As a public relations professional, I'm responsible for coming up with ways to tell my clients' stories. When great companies need to talk to their customers about what makes them special, I recommend using the same storytelling techniques that are employed in the best and most beloved story-songs. Here are a few of the songs that have always gripped me with their powerful lyrics, haunting imagery and sometimes memorable music. But the STORY is what pulls you in and keeps you listening.
Cat's in the Cradle - Harry Chapin: It never fails to evoke memorable life stages of childhood and becoming a parent. Connecting with familial emotions and the everyday life of a made-up family causes us to listen and compare the story to our own lives. And it's memorable. And it sometimes teaches a lesson.
Hotel California - The Eagles: This haunting tune is effective because it taps into the powerful emotions associated with the unknown. And since so many Americans believe in some sort of spirit world, it's not hard to imagine a haunted hotel with a friendly (but ghostly) staff. Mix that with powerful descriptions of the scent, the decor and an attractive stranger, you have the ingredients for a seductive story. Besides that, it's got one of the most memorable guitar solos of all time.
Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald - Gordon Lightfoot: Based on a real story, this song is immediately compelling because it is true. The telling of a true story, either literally or metaphorically, lends credibility and people tend to pay attention to see what happens next. What really gets you about this song is the descriptions of the time
Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown - Jim Croce: Written in an age before the politically correct crowd sucked all the fun out of the world, Croce manages to write a playful, if not biographical tune. This type of story transports the listener into a world that may be slightly different than theirs, but then comes back and grabs you with a classic tale that is very common: Guy wants girl, other guy gets jealous, a fight ensues, and somebody loses.
They Dance Alone - Sting (read the background of this song) Using historical fact to tell obscure cultural stories is a time-honored tradition in American folk music, going back centuries. Who says history is boring? Using the story-telling technique, old stories and lessons from history can be dusted off for a new generation.
Getting someone's attention in a media saturated world is difficult at best. Using storytelling is about connecting on an emotional level. Stories are remembered better when they're told in a memorable way. So the next time you're telling a compelling story, remember to use the techniques used in your favorite story-song.