This year, the Inspirations celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Let’s commemorate this landmark milestone by looking at their top ten greatest albums.
#10: Two Shoes (1998)
The Inspirations’ Canaan era made them legends. After signing with Crossroads, they quickly returned to the top of the genre. Two Shoes is the strongest release of the interregnum. It contained two songs, “Two Shoes” and “Resurrection Ground,” that remained concert favorites for over a decade. Perhaps partially because of how much the song meant to him personally, the latter song became Matt Dibler’s signature song. With Dibler’s recent return to the group, the song returned with him.
Song list: Thousands Of Tears; In God’s Hands; It’s Been Worth Every Mile; Walk A Little Farther; Anything Goes; Don’t You Want To Come Along; Resurrection Ground; Always Have, Always Will; I Want To Go There; Two Shoes.
#9: Touring The City (1973)
If for no other reason, this album deserves a spot on any top ten list for its title track alone. “Touring That City” became tenor Archie Watkins’ signature song.
Song list: Touring That City; The Fa Sol La Song; I Know He Hears; Love Reached Down; I’ll Make It To Heaven Some Day; Matthew 24; On Higher Ground; Only One Door; I Believe He Died For Me; When I Walk On Streets Of Gold; I Can’t Do It Alone; After The Sunrise.
#8: Pure Vintage (2001)
After spending over a decade as an independent artist, the Inspirations’ decision to sign with one of the genre’s premier labels, Crossroads, proved momentous for the group’s history. After years without a major presence in awards or #1 hits, this album, and its mega-hit “I’ll Not Turn My Back On Him Now,” immediately put the group back on top. The song was a #1 hit for two months in January and February 2002, and it also won Song of the Year at the Singing News Fan Awards.
Song list: I’ll Not Turn My Back On Him Now; The Great I Am; He Broke The Chains; Prayer Moves The Heart; Mercy At Midnight; Heaven Gets Sweeter; He Swept Me Off My Feet; When Jesus Shall Reign; The Book, The Blood, The Blessed Hope; Endangered The Christian Family.
#7: Cool Water (1964 or 1965)
With how amazing the Insiprations’ run with Canaan was, it’s easy to overlook how strong their early work is. (Or perhaps it’s because of how hard these albums are to find.) They had been together only a year or two when they recorded this album, yet it is filled with strong performances in their already distinctive style. Songs like “On The Sunny Banks” and “He’ll Hold to My Hand” would make at least intermittent appearances in their live concerts for decades. This remarkable release is the strongest of their early years.
Song list: On The Sunny Banks; I Will Follow Thee; Gettin’ Ready To Leave This World; Gonna Sit Down And Rest A Little While; When We Get Home; Cool Water; I Love To Call On Jesus’ Name; Glorified Body; Well Done My Child; He’ll Save My Soul; He’ll Hold My Hand; Come Spring.
A Video Highlight
#6: Wake Up In Glory (1972)
The Inspirations’ first album with Canaan, Our Inspiration (1971), was a nice first step. This, their second, seems to have been a breakout album. Granted, I don’t have Canaan’s internal sales numbers from the era to back this up, but it’s not hard to make an educated guess based on the relative rarity of Our Inspiration today, compared to the plentiful copies of this album still in circulation.
This album may not have had a single signature song—the closest is “Rocked On The Deep,” a popular feature for Mike Holcomb for years—but it was a solid all-around performance. It was probably the first Inspirations record in many households. Fans decided they liked what they heard. They came back for more, and they’re still coming today.
Song list: I’ll Wake Up In Glory; Oh, What A Day; Bring Your Burdens To Him; I’ll Never Die; Where The Shades Of Love Lie Deep; We’ll Be At Home Again; I’m Going Up; Rocked On The Deep; A Place Called Heaven; Everybody Will Be Happy Over There; Obey The Spirit; One By One.
#5: The Son Came Down (2009)
While we didn’t know it at the time, this ended up being a transitional lineup; baritone Melton Campbell and bass Mike Holcomb were long-running fan favorites, while Dallas Rogers and David Ragan were debuting. But what we did know at the time was that this was a really, really good project. I reviewed it, giving it five stars, and if it were possible, my respect for its strength has only increased as the years have gone by.
