The Power of Simplicity

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.

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4 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. “Simple message, simple lyric, simple melody”…for me the simple minded ! LOL 🙂

    The gospel is a simple message!

    We (men) have a tendency to over-complicated things…but i do agree there is are songs that expound on more “weighty” christian theology and those are great too!

    Great post Daniel!

  2. I think a part of why the songs of the 70’s are so well remembered besides the writing style is that in the 70’s if it was a good song every major group had their arrangement of it . In the current times one song one group makes it theirs and that’s it. Anyway that’ my comment for this morning.

  3. Simply stated… you will be missed!

  4. Interesting discussion as always. I became enamored with Southern Gospel in the early 70’s. Three or four names stand out as well as the one’s you have listed and they also wrote some great simple songs, the kind that stuck in your head.
    1. Laverne Tripp: In my opinion he was the Rodney Griffin of the 70. Every body who was anybody recorded songs he had written and they are still being sung today.Two that stand out were “I Know”, and “That day is almost here”.
    2 Gordon Jensen: He’s another one. Redemption Draweth Nigh is probably his most famous but had a lot of groups recording his stuff.
    3. Andre Crouch: What incredible songs he wrote. I think of “Jesus Is The Answer”, Through It All, “The Blood Will Never Lose It’s Power”. Probably not known as a Southern Gospel songwriter but all genres of Christian music recorded his songs.
    4. Lanny Wolfe: His best known from the 70’s was probably “Greater Is He That Is In Me”.
    5. I had to include The Cathedrals trio of Songwriters from this period. George Younce, George Amon Webster, and Haskell Cooley.Just go back and listen their “Then And Now” album. In my opinion the best three southern gospel song writers ever assembled in one group.
    Sure gonna miss your column Daniel!!