Today’s songs—yes, two!—come to us via Malcolm Gladwell, whose glorious podcast Revisionist History has returned for a second season. His examination of “The King of Tears,” country music songwriter Bobby Braddock, demonstrates that details pack emotional punch like nothing else.
Few of my readers may be aspiring country songwriters. But whatever genre we write in, we all want our pieces to pack emotional punch. Because that’s what gets them remembered. And—say it with me, folks—”if you don’t want to be remembered, why are you writing in the first place?”
To get at what’s different about country music, Gladwell compares a classic country hit to Mick Jagger’s song “Wild Horses.” Jagger wrote the song while keeping watch over his girlfriend, Maryanne Faithful, who had overdosed on heroin. He’s determined not to leave her side: “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away.”
Details pack emotional punch
It’s a powerful statement, and visual too. Jagger overcomes the cliché by turning it into a literal promise, vowing that he and his love will ride those wild horses, “someday,” when she’s recovered.
Gladwell compares that song of undying love to one of the lachrymose ballads that were Bobby Braddock’s stock in trade, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
He said “I’ll love you till I die,” she told him “You’ll forget in time”
As the years went slowly by, she still preyed upon his mind
He kept her picture on his wall, went half-crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all, hoping she’d come back again
Kept some letters by his bed dated nineteen sixty-two
He had underlined in red every single “I love you”
Every couplet here offers us a detail about the man, his feelings, his sentimentality. Because of those specifics, we don’t just learn about the man. We see him, we have empathy for him.
“Wild Horses” gives us a fact. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” paints a picture. You may not know the latter song right now, but I guarantee that after listening to Gladwell’s podcast, you’ll never forget it.
My favorite version of “Wild Horses” is Susan Boyle’s. Go figure. And for the country song, George Jones sang it first. But I give you Randy Jackson, singing at George Jones’s memorial service at the Grand Ole Opry. But really, you should listen to the podcast first.
Also published on Medium.