Old Radio and the Art of Simplicity

I have mentioned this in another blog but I really love listening to old classic music and I am not talking just about your run of the mill classic rock station. I am blessed to have a local station which broadcasts nothing but old country, rock, and really rare southern sounding things that you just don’t hear on the radio anymore. What this does is more than a simple burst of nostalgia because most of these songs were penned and released long before I ever drew breath on this planet. I really learn a great deal from the songs on there.
One song in particular is Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” which is an exercise is sweet southern gothic. First the arrangement is sparse and let’s her sultry vocal breath. You can almost feel like you are right there with her as she strums her acoustic and tells her tale of the mysterious suicide of the song’s title character.
What is amazing about this work is the depth of its simplicity. Bobbie Gentry manages to tell a novel length or movie length story in 4 verses. The words are not labored and are so totally conversational one could feel as though this was a simple telling of events done to music, which it very well may be.
This is the lesson of being natural and simple in order to write great material. Find a theme and tell a story. All you aspiring songwriters would do yourself no harm in listening to this one and others like it. It might also not be a bad idea to find some obscure golden oldies station on the radio or the internet and start absorbing some of the ways of these songwriters. They did not become legendary by accident.

Bobbie Gentry Article