This Week Vinyl Revival Highlights The Amazing Marty McCall: By Philip Mayabb
Sometimes it can be a (fun) challenge to try and remember some of the classic CCM artists who I heard on the radio when I was much younger. There are always the big artists (Imperials, Amy Grant, David Meece, Evie, Bill Gaither Trio, etc) that you instantly remember right off the bat. The fun part is trying to remember the artists who weren't necessarily household names, but turned out some great songs that you would hear from time to time, and in some cases, you would buy their album. Such is the case with this week's Vinyl Revival album and group, because they have developed an almost cult-like following over the years, and their music has actually held up rather well over time. The group's personnel was like a revolving door over the group's seven year history, however one name is always there, from start to finish. That name is Marty McCall, and the name of both the group and album we are featuring this week is Fireworks.
Most folks remember Marty McCall as one third of First Call, and that he is, but before he joined forces with Bonnie Keen and Melodie Tunney to form an amazing vocal trio, Marty was responsible for starting Fireworks, and was the only founding member to appear on all five of the group's albums. We are focusing on the group's eponymous 1977 debut LP this week, but I will tell you now that any of the group's five albums are worth a listen to, because they flew under the radar in regards to radio for most of their career. They had one single hit the CCM Magazine adult contemporary charts, and that was Don't Look Back, a song from their debut album, which peaked at number 7, so despite the fact that they turned out some great music over the years, they were largely ignored on a lot of CCM radio stations, which is a real shame.
Amazingly, Fireworks story starts off rather similar to that of McCall's other group, First Call. Fireworks began with three friends who were scoring gigs singing backup on recording sessions in Nashville. Marty McCall, Gary Pigg, and Gwen Moore. The three vocalists worked in tandem on several sessions, and were hired by a young producer named Chris Christian to sing some backing vocals for B.J. Thomas' first Christian album called Home Where I Belong in 1976. Those sessions turned out to be a big break for the trio, because that same year, Billy Ray Hearn, the man who had founded Myrrh Records in 1972, left the label to form his own independent label called Sparrow Records. Upon Hearn's departure, The 2nd Chapter Of Acts, one of the label's most popular acts, decided to pull up stakes and go with him to the new record label, leaving the execs at Myrrh looking for a group to replace their former act. Chris Christian had been so impressed with the trio's work that he floated the idea to form a new group with these three backup singers, and then to sign them to Myrrh, as the replacement for the 2nd Chapter.
The new group named themselves Fireworks, and Myrrh wasted no time in recruiting Chris Christian to produce the new group's first album. However, Fireworks would see its first personnel change before the sessions began, as Gwen Moore pulled out of the group, and was replaced by Cindy Lipford. Christian recruited some of Nashville's top studio cats to play on the group's album, and the sound was a pop/rock sound, similar to what the majority of CCM artists were pursuing at the time, with heavy emphasis on the group's vocal stylings and arrangements, much like the group they had replaced at Myrrh, the 2nd Chapter Of Acts. Over the years, Fireworks sound would evolve into a more of a rock based feel, but for their first album, they took the same approach that their contemporaries would take, and to be honest , it really worked for them on this debut LP.
The album's leadoff track, New Day provides a glimpse of what the rest of the recording would sound like...powerhouse vocals, with a Nashville pop groove backing the new group. The synthesizers in the song almost make it sound like a light prog rock song, but it really fits in with the vocals. The group's aforementioned hit single, Don't Look Back is the second song on side one, and features piano work that sounds like it came from one of Keith Green's albums, and I believe you will hear why the song was a top ten hit, it sounds like a song you would expect to hear on CCM radio in 1977. From there, Carrying On keeps the music going, with its upbeat tempo, and once more, featuring those prog synthesizers from earlier in the record. Even with the outstanding musical performances, you can tell that the vocals are the primary focus on this album, and with good reason...the three voices fit very well together, and complement each other to perfection. Presence Of The Lord keeps the tempo up and moving, while the vocals continue to sit in the driver's seat on the album. It's hard not to notice as you listen to this particular album, that despite the fact that Chris Christian has produced many legendary albums over the course of his long, storied career, this album just has a different feel to it musically, and it really is a refreshing change of pace from some of the other CCM that was being released in 1977. Side one closes with Forever With You, a power ballad that actually sounds as if it could've been recorded by the 2nd Chapter Of Acts, with a vocal arrangement that could go toe to toe with some of the 2COA's on any day.
