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Stories from the Team: When Song Lyrics Become the Storyteller

At Stories Incorporated, we help companies uncover specific stories within their workplaces, because we know candidates crave specificity — as opposed to generic marketing speak — in determining whether they should work at a particular company. It turns out that Malcolm Gladwell appreciates traditional country music for the very same reason.

Finding the stories in…the lyrics

In the King of Tears episode of the Revisionist history podcast (Season 2, Episode 6), Gladwell makes the observation that traditional country music songs are much more likely to make the listener cry than rock-and-roll songs are. “Country music makes people cry because it’s not afraid to be specific,” Gladwell says.

Gladwell’s referring to traditional country music’s use of specific details in its lyrics, which can be lacking in rock-and-roll songs, where the emphasis is more so on the music than the words.

To illustrate his point, Gladwell looks at the opening lyrics of the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses:

“Childhood living is easy to do
The things you wanted, I bought them for you
Graceless lady you know who I am
You know I can’t let you slide through my hands”

Gladwell describes the lyrics of Wild Horses as generic and cliché; “What is Mick yammering on about?” he asks. Compare those to the lyrics of He Stopped Loving Her Today, written by Bobby Braddock and performed by George Jones, which paint a much more vivid picture:

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.

The details help the listener feel like they’re part of the narrative, as if they’re watching the scene unfold from the perspective of the storyteller.  

The specificity of the lyrics in traditional country music makes the listener emotionally invested the story, in the same way the specific details in recruitment marketing stories make a job candidate feel more connected to a workplace.

The devil’s in the details

One of our storytellers, Maryalyce, could have just said that she’s aligned with CVS Health’s purpose, but it’s much more engaging (and, frankly, more helpful) for a candidate to hear her tell the details of the story of the day her mom called her at the office.

While it might be easy to blast your favorite rock song while zooming down the highway, those same songs may not be tapping into emotional moments in your own life that allow you to connect with the lyrics and the songwriter.

Sure, there are exceptions to everything (and hello, ever really listened to some of Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics?), but Gladwell’s theories of the details in country music lyrics continues to ring true.

It feels especially true as we comb through hours of interview footage, on the hunt for a story that candidates will connect with on a more meaningful basis; going beyond the jargon and instead cutting right to the heart of what it’s like to work their job.

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