Resonances across time

In a series of posts I’ve called “This Happens to Me All the Time,” I occasionally document those strange convergences of conversation and gospel music’s greatest hits that are sprinkled throughout my days (i.e. the sales clerk asks me if I’d like to open up a store credit card and put the purchase on my account and I involuntarily start humming to myself “Like Onesimus, I ran away … I guess I thought, I’d never pay … for all my sin … where could I-I-I- begin”). This kind of thing … well, it happens to me all the time.

Rarer but more wrinkle-in-time-like is the experience of hearing a song whose melody seems to echo and revoice another. I can only recall our talking about it around here once before regarding “That’s Him”/”You Don’t Know Me”. And the other day, while I was tinkering with “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” at the piano, I suddenly heard how melodically similar the first verse of the song can sound to the first verse of the Gaither Vocal Band’s arrangement of “I’m Free” from Testify. 

A famous literary critic once said most academics are lucky to have one good, original idea in their lives, and then they spend most of their career saying it again and again in different ways. And I think a version of this is true with our music collections and tastes: if we’re lucky, we find one or two really fantastic albums that we fall in love with and spend the rest of our lives playing some version of them over and over … Testify is one of those albums for me, and I suspect a bit of what’s going on here is that, not very surprisingly, the kind of music I like to hear others sing is also the kind of music I drift toward in my own arrangements of music at the piano.

But, still. I don’t think this is just pure musical projection. Sure, it’s not a one-to-one match between the songs, and no, I’m not suggesting the the latter was written with the former in mind. Rather, I take these kinds of things to be lovely little revelatory resonances across time that reaffirm the rightness of the creative universe and the soundness of the musical order of things. At least that explanation feels more satisfying - seems to affirm my delight in these small, exquisite discoveries - more than “it’s just a coincidence,” even though it may well be just that.

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  1. Janet B wrote:

    I have had the same experience, although I can’t remember an example of a single one at the moment. (My brain is shredded, fried cheese right now…)

    Along the same vein, though…songs (especially ones that you just love) are like Scripture: You never know when they will just pop up into your head at precisely the right moment.
    I was trying to find some comforting & encouraging words for a friend going through a difficult time…all of a sudden, this song started running through my head…”He didn’t bring us this far to leave us; He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown…” That would be “He Didn’t Lift Us Up To Let Us Down” by the Imperials (from Heed the Call). Hadn’t listened to that song in decades…yet, there it was.

    Anyway…I listened to I’m Free (don’t ya just love Buddy?)…I can see the similarity there that you mentioned, Doug. Wouldn’t have thought of it on my own, though. :)

  2. quartet-man wrote:

    Now, I didn’t appreciate the “Testify” album as much as some, but did still at the time. I just really missed Michael. However, Pierce covered some of the stuff adequately and Mullins is talented. I did really like Lowry on “Lord Feed Your Children” until I heard English sing it on the video when he was welcomed back. Man alive, that was an emotional performance.

    I will say though, that quite like THE performance from the Reunion DVD set was Mullins, Lowry, Gaither and Wes filling in for Pierce singing I’m Free. Michael did good on the reprise even though his voice gave out from the emotion. Probably the second was the impromptu “He Touched Me” quartet.

  3. Joe wrote:


    Coincidences are just God remaining anonymous.

  4. Ode wrote:

    Fine point, Avery. It’s actually a deeper variation of psychological “Baader-Meinof phenomenon”, commonly occurring in linguistics:soon after learning new, even exceptionally rare, word we encounter it again. Often the resemblance we find in songs,situations or faces is related to recently seen or heard material and styles/people we tend to like the most, It resonates due to “selective attentiveness in pleasure seeking” ability of the brain, that fishes out and registers only certain bits and pieces from the entire flow of info it receives.

    I recently went to Jeff Beck - Imelda May concert, and listening to “testify” CD preview on amazon… “John the revelator” sounds EXACTLY like one of Imelda’s rockabilly songs, minus lyrics.
    (heck, I am generous, its Passover,so lets over-compliment good ol Billy Gaither):and “I am free” amazingly like a total cross between Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Music of the night,and No one would listen,only tad poorer production-wise.
    Thanx for mentioning, a good CD, I got it.

  5. Janet B wrote:

    Ode - Don’t know for what you are over- complimenting BG (although I’m sure he appreciates it), but I do believe that John the Revelator was written by Rusty Goodman.
    Enjoy the cd. :)

  6. Janet B wrote:

    QM - Lord, Feed Your Children is even better in person. :)

  7. Bones wrote:

    What do you think of when you hear Ft. Worth, Texas? The Chuck Wagon Gang!

  8. quartet-man wrote:

    #6 I like the original arrangement than the one I think they use now.

  9. NG wrote:

    #5 “John the Revelator” is a traditional Gospel/blues song. The song was recorded in 1930 by Blind Willie Johnson and is included in the Anthology of American Folk Music.

  10. Ode wrote:

    Thanks, Janet :) Rusty, may his soul enjoys heaven,gets a compliment from me then. BillyG, retain yours as well, for putting the song on the CD.
    NG- i believe the words of the song are different, no?

  11. Bones wrote:

    I have a recording of a group singing a certain song in the 60′’s. A recording of another group singing the same song in the 90’s, a live album and the girl said she wrote it. Do they think we are stupid?

  12. Auke wrote:

    John The Revelator is a song recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in the year 1930.
    And Rusty Goodman wrote a song with the same title back in 1975. So there’s two identical titled songs.

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