Side two starts off with a mid tempo number called Maybe It's Love, a song that calls to mind the fact that Chris Christian is not only a world class record producer, but a marvelous musical arranger as well, you are going to love the musical track on this one. From there, we get Family, another track with masterful vocals provided by the three vocalists, and backed with a musical track that rivals anything that played on top forty radio at the time it was released. It is one of several musical tracks on Fireworks that sound more west coast influenced than Nashville, which is another one of things that makes this album so enjoyable. While most of the sessions from Music City in the 70s had their own unique sound, this album sounds more like it was recorded in Los Angeles, or some other west coast city...it just has that west coast feel. Open Your Eyes continues this amazing album, with another prog rock arrangement, and vocals that fit perfectly between the notes being played by the band. The fourth track on side two is called Talks With My Father, and actually features a lead vocal by Cindy Lipford, the female vocalist on the group. The track has a classical feel to this music, and the lead vocal slides right into the groove perfectly. We follow that by picking the tempo up again with a song called Takin' A Rest, and this is another one that sounds like it could have been recorded on a Keith Green album, music and lyrics. I wonder how Keith would have sounded singing this song, and you might too. The sixth and final track on side two of Fireworks is titled New Man, and it is a fitting way to end the LP, with yet even more powerhouse vocals, and masterfully arranged musical tracks, and quite truthfully, this particular track could have been placed anywhere on this album.
I've used some of the same words to describe several of the tracks and vocals on this album, but I cannot say it enough...Fireworks' debut is one of those albums that will surprise a lot of listeners, when they discover how good it really is. It is an album that was recorded in Nashville, but sounds like it was cut on the west coast, and when you compare this LP to most other CCM albums that were coming out at the time, this LP really is a refreshing change of pace to listen to. It had to be by design that the influence of the 2nd Chapter Of Acts is so prevalent, because they were the group that Fireworks was signed to replace at Myrrh. When listening to this album (or any other by Fireworks for that matter). it is easy to see why they are so revered among die hard classic CCM fans, it's because their music was different than most other artists who were being played on the radio at the time. As I mentioned earlier, the group's personnel and sound would evolve over their seven year run, and each of their albums are listed among fan favorites on several internet websites, proof positive that Fireworks has a staying power that many artists would love to have.
Marty McCall is to be congratulated for the outstanding work that he turned out with Fireworks, and for leading the band through the changes in its sound over the years, each one working just as well, if not better than the one prior. Here at CCM Classic, we pride ourselves on finding some of the best classic Christian music to share with our listeners, and we hope that you will agree with us that this week's featured album is one that a serious CCM fan should have a copy of in their music collection. It is such a shame that not a single one of this group's five recordings have ever been made available on CD, or in digital format of any kind. They released two albums for Myrrh, and their final three were released by MCA Songbird, who of course went bankrupt in the early 80s, and so none of their albums can be purchased on CD. We can only hope that somewhere in the future, artists like Fireworks will get at least some of their work preserved in digital format so that future generations of Christian music fans can enjoy the superb work they turned out back in the day. So we invite you to join us this week on CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival, as we remember one of the lost classics in CCM history, Fireworks 1977 debut.
Side 1 -
1. New Day
2. Don't Look Back
3. Carrying On
4. Presence Of The Lord
5. Forever With You
Side 2 -
1. Maybe It's Love
3. Open Your Eyes
4. Talks With My Father
5. Takin' A Rest
6. New Man
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