song, “Better Hurry Up”. This Stamps/Baxter classic would end up being the Goodmans’ final #1 song in September and November 1980. Featuring a cool arrangement with brass, guitar and organ, it’s my favorite rendition of this spirited, fun tune. It was great seeing them revive this song on their 2000 recording, “Set Your Sails”.

For the first time, the Goodmans perform a Bill Gaither penned tune, “These are They”. As far as I know, this is the first cut of the song, as the Gaither Vocal Band wouldn’t record it until about 10-11 years later, on their “A Few Good Men” recording. Vestal renders an outstanding performance of this tremendous power ballad, and she would later revive the song on her 1998 solo recording, “Moments”.

The tempo picks back up for the Redback classic, “O Say But I’m Glad”, which features Vestal, and it’s the most traditional sounding song on the record. The words are a slight variation from what’s printed in the Redback Hymnal, but it’s a highlight of the recording and I love the lilting piano work on the song.

Another first, the Goodmans recorded an early Kyla Rowland tune entitled, “The Landing Lights”, which also features Vestal. I am a huge fan of Kyla Rowland’s writings, so it’s extra special for me to hear Vestal sing one of Kyla’s songs.

Rounding out the album, the tempo kicks back up for the energetic tune, “This Man”. Rusty gives an enthusiastic performance on this fun tune and it’s a great song to close this album with.

There are 6 group songs (several feature the group along with background vocalists) and 4 solo performances by Vestal (1) and Rusty (3) that are done without the group. The recording heavily features Vestal, as she has the lead on 6 songs. Only 3 songs feature Rusty, and they’re all solo performances without the group backing him. Howard is featured minimally, and this is the second album the group has done with no features for Sam. (Sam has no solos on their “Wanted Live” album either). As wonderful as this album is, it’s always been an odd album for me due to the musical styles presented here and the uneven features/solos. I hate that there would be no follow-up album for Howard, Sam, Rusty and Vestal, as Howard and Vestal would leave the group in September 1980. It would have been interesting to hear the musical direction with this aggregation of the group into the 1980’s; but it wasn’t to be.

I am assuming sometime after the release of this album in 1979, or maybe even sometime in 1980, Tanya rejoined the group. The group made another appearance on a Tennessee Ernie Ford PBS special, “More of That Great American Gospel Sound”, which was recorded in September 1980 (Tennessee Ernie Ford references “Better Hurry Up” as being a #1 song, which would have been September 1980), and Tanya was part of the group at that time. They sang “We’re Almost Home” (Tanya sang the verse instead of Vestal), “Better Hurry Up” and “O Say But I’m Glad” (with Tennessee Ernie Ford joining the group). At some point after this performance, Howard and Vestal resigned from the group, which marked the end of an era. I’ve heard that Howard and Vestal resigned that night after their performance, so that performance could very well be the last time they sang together on stage until they reunited during the 1984 National Quartet Convention, to honor Canaan Records’ 20th anniversary.

In a lot of ways, “Better Hurry Up” is a bitter-sweet recording for me. While I love what this recording offers musically, it’s not that true “Goodman” sound that we all love. With it being the last recording with Howard and Vestal before they departed the group, so much future potential wasn’t realized, and we never got to hear what could have been, had they stayed together. But the group did soldier on for a few years with Tanya and Johnny Cook initially, and later with Michael English. They did put out some great music and they created a different sound that was also “Goodman”, and continued the Goodman legacy, which had begun 30+ years prior.

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