Descriptive Phrases

We all hear so much about Showing vs. Telling, and there are no better or more concise examples than those found in song lyrics.

Think about it. You have 3 – 4 minutes to tell an entire story. There is no time for wasted words. Then, top that with the fact that things have to rhyme and have a rhythm, and you can see that songwriting is no easy task.

Tom T. Hall is known as “The Storyteller.” So, it seemed fitting that I look at his work for a good example. Here’s one:

He was an old-time cowboy, don’t you understand
His eyes were sharp as razor blades his face was leather tan
His toes were pointed inward from a-hangin’ on a horse
He was an old philosopher, of course
He was so thin I swear you could have used him for a whip
He had to drink a beer to keep his britches on his hips (Wow! Now there’s a visual!)
It gives us a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? I tried to find an image that matched what I saw in my head and couldn’t. These boots came close.
Want to hear the whole song? Here’s the YouTube Link: 
Another prolific writer, Kris Kristofferson, was a genius with words. One of my favorite, “Lovin’ Her Was Easier,” tells such a tender and eloquent story.
I have seen the morning burning golden on the mountain in the skies (I can see it!) 
Aching with the feeling of the freedom of an eagle when she flies (I feel it!)
The entire song is short, but says SO much.
Mountain sunrise
Or how about “The Gambler?” That’s one helluva story. The writer, Don Schlitz, was homeless and living in his car when Kenny Rogers recorded it. Needless to say, he was soon a wealthy man.
On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the Gambler, we were both too tired to sleep…
Haven’t heard it in a while? Here’s a link:
Another very expressive writer and performer that has emerged on the scene is Chris Stapleton. Take at look at these lyrics.
There’s a bottle on the dresser by your ring
And it’s empty, so right now I don’t feel a thing
I’ll be hurting when I wake up on the floor
But I’ll be over it by noon
That’s the difference between whiskey and you
What do you think? Can you feel the ache, the agony, the desperation? Want to give it a listen?
But, this song written by Hank Williams Sr., may be the most descriptive. It is exactly 2 minutes and 32 seconds long, but tells such a sad lonely story.
Did you ever see a night so slow
As time goes draggin’ by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry…
There are SO many songs out there that are extraordinary examples of descriptive writing with only a handful of words. As authors, we can learn from these songwriters
How about you? What are some of your favorites and why do they touch you?


35 thoughts on “Descriptive Phrases

  1. Ah, Jan, thank you for the memories you bring back with these songs… You’re so right, country/western can show and tell with the best. I’ve written a number of songs, a few country western… The old fingers can’t chord on the guitar anymore ( gave mine to a grandson) but here’s a song I did on YouTube a while back – sung too darn slowly Acapella but will give you an idea:
    The song I really would like to send is entitled: “Learning to be Alone Again” – guess I’ll try that Acapella as well… They’re better than I make them sound…but, what the heck, check the old man out! ♥♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great examples of stories told in song, Jan. The one that comes immediately to my mind is the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot. (I’m dating myself!) I can’t imagine getting the words, story, rhythm, and rhyme to work all together. A fun post! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jan, I’ve enjoyed reliving so many of these songs and I wanted to mention one song that haunted me as a young girl. “Gypsy Woman was written by Curtis Mayfield for his group, The Impressions. As you’ve all described, the visuals were strong and the lyrics demonstrated Mayfield’s ability to tell a story in song. Here are some of the lyrics:

    From nowhere through a caravan
    Around the camp fire light
    A lovely woman in motion with hair as dark as night
    Her eyes were like that of a cat in the dark
    That hypnotized me with love
    She was a gypsy woman

    She danced around and round
    To a guitar melody
    From the fire her face was all aglow
    How she enchanted me

    Oh, how I’d like to hold her near
    And kiss and forever whisper in her ear
    I love you gypsy woman
    I love you gypsy woman

    The entire song is on You Tube:

    Thanks again for the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A beautiful song, Linda. I remember it and always loved it. There are SO many that touch us in one way or another. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving such an awesome comment.


  4. Bread’s song IF oh that has always been one of my absolute favorite song ever.

    If a picture paints a thousand words,
    Then why can’t I paint you?
    The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.
    If a face could launch a thousand ships,
    Then where am I to go?
    There’s no one home but you,
    You’re all that’s left me too.
    And when my love for life is running dry,
    You come and pour yourself on me.
    If a man could be two places at one time,
    I’d be with you.
    Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.
    If the world should stop revolving spinning slowly down to die,
    I’d spend the end with you.
    And when the world was through,
    Then one by one the stars would all go out,
    Then you and I would simply fly away
    Songwriters: David Gates
    I always thought this song to mean to truly love someone so dearly and and deeply there is really no words, no way to adequately describe that love.
    I love it!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always loved this song too, Glenda. It is such a quintessential love song. And the melody is beautiful. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing a comment! Hope you are feeling better each day. Hugs!


