Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Bobbie Gentry often made the performance rounds on the “The Ed Sullivan Show,” ‘The Bob Hope Show,” and “The Andy Williams Show.” She even graced “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” with her “Ode to Billie Joe” in 1967. Fascinated by this era in America, a deep love of country music, the lasting ambience of those retro variety show settings, and as an ode to the women who paved the way for her, Mabes found the perfect setting for her latest release “Caught Up.” Lyrically a song about love during pandemic times, visually, the British singer and songwriter’s sultry country-pop croon is an homage to the women who came before her.
“These women of this era—Bobbie Gentry, Dolly Parton, Dusty Springfield, Lynn Anderson—made pop,” says Mabes. “These girls were the first pop starts of the times. They were the first girls standing up on stage owning it in the spotlight, singing their hearts out in this big over the top Hollywood glam style.”
This snapshot in time continues to drive Mabes’ sound and presence. “These are the girls that paved the way for other artists since that era and paved the way for people like me to express themselves, not only in their songs and writing but their appearance, or being identified with an image,” says Mabes. “In a way, it was a full-on character they were playing. Obviously, Dolly has done that so well throughout her whole career. It fascinates me, and I think it’s the most amazing, fabulous look.”
A fan of the weekly British music series “Top of the Pops,” which Mabes watched religiously growing up—often dreaming of one day performing on the show before it ended in 2006—is another root of her obsession with the live, televised experience. “The whole thing really fascinated me from a really young age,” she says. “I got the opportunity to do this video, and it’s kind of a dream come true. It’s the second best thing to being on ‘Top of the Pops.’”
There’s a certain ambience to the whole setting missing in live performances today. “It was much more simpler and slower and more slow paced,” says Mabes. “There were no green screens, so the set was the set and it was there, on stage. When Bobbie Gentry was dancing around, he was dancing among lots of actual stage props.”
Pieced together after watching dozens of Gentry’s Friday night variety show appearances, complete with the live audiences, and the big, bulky cameras, Mabes wanted to recreate the retro setting in the video for “Caught Up,” directed by Ellicia Lotherington. Donned in a shiny blue lamé jumpsuit, Mabes’ slow croon on a believably dated TV set, is her ode to Gentry and all the women who came before her.
“I just thought, I have to recreate one of these live performances,” she says. “I just couldn’t see it as any other video. Also, I have quite a young audience, and If they don’t know where the origins of music comes from, it gives a little bit of a history lesson, and throwback.”
Sonically, “Caught Up” exudes the UK artist’s slow, southern charm while leaning heavily on her life-long affinity for 1960s and 1970s American culture.
Following up 2019’s Wait & See, and recent EP Keeping the Noise Down, “Caught Up,” along with recent singles “Too Young to Love” and “Danny,” which will be featured on Mabes’ upcoming EP (released by her label The Other Songs), is initially a song about love in the time of lockdown. “FaceTime and Zoom is great, but when you love and miss somebody, seeing them on a screen just isn’t the same as holding their hand or laying your head down on them,” says Mabes. “‘Caught Up’ is about longing to be held and getting lost in the moment with that special person, to make all the worries and darkness fade away.”
Continuing to give her music another dimension, on Keeping the Noise Down, Mabes also transformed each of the four tracks into a visual work of art, representing her teen years. First writing songs when she was 15, and inspired by American country music and the writings of folk poet Laura Marling, Mabes says she’s felt like a musical sponge over the past few years since committing her entire life to music.
Regularly crossing the pond to write and record in Nashville, Mabes says the city is one she instantly fell in love with, and one which inspired tracks like the lovelorn story of “America,” and “Caught Up,” co-written with Matt Newman.
“Even though my thing was writing in my own in my room, since working with producers, I’ve lapped up everything that I can and really try to learn from these amazing talented people,” shares Mabes. “Now I’m able to walk into a room and co-produce a track. That opens up so many doors for me in terms of where I can go, so naturally I’m growing and developing as an artist, and my sound is evolving.”
Regularly recording melodies into her phone’s voice memo, every song has a unique way of coming to Mabes, like when she’s brushing her teeth, and a melody pops into her head. Other times, a song comes directly from the heart.
“I’m a stickler for lyrics,” she says. “I won’t put something in as a filler, because I won’t be proud of it, or won’t want to sing it. I love a good catchy melody as well. It’s all the ingredients in the recipe. Mix them all together, put them in the oven and out comes a nice song.”
With “Caught Up,” Mabes hopes she can capture some of that mystique of the female pioneers of country—and pop—something she says is missing in the more diluted social media realm of revealing everything.
“Social media is a great tool and a great platform, but what it does is it takes away the mystery and the magic of these stars,” says Mabes. “There’s this mystery about someone, and you’re intrigued by this person but now it’s all day, every day, you can see what anyone is doing all around the world. There’s no mystique today.
Mabes adds, “If you saw a picture of Dolly Parton in pajamas, eating corn cakes in the morning, when she was on the rise throughout her career, she wouldn’t be Dolly Parton. It’s this mystique and the magic of being a pop star and being a star, and only being seen on stage looking fabulous. There’s a beauty to that.”