CCM Classic Blog

Do You Remember Billy Sprague? Soon You Most Definately Will! By Philip Mayaab

Do you know what a dichotomy (dī-ˈkä-tə-mē) is?  It's a very interesting word that Merriam Webster's dictionary defines as this... a division into two especially mutually exclusiveor contradictory groups or entities.*  The title of this week's featured album on Vinyl Revival is a dichotomy, and I would be willing to bet that many, if not most, of our listeners have forgotten the man responsible for it. but will remember him momentarily.  The album is titled "Serious Fun," and it is by a singer-songwriter that enjoyed more success writing songs for other artists than he did for recording them himself, his name is Billy Sprague.

Now that's not to say that Mr. Sprague did not fare well on the radio or the charts. He has released 10 albums over the course of his career as a singer, and he has a total of 16 chart hits to his credit, 13 of which he either wrote or co-wrote.  Sadly, as an artist he probably never achieved the name recognition he should have, partially due to the fact that he was active during a time when superstardom in Christian music was huge.  Now if you don't remember Billy just yet, that's okay, because I can PROMISE that you have heard of some of the songs he has had a hand in writing. Let's see here, Sandi Patti recorded one of the songs that he wrote with Niles Borop called "Via Dolorosa," which won Billy a Dove Award for Song Of The Year, and ten years later, he went back to the podium at the Doves along with Gary Chapman and Wayne Kirkpatrick for a little song called "Man After Your Own Heart," and those are just two of the songs on his resume.  Others would include "IOU Me" by BeBe & CeCe Winans, "No One Knows My Heart" and "Alice In Wonderland" by Susan Ashton, and many more artists have benefitted from Billy Sprague's songwriting prowess over the years.

As an artist, he started out in the early 80s, and one of the first professional gigs he had was as a member of Amy Grant's band, in fact, if you have a copy of Amy Grant In Concert, listen to a track called "Singing A Love Song," and you will hear Billy singing the duet with Amy.  As it turned out, his association with Amy, as well as the entire Blanton/Harrell management conglomerate was a good thing, because in 1984, Billy Sprague signed recording contract of his own with Reunion Records. The label sent him into the studio with a record producer that you have probably heard of, his name was Michael W. Smith.  When the sessions were complete, they turned out an album called "What A Way To Go," and after three chart hits, Billy was on his way as an artist.  I know that I'm doing some major name dropping here, but it's all to show that this guy has some serious (no pun intended) street cred as a writer, and artist - he has worked with the best in the industry.  So now that I have you caught up on his backstory, let's get on to some Serious Fun.

Released in 1986, "Serious Fun" was Billy Sprague's sophomore solo album, and for this second trip to the studio, Reunion records tapped Wayne Kirkpatrick to produce the proceedings.  The result was (in my opinion) one of, if not the, most definitive mid 80s sounding CCM album of all time.  Keyboards on top of keyboards rule the sonic quality of this album, so if you're like me, and you have an affection for all things 80s, you will LOVE this album!  We'll get to that in a moment, but I want to go from the outside in for this blog, let's start with the front cover.  Now if you bought the cassette of this album, you lost out on all the fun, because the front jacket of the LP shows our artist spinning a globe on his right index finger, wearing connect the dot clothes.  Yes that's right, his outfit is a connect the dots drawing, that the owner could complete, and then color in, if they chose to do so.  Cheesy?  Of course it is, but look at the title of the record, and you'll get what's going on. Then, when you flip the jacket, you are met with a word search puzzle, called "Billy's Search For Serious Fun."  In it, you will find thing like names of the album's nine songs, the make of Billy's vehicle, characters from his favorite TV show, the name of his cat, his two favorite brands of ice cream, and five of Billy's favorite "hip expressions." Obviously, I'm only going to give you the names of the tracks on the album, if you want to see the rest of those items, you'll have to find a vinyl copy on eBay, and do the puzzle.  Now all of this sounds childish I know, but this album may just have one of the most creative packaging setups in CCM history. It's all meant in fun, which is half of the album's title, you see.

