Recently I’ve been pondering yet another one of the many things that sets CCM and SG apart: cover songs (and projects). In southern gospel, it’s quite common for even top-tier groups to fill up a good percentage of their main releases with covers, whether of relatively recent songs or old standards. It’s also common for groups to put out entire projects of covers, sometimes as a tribute to another group like the Cathedrals or the Happy Goodmans.
I don’t observe this nearly as much in CCM. On occasion, various artists will collaborate on some special event covers project as a tribute to somebody significant in Christian music (like Rich Mullins). Once in a while, a group will release a project of CCM classics covers (Avalon, Another Time, Another Place). Some praise and worship artists will cover each other, but those are generally songs everybody and his uncle is doing anyway (“How Great is Our God,” “Blessed Be the Name”). In general, it would be considered odd for half of an artist’s latest project to be made up of already-recorded songs. In fact, on the rare occasion that an artist chooses to re-interpret an old song (e.g. Bethany Dillon with Amy Grant’s “Lead Me On”), it’s focused on as a somewhat surprising/significant choice. And you never see current non-worship artists regularly incorporating each other’s songs into their repertoire.
Think about it. Has MercyMe ever covered Casting Crowns? Has Third Day ever covered MercyMe? Did the new group Sidewalk Prophets start out with projects of MercyMe, Casting Crowns and Third Day covers? No—each group has its own material. Going farther back, 4Him was often compared with the Imperials, but did they ever release an Imperials tribute project in between main-lines? No (although that could have been pretty cool). Come to think of it, there were a lot of similar-sounding AC harmony groups in the 90s (4Him, Point of Grace, Phillips Craig & Dean, Avalon), but they all did their own stuff and had their own styles.
Why is this? Is it because southern gospel has even more similar-sounding artists, thereby making it easier for the same songs to get bounced around among various groups? Is it because CCM has fewer adaptable “standards,” thereby making it more urgent that new artists bring all-new material?
Here’s another thought: I see more of the “covers phenomenon” in country than in CCM, although still less than in SG.