Dated Lyrics

Changing musical styles often make a song’s melody or arrangement seem dated. What makes a lyric seem dated?

Obviously, outdated cultural references are one possibility. (Case in point: “No Shortage,” The Imperials)

Slang is another. (Case in point: The Blackwood Brothers’ “It Must Be the Man in the Sky”—and, perhaps, “Have You Talked to the Man Upstairs,” though I suppose there is a possibility people somewhere still use that to refer to God. Another case in point: Everything in Contemporary Christian Music from 1975-1985! 😀 )

Some would say King James-era language is a third. It probably is in Contemporary Christian Music, but in this genre, I would contend that it’s more likely to bring classic hymns to mind—and that’s far from a bad thing.

What other factors might make a lyric seem dated? What would make you say, “Oh, that sounds so 1950s”—from the lyrics alone?

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52 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. “It’s a happy rhythm in my soul, DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO….”

  2. “Jesus is a Soul Man” (Oak Ridge Boys and several others). It also has the lyrics “Oh, they say that He’s a square “

  3. I always think of the song “Royal Telephone”. I don’t know how many here might know it…it’s in the red-back Church Hymnal, on page 304, I believe. (I know it’s opposite of “Old Rugged Cross”)

    Anyway, the whole song is just a bunch of metaphors dealing with prayer as a “telephone to Glory”. It was written in 1919, and is filled with references that are nowhere close to applying today, especially since the advent of cell phone technology.

    Here’s some lyrics I found:

  4. Any song with a leper, an old blind man, a rugged tree, a crippled man, Zion, Zion’s Hill, Canaan, the Jordan, that river, (you get the picture) are tired, overdone – therefore – dated.

    • I believe that there is a distinction between overdone and dated that is presently eluding you. They are not identical. If you hear a reference to Canaan or Zion’s Hill, you may not like it because you’ve heard other songs do it. But I doubt anyone would hear a reference to Canaan or Zion’s Hill in a song that had otherwise modern language and say, “Oh, that song sounds so 1950s!”

  5. Dated lyrics? What are those? 😀

    No, seriously, the only thing coming to my mind at the moment is an old Wendy Bagwell song. I think I only heard it once (once is too many times), and it goes something like “Jimmy, and ?????, and Oral, and Bob are talkin’ ’bout Jesus and doing their job.”

    It was quite uncalled for when he first sang it, but I assume there were at least some people back then who didn’t respond with “Blech.” (BTW, I do love most Wendy Bagwell music.)

    • Also, Daniel, that’s why I was surprised when you said that call center where you worked received calls for that guy. I thought they were all has-been’s.

  6. The first characteristic of a “dated lyric” that comes to my mind is scrambled subject-verb-modifier orientation, most commonly with the intent of making line rhyme. While there may be a few cases of this in more recent songs, just reading the lyrics of these types of tunes would scream “dated lyric” to me.

    As an example, “The Old Rugged Cross” lyrics,

    “In that old rugged cross,
    stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see…”

  7. Great post.

    I was listening to the cd by Statement of Faith the other day (now disbanded, but repackaged as another one…) and they cover the old cathedral’s song (late 70’s early 80s) “I enjoy the trip”. That seems to be one of those dated lyric songs. Of course, those brought up in that area would probably have another meaning to the word “trip”. Those younger would probably just think it is taking a road trip 🙂

    • Man, I can’t believe someone covered that song! I heard a 30-sec clip on Amazon before I bought the Cathedrals’ CD, and it included the line, “Some people think I’ve flipped, but I enjoy the trip.” I immediately knew Kirk Talley had written it. It’s a lot of fun, but so wacky I can’t believe anyone still takes it seriously!

      • I thought it was, “Some folks think I’m flip, but I enjoy the trip.”

      • Well … I don’t know. I wouldn’t even know what that expression meant! But I may have heard wrong too. I don’t have it at hand to re-listen.

      • You’ve never heard the slang phrase “think I’m flip”? 🙂

        It is short for flippant, I think.

      • I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. (My tiny win in one battle in a corner of the how-disconnected-can-we-be-from-modern-culture war. 😛 ) Just kidding.

      • My thought was from the expression “flipped his lid” or something like that. I guess.

      • I’m fairly positive the word that both the Cathedrals and SOF sang it “flip.”

      • OK. 😀

      • “Some folks think I’ve flipped” is now I understand it.

      • You know, another 80s Cats song “I’m Going Home Someday” states, “I travel the country doing one-night stands…preaching and singing in a 5 piece gospel band”. I wouldn’t think the current generation would take that lyric of “one night stands” associated with preaching and singing… That could also qualify as out-dated, even if we know what is being conveyed.