Since we've covered the outside, now let's get to the good stuff, the music on the album.  As I eluded to earlier, this album literally SCREAMS mid 80s.  Keyboards galore, electronic drums, synth bass, funky guitars, "Serious Fun" has them all, and some fun songs to go along with all those sounds.  You only need to listen to the first 30 seconds of "Rock The Planet," the album's leadoff track, to get an idea of what you're in for on this album.  It has a funky little dance type groove to it, accentuated by each of the musical nuances I just eluded to.  It even has a fun little opening dialogue before the song even starts, you have to check it out.  This track is a really cool nostalgic throwback to when it was released, and I believe you'll really enjoy listening to it.  "Love Has No Eyes" is next, and it too is a sweet little pop song, that sounds like a track that you might have heard on mainstream top 40 radio back then.  After that comes "YMISIM," and no that is not a typo...it stands for "why am I as I am."  The lyric sheet has several more acronyms put in it, just to add to the allure of the title, but the song itself is really good, and it definitely goes into the "serious" category.  The fourth track on side one is one of the album's two chart hits, it's a ballad called "A Heart Like Mine," and it turns up the "serious" factor, even more so than "YMISIM."  It was serious enough to give Billy Sprague his first top three hit on the CCM Magazine charts, the song peaked at number three. Listening to this track, it's pretty easy to see why it was such a big hit - most every Christian in the world can relate to the lyrics.  Closing out side one, we have a track called "Invisible Hand,"  a mid tempo number that reminds us that our Heavenly Father is watching over us always, just as His word says, "I will never leave nor forsake you."  A fitting way to close to side one for sure.

Side two opens up with some more "fun," and a song called "Phantom Living."  A well written number, complete with the techno pop arrangement that was featured earlier on the record, it picks right up where side one left off.  After that, we're back to the second chart hit from the album, called "Out Of The Blue," and like "A Heart Like Mine," this song was tailor made for CCM radio...a classic 80s ballad, it was no surprise that this was the album's second single, peaking at number 31, I have to say, I actually like this song better than "Heart," but you can make your own call on which single is better, I just happen to prefer this one.  Next, we move to a song called "Centered On You," which is in the "fun" column musically, but in the "serious" column lyrically, dealing with keeping our life centered on the Lord.  Just like the rest of the album, this is a really cool song, and it also has some pretty tight vocal arrangements to go with the music. "Serious Fun" ends with a song called "Better Days," which is probably the song that is most unlike the rest of the album, but that doesn't mean it's not good, because it is, just in a different way.  This song doesn't have as many keyboards in the driver's seat, and it is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  

So now we have covered this entire album, inside and out.  There are some albums that I listen to today, and find myself wondering "what did I ever hear in this back in the day," and there are some albums that have stood the test of time, and still sound as good now as they did when they were released.  This particular album falls into a different category, and it is one that brings back memories of how the music sounded back then, and how much fun it was to be alive in the 80s, and have the privilege of growing up with some great artists and albums. This album could not have been more appropriately named...it has serious, it has a lot of fun, and it is a lot of fun to listen to, even today.  I know that Billy Sprague is not on the same field as industry giants such as Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant, and he never became a superstar performer as they did, but this album has some pretty doggone good songs on it, and the music just takes me back to 1986 every time I listen to this album, and I have to be honest with you, I don't mind that at all.  As a grown up fifty something adult, sometimes it's just fun to remember how it felt when I was young, and didn't have nowhere near the cares and concerns that I have now.  Life was so much easier then, even though I might not have realized it, and listening to this album just  does something special for me personally, and I hope it will for each of you as well. So please join us for CCM Classic's Vinyl Revival this week, and let's all have us a good round of "Serious Fun," courtesy of Billy Sprague.

TRACKLIST

Side 1 - 

1. Rock The Planet

2. Love Has No Eyes

3. YMISIM

4. A Heart Like Mine

5. Invisible Hand

Side 2 - 

1. Phantom Living

2. Out Of The Blue

3. Centered On You

4. Better Days

* https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dichotomy



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