  5. Great post Jan. When I was in a poetry class in college we focused on song lyrics. It made me relook at songs and feel them even more. What made them great wasn’t just the brilliant ways of describing and showing which is anazing, but the heart behind it, too. Not as easy skill but beautiful once accomplished.


  6. I love songwriters that tell stories (Gordon Lightfoot is a favorite of mine and Harry Chapin was awesome). Writing lyrics is an entirely different skill set than writing fiction and I applaud those with that talent.

    Here’s an interesting tidbit:
    When I was in tween years, I found a picture in a magazine of the moon mostly hidden by clouds in the night sky. There were four lines below the photo:

    Did you ever see a night so slow
    As time goes draggin’ by
    The moon just went behind the clouds
    To hide its face and cry

    I can’t tell you what magazine it was, but I can still see that photo and verse in my head. I clipped it from the magazine and kept it for years in a keepsake box. Between the verse and the photo, I was in love with it. The poor thing had so many creases from me unfolding it (to look at) and folding it back up again, it eventually fell apart.

    Here’s the pay-off: until today I never knew what that verse was from. My mouth dropped when I read your post, Jan. Thanks for a vivid and treasured memory of something I had forgotten about. And bravo to Hank Williams, Sr., and all the other talented songwriters who bring us so much pleasure with their work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Mae! That is in and of itself an incredible story! I’m so glad I could revive that memory and solve a mystery at the same time. Yes, Gordon Lightfoot and Harry Chapin were both amazing storytellers. “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot is an all-time favorite. Harry Chapin’s songs all told stories. “The Cat’s in the Cradle,” tells an entire story of the circle of life. Thank you so much for your great comment and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great blog, Jan. I love the songs that tell stories and pictures form and linger long past when the music fades. Marty Robbins was very, very good. “Out in the West Texas town of El Paso I fell in love with a Mexican girl.” Have you ever listened to a singer called Dean Brody? He tells great cowboy stories. Here’s one called “The Cattleman’s Gun.”

    Have a wonderful day, sister! Music is in your soul for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marty Robbins was an amazing storyteller too. “El Paso” was such a great story told from beginning to end. I’m not familiar with Dean Brody. I’ll give him a listen. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  8. What a great post. I get a lot of inspiration from music. If I’m supposed to quote something, how about: “She steps out in the alley with a single-shot .410. The road goes on forever and the party never ends.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Jan. I always liked songs that told a story. The Gambler is a great example. One of my favorites, that gave me goosebumps as a child, was Ghost Riders in the Sky. Still love it. There’s a great version with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and maybe some of the others — I’m not sure now.
    Loved the pic of the old boots. Hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, Teagan. Another great example of descriptive storytelling with only a few words. Thank you for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the post. Hugs back to you, future Texas resident. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m not sure I could write songs (I’m too long-winded, LOL). You’ve chosen some great ones. I’ve always loved the Hank Williams song. B. J. Thomas does a version that I really like. I was a big fan of John Denver. A line in one of his songs always makes me wish I’d thought of it, “The absence of her laughter is a cold and empty sound.” That speaks volumes! Great post, Jan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another fantastic example, Joan. That single line tells us SO much about the scene. I have heard the BJ Thomas version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and yes, he did a fantastic job. Long-winded writers are needed too. That’s why we love our books. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. We take it for granted when we hear a good song on the radio, Mark. Now, that’s not to say that just as in the author world, there are tons of songs out there that are lacking that quality, but when a good one comes along, it grabs at us. Thanks for your comment.


  11. Great blog Jan- I instantky thought of Red Steagall’s Frecles Brown. Here’s just part of a lyric:

    He lowered himself on dark red hide and pulled his bull rope tight
    He wrapped her twice and jerked her hard made sure he pulled her right
    Then two big old shinny horns looked Freckles in the eye
    Then a snort and a nod the chute gate swung as Freckles yelled let’s ride

    Two thousand pounds of boiling hell was turnin’ wrong side out
    And showing four feet to the Lord and giving Freckles hell
    Eight thousand fans were on their feet and he couldn’t hear a lick
    Cause the only sound he listened for was the buzzer then he quit

    And tonight bull ridin’ history’s made and a cowboys’ gained a crown
    His bull was called Tornado and the cowboy Freckles

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow! Wow! Tonya, that is VERY descriptive. Red put me right there in the scene. That is the mark of a great writer. Thank you SO much for sharing! Hugs, and hope you are feeling better today. Love you!


      1. Jan I am, my migraine has left and I pray for it never to return. Ha ha!! I can hope big, can’t I.


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