“I Know What Lies Ahead” was written by Jean Canter and published by Kirk Talley Music. It was first recorded by the Talleys in 1983 on their debut album, As For Me And My House, and covered the following year by both the Hoppers and the Greenes.
These versions were recorded in a typical southern gospel 4/4 style, and by and large, this is the arrangement that most artists used as a reference for their covers. While the song wasn’t a smash hit, it was popular enough that other artists would cover it, using this arrangement as their reference.
That is, until 1991, when Charles Johnson & The Revivers recorded it for their The Time Is Drawing Nigh album. The trio changed the meter to 6/8 and slowed it down a bit, seemingly re-inventing the song. It was so well-received that it was included on their Let’s Have Church video in 1993, getting a huge audience response.
This version would surpass the original arrangement as the one most commonly recognized for the next decade. In fact, when you get the Daywind performance track for the song, it’s the Charles Johnson & The Revivers arrangement (with a demo sung by an uncredited Michael English). It’s also the version that the Oak Ridge Boys heard in 2000 when preparing to record their much-loved From The Heart album.
But something odd happened – the Oaks’ version of the song has seemingly become the “definitive” version that future artists would use as their reference point. It seems that every version of this song that’s been recorded since the Oaks’ take has been based on their version of the song, including the bass vocal doing the pickups on the chorus. Perhaps this is due in part to the 10-year gap between the Revivers’ take and the Oaks’, or maybe their audiences are just different enough that one simply was not aware of the other.
Either way, I find it interesting how this song has evolved over time. Due to the popularity of their cut (and the source album) the Oaks’ rendition is the probably the most recognized cut of the song right now, but there are still folks to seem to remember the previous version by the Revivers. Former Revivers member, Darrell Luster, recently did a fresh cut on the song as well.
Personally, I am a fan of both the Oaks’ and the Revivers’ versions – they each have their own merits. It’s just funny to me to think that the two most-recognized versions of this song are so far removed stylistically from the “original” takes. It wasn’t until the Revivers adjusted the song that it truly found success, and the Oaks’ version is not all that different (save for Richard Sterban’s stepout lines).
What other songs can you think of that took a while to really take hold? Did it take a re-arranging of the song to make it work? Was it a later cover that created the “definitive” version? Let us know in the comments below!