During the first week of July, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir held four of the top 5 spots in Deseret Book's weekly list of its best-selling music albums at the bookstores' 30-plus locations.
Less expected is the success of the only album on the list that isn't produced by the choir: the cheerful, upbeat "Popcorn Bopping," which sounds unlike anything ever produced by Deseret Book.
The 13 tracks are all songs that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints learned back in Primary, such as "Popcorn Popping," "Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked," "The Handcart Song," "Follow the Prophet" and "My Heavenly Father Loves Me."
But these songs won't sound like the tunes you might have sung in Primary, as the subtitle suggests: "Dance-Along Mixes of Favorite Kids' Songs."
Bob Ahlander, director of music and film for Deseret Book, a division of Deseret Management Corp, which is owned by the LDS Church, pointed to the national success of albums such as Kidz Bop, a series of albums featuring children singing contemporary popular music hits. "I wanted music that sounds like the pop of today," Ahlander said. "I want Lady Gaga, Kanye, Cee Lo, Katy Perry I wanted to hear those influences."
After the idea was hatched, he contacted local music producer Aaron Edson, whom he knew as a fellow alum of the Brigham Young University a cappella group Vocal Point. Edson, who ended up recording the album at a studio in Draper, thought the idea was unique. "Young parents have grown up with these songs," Edson said. "If you're 30, you know these songs."
Like Ahlander, Edson enjoyed listening to modern popular music but didn't like the messages. "You can replace the lyrics and not make it hokey," Edson said of making contemporary-sounding songs. "We don't need salaciousness and sex."
Finding great children singers wasn't a problem in talent-rich Utah. Edson contacted Masa Fukuda, the acclaimed Utah director of the One Voice Children's Choir.
"My initial reaction was, 'Are you sure about this?' " Fukuda recalled saying to Edson about the idea to marry contemporary arrangements to popular LDS songs. But once he understood Edson and Ahlander's vision, he agreed to be the choir director and compose arrangements with Edson. He recruited a choir of children singers and tapped young soloists.
The two worked on some demos and sent them to Ahlander. Surprisingly, Ahlander rejected them.
He told Edson to go back to the drawing board and come up with arrangements that were even edgier and much more contemporary. He wanted songs that wouldn't sound out of place on top-40 radio. "You don't expect Deseret Book to tell you to take it further," Edson said.
So Fukuda started an intensive process of studying the arrangements and elements of recent hits. Fukuda's arrangement of " 'Give,' Said the Little Stream" was loosely influenced by Train's "Hey Soul Sister."
You can also hear the influence of Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never" in "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission," especially when young singer Nicholas Neel raps a verse. Yes, raps.
The resulting album was released May 10, and since then it has ranked on the bestsellers list at Deseret Book locations. The album is an attempt not only to lure in parents looking for wholesome songs, but a way to entice future Deseret Book customers. "Kids are not coming to Deseret Book unless they are forced to," Ahlander said. "It has a cover that doesn't look like the typical covers we put out."
The album is on a constant rotation in the Farnsworth home in Layton, and not just because 9-year-old Natalie Farnsworth sings a solo on "Follow the Prophet." "It's a fun family CD," Natalie said. "We listen to it when we do chores, like vacuuming, dusting and unloading the dishwasher. It's fun and uplifting."
The professional-sounding album is poised to take the top spot away from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir some week soon. But fans of the choir shouldn't be too offended perhaps the child singers will grow up to join the choir.