Whether or not you have any religious leanings, if you care about the history and development of modern pop music, the work of the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson should be essential listening. This audio cassette, compiled as a posthumous Greatest Hits album in 1974, contains some amazingly vital and musically thrilling performances by the Queen of Gospel, who died at the beginning on 1972.
What makes this album so unmissable is its encapsulation of the definitive, inspirational gospel style. It’s not just the passionate and from-the-soul vocals that make it so powerful. Archetypal gospel instrumentation combines with the feel, beat and groove that really made this the first incarnation of modern pop music, to produce a sound that’s still exciting, and still totally relevant here in 2014. From the moment Walk In Jerusalem kicks off the tape with its pumping, up-tempo beat, you’re connected with the sound. It’s not just some quaint old thing that happened in the middle of the last century. It’s gripping and entirely valid, right now. The mood and tempo of the music varies, but it’s always 100% classic gospel, and the impact doesn’t diminish.
You have to keep reminding yourself that this music pre-dated rock ‘n’ roll, and of course the 1960s beat craze, all of which has proved far less relevant to contemporary musical culture than this original gospel style with its greater variety, its sophistication, and in particular, its understanding of groove. True, the way songs are orchestrated today is massively different from the way Mahalia’s musicians did it (her early stuff also pre-dated the electric bass, so acoustic uprights were used), but even now you could take Mahalia Jackson’s style, pass it straight to a leading current singer, and it wouldn’t sound out of place or old-fashioned. Traditional gospel, and specifically Mahalia Jackson’s take on it, is the foremost and most obvious roots influence on modern pop. It’s timeless.
The cassette was released on the CBS label, and has a genuine chromium dioxide (CrO2) formulation, with the surface of the tape a classic dark grey rather than the brown you’d typically see with cheaper ferrics. Sound quality is excellent, and even more impressive given the age of the recordings. The tracks have what can only be described as a defined warmth, and the balance of frequencies across the spectrum is beautiful. A real treasure of a cassette.
To conclude, here are the songs featured…
Walk In Jerusalem
Then The Answer Came
He Calmed The Ocean
It’s No Secret (What God Can Do)
How I Got Over
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
The Upper Room
Just Over The Hill
That’s What He’s Done For Me
Move On Up A Little Higher