      • Yep…that’s a Dianne Wilkinson song. The first time I heard it (Gold City’s version) that lyric gave me pause. I’ve never heard the term used the way Mrs. Wilkinson used it anywhere else. I think it is indeed a term from a past era.

      • Just thinking…you know, the whole “5-piece band” part is just as dated these days. Someone recording the song nowadays should probably change it to:

        Traveling the country up the roads and back
        Preachin’ and singin’ with this Lari Goss-arranged track…

      • Hmm. Lari Goss isn’t doing that many tracks right now…

        “…with this Yamaha-powered track”?


      • Oh, yeah. For a minute I thought you were talking about the Happy Goodmans song with that phrase, which jumped out at me recently. I think that was “Family Band.” (Not too many rhymes there, I guess!)

  8. For me, any lyrics with the theme of a ship, a train, cabins, or flying . . .

  9. I don’t know if this example counts, since it’s a secular song, but George Jones once had one called “High Tech Redneck.” In this little number, one of the things described as being “hih tech redneck” was a guy “talkin’ on his cellular phone.” Whatever is redneck about talking on a cell phone, I don’t know, so I figured it was just an old and extremely dated song, perhaps from the early days of the cell.

    • “High Tech Redneck” is EXTREMELY dated. At the time it was released (1993), it talked about the latest technology. Lines include:

      “big screen TV with stereo,” which would nowadays be a “flat screen TV with surround sound”

      “if it comes on just a little too late with his VCR’s he can get it on tape,” could be switched to “with his DVR, he can watch the next day”

      “CD cassette digital tape CB radar and scannin’ short wave” – self-explanitory

      “And if he needs to talk to his honey at home He just dials up her number on his cellular phone” – about the only line in that song that could still apply today, actually….

      • Thanks for the reply. Yes, cell phones are still relevant today, but my point was, the song tries to make them look “redneck” when literally almost EVERYONE uses them! I looked the lyrics up on a search engine once, and I thought that part was extremely goofy!

  10. Two songs come to mind that make me think HUH! One is a lyric that speaks of crossing the river to the other side and the way to get there is to “Take My Hand” Pretty sure my hand is not what you need to hold on to. Also the song if anyone will make it, surely I will. WHAT! These are much older songs and I don’t think a lyric like that would pass the test these days, but what do I know! HA!

    • I seem to recall hearing a story that J.D. Sumner disliked “Surely I Will, Lord” so much that he actually wrote a song in rebuttal.

    • Pat – as Brent commented below, the song J.D. wrote in response to “Surely I Will” was “Because of Him.”

      • I really like that trivia tidbit. Very good.

    • I have read that Rosie Rozell really disliked (he said hated it in an interview I saw) Surely I Will Lord, although it is one associated with him. He felt it was bragging. Hovie seemed to always do it though and he was the boss. I believe I read in Happy Rhythm that when the Statemen surprised Hovie at his church years later, when he saw them walk in, he went to the piano and immediately did the lead in for Surely I Will. Rosie wasn’t too happy. Hope I got this story straight, anyway point is some people do take issue with those lyrics.

      I don’t know the story behind the actual song, but I doubt the writer intended for it to be taken that way.

  11. On a non-secular note, there is the J.D. Summer song “The Old Country Church,” which, although I still like it, sounds a bit dated to me.

  12. “Some would say King James-era language is a third. It probably is in Contemporary Christian Music, but in this genre, I would contend that it’s more likely to bring classic hymns to mind—and that’s far from a bad thing.”

    What the lyrics bring to mind is irrelevant to this discussion. They are either dated or they’re not. Having dated lyrics isn’t necessarily a bad thing, which is what you seem to be implying.

    • But isn’t “dated lyrics” all about what is brought to mind – as in relics of a bygone technological era, linguistic era etc.? 🙂

    • If the term being used was “old-fashioned” I might agree. But I think the word “dated” doesn’t just mean old, but has a connotation of “no longer relevant”.

  13. I believe the song JD wrote because of his dislike to “Surely I Will” was “Because Of Him”.

    • Brent – yes, you got it. Now that you say that, I’m positive that’s it. Good thinking!

  14. The Tom T. Hall song “Me and Jesus” comes to mind. I like the song, but there’s just a late ’60s, early ’70s sensibility to it that sounds dated now.

  15. Remember the early Imperials w/Jake singing the “Good Book Song”??

    “Won’t ya let the Good Book make you good…give it a try today….then all along your way….feeling so bright and gay”

    Back then gay meant cheerful or happy and today it has a totally different meaning.

