The varied and numerous song-poem companies which have existed for decades have always attracted writers of religious lyrics in large numbers, but no label seemed to draw them in as high percentage as did the Halmark label, one of the most peculiar purveyors of the song-poem scam.
You can read all about the Halmark story here, but the short version is that they stood alone, among the many providers of this service, for their cheapness, taking existing backing tracks from wherever they could find them, and recycling the same fifteen or twenty-some tracks - nearly all of them sounding like leftovers from 20 or more years earlier - over and over again, using, primarily, a core group of four vocalists to sing the customers' lyrics over this limited set of canned backings. Keep in mind that these records were mostly released in the 1970's, and not, as their sound would indicate, the 1940's or early 1950's. That the folks at Halmark had the nerve to adopt the slogan "Sound of Excellence" just ads to the ridiculousness of their endeavor.
For the most part, Halmark did not label the vocalists on their 45's, choosing instead to list the name, and often the address, of the lyricists. Those that do list the vocalist have assisted those of us who collect song-poems in identifying the mainstays of the label, but even this can be confusing; on the relatively few records where the vocalist is listed, I've found at least three where the wrong person is credited.
Today, for Easter, six tracks from various Halmark 45's, all with Christianity as the subject matter, a few specifically related to the observances and celebrations of this week, and others with a more general Christian focus. Unfortunately, the most astonishing, ridiculous and unctuous vocalist from the Halmark stable, Bob Storm, doesn't seem to have appeared on very many of their religious releases, and he is not represented here, but you can hear plenty of his work, and other Halmark sides, on my own song-poem site, as well as on Darryl Bullock's masterful "World's Worst Records" blog.
I'll start with a song that was heard on the very first song-poem I ever owned, one I picked up in 1975 or so, at the age of 15 - it was 20 years before I knew what a song-poem was, or that this record was a song-poem, but even at 15, I knew that there was something bizarre, otherworldly and somehow just wrong about this record. I particularly enjoy the end of this record, as the lyrics appear to run out of words long before the pre-recorded track runs out of music, and the singer ends up singing "He brings me Joy" over and over and over again. As mentioned above, there is no artist named, but I believe the vocalist here is Halmark mainstay Jack Kim (real name, Jack Kimmel), singing "The Man Called Jesus".
Focusing more on the Easter theme than the previous track, here's Jack Kim, again, joined by wife Mary, in the song of a man who thanks Jesus for his life, especially after having been "in a coma, twice!". It's called "He is the Resurrection and the Life":
Over on the flip side of the same EP, we hear one of my favorite of Halmark's ridiculous backing tracks, this time fitted with the lyrics of the most excellently named Larn Headley, with "From the Manger to the Cross", a song which introduced me to The Legend of the Dogwood Tree, which I'd never heard of before. Mary and Jack sing us this one, yet again:
"Jesus Was Standing Right There" is the odd man out in this batch - it comes from what appears to be a later (or different) period of releases from Halmark, it contains a traditional country styled backing that I've never personally heard on another Halmark release, and a vocalist who I do not recognize - I don't believe it's the ubiquitous Mary Kimmel, although I could be wrong. Note that this record likely belonged to either lyricist C. M. Covey of Wallace, ID, as my copy of the record has a whited-out correction to that writer's name, right on the label.
The opening bombast of "A Walk on a Lonely Road" seems to promise great things ahead, or at least weird things, but instead, the track bogs down into nearly four minutes of trite lyrics and over-the-top vocalizing from Mary Kimmel.
And finally, back to Jack Kim, for the song "My Savior". It's hard to miss that this track features the same singer and the same backing track as the song we started with, "The Man Called Jesus", and this last track offers a nice window into how the same singer and track were used with two different sets of lyrics. By the way, the tape glitch about halfway through this track is right on the record - "sound of excellence", indeed.