I haven't done a Sunday Morning Gospel in a long, long spell. Kind of nice to get back into the spirit. I've done research on both of the songs in this morning's -athon but never came up with definite dates. He Will Set Your Fields on Fire, a country and bluegrass gospel standard, is credited to H.W. Ballew (words) and Mrs. L.L. Brackett (music). Someone stole the copyright in 1943 (the usual "Arr. by" scam) but it's clearly a quartet piece from the late 1920s. And I just now noticed that The Music of Bill Monroe (Neil V. Rosenberg, Charles K. Wolfe, University of Illinois Press, 2007) gives a year of 1902 for the song, but I've found no other source for this, and I find it odd that neither I nor the folks at Hymnary.org have located an early printing after much searching. It could well be 1902, but it has a 1920s sound, and Smith's singers were an as-written sort of group, which is my weird way of saying that they stuck to the songbook versions, coming as they did from the shape(d)-note tradition, which was highly disciplined and not very flexible.
I'd love to see the original sheet music version of Fields.
Ironically, although the later versions of the song sound faster, they're actually taken at a slower tempo than the 1927 Smith side. It's the fast bluegrass strumming under the melody and harmonies that makes things sound faster. A similar evolution happened with rock songwriting, come Carole King and other folks who traded eight-bar sections for sixteen, with that Beatles-style beat moving things along, even as the melodies slowed down. Will You Love Me Tomorrow may be the classic example (quarter and half notes). Classic 32-bar AABA standards move faster than rock tunes when played as written, but they don't have that beat. Swing treatments are an exception, as they have a strong forward push rhythmically. Bill Haley was quite frank about rock and roll coming from swing, and he was right, but don't tell any of the Rolling Stone folks. They know the truth--rock and roll started in the Grand Ole Opry.
Anyway, in my awesome playlist,. we hear everyone from the Smith gang to Carl Story to Kitty Wells to Pat Boone. I love it, I love it. Unfortunately, I don't have the 1967 version by the Browns, the folks who hit it big with The Three Bells. I thought I did, and I'm annoyed to discover I do not.
Pictures from Life's Other Side, a.k.a. Pictures from Life's Other Side goes back at least as far as 1898. It's the kind of socially-conscious song common in the late 1800s--evangelical Christianity was a socially progressive thing in those days. Not to give any "seculars" a heart attack, but it's true. Having said that, despite its message that we should watch out for those who have fallen by the way (the "mighty gallery of pictures" line has no equal in pop song history--none), Pictures was turned into a gospel number--it didn't start as one. I don't consider this a folk song--it doesn't sound like one--though given the weirdness of song publishing then and now, more than one version may well have found its way into print, each one copyrighted, for what copyrights were worth once the major labels started scouting for "folk" talent. Suddenly, A.P. Carter's name was on recently published gospel material, and, even across the many decades, I feel for the real authors.
Click here to hear: Fields on Fire-athon
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--Smith's Sacred Singers, 1927
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--Carl Story and his Rambling Mountaineers, 1960
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--The Lewis Family, 1976
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--Bill Monroe, 1954
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--The Country Gentlemen, 1971
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--The Chuck Wagon Gang, 1986
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--Kitty Wells, 1959
He Will Set Your Fields on Fire--The Boone Family, 1973
Pictures from Life's Other Side (Vaughn)--Smith's Sacred Singers, 1926
A Picture from Life's Other Side--Bradley Kincaid, 1932
A Picture from Life's Other Side--Carl Story
A Picture from Life's Other Side--G.M. Farley and the Foggy River Boys, 1963