Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs.
Ideas for songs often come from decidedly unusual places, and the inspiration for “Applause” is no exception. Of all things, it was inspired by Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
It’s a show that songwriter Ben Storie enjoys watching. He particularly loves the moment, toward the end of each show, when a bus sitting between the family and their house is moved, and they are shown their remodeled house. “I think at some time in our lives,” Storie shares, “everybody should have a crowd cheering and encouraging and responding to you like those families did. I love the idea of these families who’ve been through so much pain being received by this crowd. It actually kind of makes me choke up.”
He pivots to apply the emotion of the moment to Heaven: “I think that if I had a concept of Heaven, what it’s like when we finally finish this journey, with this great cloud of witnesses that are receiving us into God’s presence—it’s not this quiet, hushed, somber thing! It’s this celebration, this pandemonium breaks out that another child has made it home! I just wanted to write a song about that moment.”
He wrote a chorus and several versions of verses, but he didn’t think any of the verses were as strong as they needed to be. So he approached another songwriter, Lee Black, with the idea. “I had met him at a writers retreat. I had never written with him, but I was a fan of his writing style and his talent, so I asked if he would work with me on it.”
Black recalls meeting Storie at a songwriter’s retreat. “We had nametags,” he recalls. “We would drop them in a box and draw out one or two names for a co-write. I met Ben there; our names never ended up getting drawn out of the hat, but I got to know him there, and at the end of the day, we would kind of get together and just share the songs that we had written. I remember thinking, ‘Man, that guy’s a really good writer; I’d love to write with him.’ So we stayed in touch from there.”
“Applause” was the first time they wrote together. They didn’t finish it at once; they worked on the verses over several sessions. They wrote most of the lyric over the phone, and met at Daywind one night to work on the melody. “Together, we molded the verses into what they are now,” Storie recalls, “and then he helped me make the melody pop a bit more than what it had when I was working on it solo.
Black lived in Alabama at the time. He took the song back home and recorded a demo at his home piano; that was the version that got pitched to the Talleys. The Talleys recorded it on their final album as a trio, Stories and Songs, and even selected it as a radio single. It hit its peak at #2, staying at that position for two months (on the August and September 2011 Singing News radio charts).
The first verse of a song speaks of a missionary’s sacrifices. Storie recalls that it was inspired by Lottie Moon, “a missionary that I’ve heard about all my life.”
The second verse takes an unexpected turn, speaking of the faithfulness of a husband and father who lived a very ordinary life. “I liked the idea of taking it in a slightly different turn,” Storie recalls. “Some of us will be vocational ministers and do the obvious things. But I do think that we’re going to be really surprised when we finally get into eternity and see that there were a lot of things that mattered that we didn’t value like we should have, or that we didn’t notice. I think those folks are going to be just as valued, and maybe more so in some places. Plus, I didn’t want to make it this grand thing that you’ve got to be a missionary to be received joyfully into God’s Kingdom.”
Black adds, “We wanted to start with the obvious one, but then say, ‘You know what, serve the Lord where you are, even if you’re not a missionary in Africa. Serve the Lord well by running the grocery store or working at the post office or being a nurse or fireman. Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord and honor Him in that.’ We wanted to approach it in that way.”