“The marketing geniuses on the corporate side of the country music labels had decided to start using focus groups to test their products before they were developed or released. An example of this would be to ask the focus group whether they liked sad songs or happy songs. “We like happy songs!” the focus group would chirp, and the word would go back to the writers and producers to come up with “happy” songs to record. This made it especially hard on the songwriters, who rarely feel a need to write when they are happy, as then they are busy luxuriating in the pleasure of happiness.
When something bad happens, they want to find a way to transcend it, so they write a song about it. When Hank Williams, one of the greatest and most successful country artists of all time, wrote a song like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” or “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” he wasn’t writing “happy” songs, yet they made the listener feel better. The listener could feel that someone else had gone through an experience similar to the listener’s own, and then went to the trouble and effort to write it down accurately and share the experience like a compassionate friend might do. In this way, hearing a song like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” could make the listener feel better, or “happy.”
Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir