The Southern Gospel songwriters of the 1970s produced a decade of enduring classics that has never been matched. The decade’s greatest writers, including Bill & Gloria Gaither, Rusty Goodman, Dottie Rambo, Ronny Hinson, and Squire Parsons, all hit a creative peak at about the same time (~1967-77), and what a time it was.
Each of these writers kept writing into the 1980s and beyond. But we would all say that their strongest output was in the 1970s. Why is this? Why would so many of the greatest writers of their generation hit their peak at the same time?
It’s quite an odd phenomenon. I’ve been pondering it for several months. And I think I have found the answer: Simplicity.
To a man (or woman), each of these writers’ great songs from the 1970s had a distinct simplicity: Simple message, simple lyric, simple melody.
But about the time the calendar rolled over to the next decade, each of these writers shifted to a more intricate and involved style of songwriting. One of Dottie Rambo’s finest songs from the 1980s is “When His Kingdom Comes“; compare that to, say, “The Holy Hills.” For Bill & Gloria Gaither, compare “I’ve Just Seen Jesus” to “Because He Lives.” For Rusty Goodman, compare “Only For His Eyes” or “Standing In The Presence Of The King” to “Had It Not Been.” The difference is simplicity.
Let me be clear: There’s nothing wrong with intricate songs. Sometimes songs need to explore complex topics. In fact, those are often my personal favorites. When it comes to Squire Parsons, I’ll take “Crown of Bright Glory” over “Sweet Beulah Land” any day. But at the same time, I know which of the two pretty much any Christian in the South can sing by heart, and I think I know why.
There’s always a time and a place for songs that explore complex topics. Our genre has plenty of those right now—plenty excellent ones.
But it’s time to bring the simple songs back.