In the five years since this came out, there have been a number of personnel changes. But within the last few months, two of the vocalists featured on this project (Rogers and Campbell) have returned to the Inspirations lineup, bringing with them an infusion of energy and excitement—not to mention spectacular live renditions of “Dealing With Gold.”
Song list: I Know Where He Lives; Dealing With Gold; Stone’s Throw Away; The Son Came Down; Crown Him King; Heaven Knows Where I’ve Been; Thinking More Of Heaven; The Potter; Thank God I’ve Made It; Walkin’ By Faith.
#4: Golden Street Parade (1975)
This album comes squarely in the middle of a 1972-78 run where the Inspirations were named Favorite Group in the Singing News Fan Awards for six out of seven years. Perhaps it is no surprise that fully half of the top ten albums we’re commemorating in this series come out of that era. With songs like “Golden Street Parade,” “I Love To Tell Of His Love,” “On The Sea of Life,” and “When God Dips His Love,” the Inspirations produced one of the most exceptional studio albums of the decade.
Song list: Golden Street Parade; Tears Will Never Stain; I Love To Tell Of His Love; I Found A Treasure; Will Someone Be Waiting; Glorybound; When God Dips His Love; I’m Going To Meet You In Heaven Someday; When The Saints Gather Home; Haven Of Rest; On The Sea Of Life; God Still Cares.
A Video Highlight
#3: I Know (2006)
As this top-ten countdown nears its final stretch, it’s rather unavoidable that superlatives abound. But the Inspirations’ career deserves superlatives.
I Know is the strongest release of the Inspirations’ Crossroads era. Two of the three #1 hits they have had in the last thirty years—”I Have Not Forgotten” and “If You Only Knew” came off this recording. Yet this recording is packed with songs so powerful that it wouldn’t have been surprising to see one or two more.
Song list: I’ve Never Gotten Over Geting Saved; If You Only Knew; I Know; I Have Not Forgotten; Shed For Even Me; At His Feet; When I Walk On Streets Of Gold; Living Like There’s No Yesterday; Led By The Master’s Hand; My Best Friend.
#2: On Heaven’s Bright Shore (1976)
Every list of this nature needs at least one surprise, and this is it. Ask casual fans and serious fans to name the group’s all-time strongest releases off the top of their heads; this isn’t always one of the first to come to mind. But that only goes to show just how much this album is underrated.
The Inspirations’ releases from this era, the era when they were the fan’s favorite group in the genre, are all distinguished by instrumental and vocal excellence. What, then, sets this apart is its song selection. Songs like “Land of Living,” “I’ll Live Again,” “Rose Among The Thorns,” “On Heaven’s Bright Shore,” “The Redeemed Are Coming Home,” and “When Fair Heaven I See” make this the group’s all-time greatest studio album.
Song list: On Heaven’s Bright Shore; Rose Among The Thorns; A Mansion Is Waiting; The Redeemed Are Coming Home; Land Of The Living; Far Better Than This; When Fair Heaven I See; Are You Listening For The Lord; He’ll Wipe Away The Tears; Help Me Lord; He’ll Do A New Thing; I’ll Live Again.
#1: A Night of Inspiration (1976)
The 1970s were an era of compelling live performances. We’re still talking about the Kingsmen, Rambos, Happy Goodmans, and countless others from this era. A Night of Inspiration shows how, even in this august company, the Inspirations became the decade’s most popular group, winning six of the ten Singing News Fan Awards for Favorite Artist handed out that decade.
Some groups used live albums as an occasion to introduce new songs. Here, the focus was more on live versions of songs like “Touring The City,” “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More,” and “Jesus Is Mine” that were already beloved hits.
It would perhaps be a theoretical possibility to read about the Inspirations’ hit songs and live appeal and have an intellectual understanding of how this decade made them legends. But once you have listened to this album, it’s no longer theoretical. You feel it in your bones as you feel the energy and the messages in your soul.
Song list: Touring That City; When I Wake Up To Sleep No More; The First Million Years; When God Dips His Pen Of Love In My Heart; Amazing Grace; Tears Will Never Stain The Streets Of That City; I’ve Got More To Go To Heaven For; These Are They; Thanks For Loving Me; Jesus Is Mine.