    I still like the song though.

  16. The Martins had a song a few years ago entitled “Go Tell”. A line near the end of the song is “Go tell it on your car phone” followed by laughter. Maybe they knew.

  17. I knew if I read this thread long enough I’d find one of mine! Comes from being old (hahaha). The “one night stands” phrase in “I’m Goin’ Home Someday” (which I have always called my “ode to the road”, for all my quartet boys who “work hard for the money” for any Donna Summer fans out there) was tongue-in-cheek on my part. All the guys who recorded the song loved that. I’ve learned now it’s best to leave out the “inside” lines that might not fit right with the fans. When I heard the Gold City version, I heard “eight piece Gospel band”, and even in those days, I knew no one could afford a band like that. But an eight piece Gospel band would surely be refreshing in 2011, wouldn’t it? I hope y’all will forgive an ole King James/Fanny Crosby fan who’s spent a lifetime “under the influence”…but to me, the rugged cross and the Jordan river references will never be dated by any criteria. And that’s the closest thing to a dissenting opinion I’ve ever made in a public forum, and I say it with all due respect.

    • May the Cross never become out of style!

      Well, it is out of style, but may our genre’s songwriters never fear to write about it anyhow!

    • On that we are in full agreement, Mrs. Dianne! Amen!

  18. There’s an old song called You’ve Got To Live Like Jesus, and the first line goes “There was a man born 1900 years ago,” and of course that’s literally “dated” which I think makes it “dated” for purposes of this topic. Great old song, though.

    Any older hymn, by rights, has my blessing to sound dated, because of the nature of their existence. And I am with Dianne that the subject matter of the cross, blood, etc, never goes out of style. It’s the way the message is packaged sometimes that does.

    Another that comes to mind is “Nobody Wants to Play Rhythm Guitar Behind Jesus…everybody wants to be the lead singer in the band.” I always thought that was such a far-out song! 🙂

    Speaking of dated lyrics, this may be a topic for another day, but I find it interesting that songs like “Through It All,” “I’ve Got Confidence,” “Something Beautiful,” “Sail On,” and several others of that era used to be considered “contemporary” songs by many die hard southern gospel fans, and now several of us at church sit around and laugh at the songs we used to call contemporary. Songs by Lanny Wolfe and Andre Crouch used to be edgy and now they are classics. It makes me smile. After all, Amazing Grace was once the new song on the block. I wonder how people accepted it back then when it was brand new? Just thinking out loud today.

  19. This is from a different genre of music so hopefully I won’t be crucified. These lyrics came from a song called “The Question Is” by the Winans:

    “The question is, when will Jesus return I want you to know, soon, soon, Soon, soon, soon, soon. Look at the crisis in Iran, Russia’s already invaded Afghanistan”

    These lyrics went out of date but occasionally become relevant again. Just change out the country invading Afghanistan every so often.

  20. “Operator, get me Jesus on the line.” Even I don’t remember that far back!

  21. I think maybe we’re also mixing up “dated” and “out-dated.” I don’t think anybody believes “Old Rugged Cross” is “out-dated,” but it has some characteristic syntax that “dates” it to a certain period. (Which is just as likely a good thing.)

  22. The topic at hand might give credence to why song arrangers are more popular in churches today than strictly songwriters.
    A deep rooted arranger can arrange an older song bringing it into the real world maintaining the theological truths in the song. Evangelical churches known for their association with accredited colleges, universities and Bible schools have a greater opportunity to draw on the resources of staff and students in this area of creativity.
    Most of the newer arrangements are worship songs that most traditional thinking church members can be blessed.

    Discussing topics involving spanning a numbers of years like “dated” songs or the discussion we had earlier this month is based on our surroundings in our earlier years.

    Bringing the KJV into the play would take us into areas that would be based on our upbringing or teachings.
    I can hear the more traditionalist thinking people saying “I would rather sing the “outdated songs” to meet the Man upstairs than…..”
    A more progressive evangelical might think God use the word “men” too many times can be comforted by the scripture found in Mark 16: 15-16.

    We live in world where old things are so old that it is brand new to the new.

  23. “There’s a Message Within Every Song by HeavenBound is a little dated since it talks about singers and songwriters of that time in present tense. I did change a few lyrics for when I sing it.
    “When ol’ Rodney writes a song, it’s so easy to sing along;
    Just like ‘Lazarus’ and ‘Everyone, Everywhere, Everytime'”…

  24. How about the Amy Grant song “El Shaddai” I never hear people use those words any more.

  25. “I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Superstar” by Glen Campbell and then covered by the Blackwood Brothers.