Malcolm Gladwell on country music’s beautiful, often sad specificity
He Stopped Loving Her Today is without a doubt one of the saddest songs in country music. Author Malcolm Gladwell (the man who wrote business book giants The Tipping Point…, Outliers…) thinks so. Mr. Gladwell shared his fascinating thoughts on why country music’s specificity makes you cry in a great episode King of Tears (click it!) from his podcast Revisionist History. (Thanks to my tuned-in family member who discovered the July 19, 2017, show and urged me to give it a listen.)
The main character in Gladwell’s 44-minute podcast is Bobby Braddock who co-wrote He Stopped Loving Her Today. Gladwell says country songwriters like Braddock often reference exact places, times, or conversations that yank hard at your heart, whereas writers for other genres tend to use more general language. That’s true; the images of a faded picture of a beautiful woman, handwritten letters on a bed stand, and a funeral wreath become indelible as George Jones’ sings the tragic tale.
Gladwell compares the both-beautiful Wild Horses written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to Boulder to Birmingham written by Emmylou Harris. Both are about the pain of loss but Gladwell judges Ms. Harris’ tune as saddest because it includes concrete references to an airplane ride, landscapes, and Biblical references.
Gladwell’s podcast also featured snippets from George Jones’ funeral, including the famous moment that Vince Gill was overwhelmed with sadness singing Go Rest High on That Mountain; Travis Tritt’s classy story about his conversation with Kris Kristofferson about hard-living Jones and his wife Nancy’s positive influence; and Alan Jackson’s wonderful rendition of the Jones’ classic.
King of Tears is totally worthwhile for any country fan and the episode got me thinking of my favorite sad songs. Here are my top five and I’d love to hear yours!
- He Stopped Loving Her Today, Bobby Braddock/Curly Putman
- Kindness of Strangers, Radney Foster
- Nobody Drinks Alone, Matraca Berg/Jim Collins
- Whiskey Lullaby, Bill Anderson / Jon Randall
- Go Rest High on That Mountain, Vince Gill
And now grab your tissues, here’s a Grand Ole Opry recording of Jackson singing at Jones’ funeral:
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