Big 10: Story Songs

  I’m sure you guys know what a story song is.  Oh you don’t?  Well, funny you should say that!  A story song is basically a song that tells a story.  Wow.  Pretty hard to follow, I know.  The story doesn’t have to reflect any deep lesson, (see number 10) but it helps.  It doesn’t need to have a character, but that–ok.  Maybe it does need to have a character.  I don’t know.  Here’s my list, before I contradict myself even more.

10.  Albuquerque – “Weird Al”  Yankovic:  “Way back when I was just a little bitty boy livin’ in a box under the stairs in the corner of the basement of the house half a block down the street from Jerry’s Bait Shop?  You know the place.”  “Weird Al” is a master of being able to entertain you with a humorous story through song.  Anyone who hasn’t heard this song is in for a treat, as they follow the tumultuous journey of someone just looking for the place where “the towels are oh so fluffy”.

9.  Someone to Love – Fountains of Wayne:  To be totally honest, the reason this song might resonate so clearly in my head is due to it’s brand-spanking-newness.  I caught the video on vh1 one night and basically fell in love with it’s lyrics.  They’re sharp, clever, and thoughtful.  Some songs don’t give much background to their characters, or even flesh them out at all (see Number 7 on this list).  This song is totally the opposite of that….  Not only do you learn the names of the characters (Seth Shapiro and Beth Mackenzie) you learn their occupations, what they do in their downtime, and most importantly how lonely their life is.  In one last clever twist, the characters meet up and instead of being predictable, she steals his cab leaving him in the rain, royally pissed.

8.  Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – The Beatles:  A classic song about a man who kills his girlfriend, teacher and the judge at his trial with his brutal silver hammer.  Paul McCartney says this song symbolizes how in life, just when everything seems fine, someone will kill you with a household tool.  Or something along those lines.  He’s old and senile, cut him some slack. 

7.  Hollywood Nights – Bob Seger:  A tale of love found and lost on the beaches of California.  The driving rock melody and Seger’s well-crafted words combine to make even a caveman socially reflective.  Seger’s work is even more amazing when you consider that even though he doesn’t give you detailed backgrounds into the characters, you still feel bad for the guy in the song who loves this beautiful girl until “that morning he woke up alone”.  Poor guy.

6.  The Devil Went Down to Georgia – The Charlie Daniels Band:  Alright, alright.  I can’t believe I put this on here either.  And to think, this is taking the place of “Tribute” but Tenacious D.  I’m definitely going to Hell for that.  Nevertheless, this song is good for more than the mind-boggling fiddle skills.  I mean, the guy freakin’ mixes it up with Satan.  In a fiddle duel.  In Georgia.  You reread those italicized words and try telling me that that doesn’t just scream cool.

5.  Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – Looking Glass:  Most story songs are sappy, and with good reason.  That’s why there are “love ballads”.  There’s no such thing as “rap ballads”.  And that’s a good thing.  This is the touching story of a girl “works, layin’ whiskey down” who’s “eyes could steal a sailor from the sea.”  See?  Touching.  But then you learn about Brandy loving a sailor who “couldn’t stay.  No harbor was his home.”  And so, “Brandy does her best to understand.”  I probably shoulda just posted the song lyrics here. =D

4.  In the Ghetto – Elvis Presley:  Perhaps the saddest song I’ve ever heard, this one deals with a poor little baby child who has to grow up in the mean streets of a Chicago ghetto.  He learns the ways of the streets, stealing for food, growing up the hard way.  Basically he snaps, buys a gun, steals a car, tries to run…but he doesn’t get far.  *In the ghettooooooo*  *sniff*  Someone get me a tissue.

3.  A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash:  It’s also no surprise that many story songs are country songs.  That’s why there are “country ballads”.  Ever heard of a “rap ballad”?  Whoa.  Deja Vu.  Totally flipflopped from that last song, we get an awesome song from The Man in Black about a kid who’s dad names him Sue.  So, doing the perfectly rational thing, the kid hunts the father down and gets into a fistfight with him.  Interesting sidenote:  the lyrics are by none other than Shel Silverstein.

2.  Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin:  This song resonates with any parent, because basically it reads (listens?) as a warning.  The kid in the song just wants to spend time with his dad, who’s always too busy with work.  As the kid silently grows up he wants to be just like his dad.  And, ironically enough, he does get to be just like his dad:  too absorbed in his work to spend time with his family–in this case [ironic twist #2] his dad, who’s long since retired.  Crazy!

1.  Space Oddity – David Bowie:  “Ground control to Major Tom.”  A bonafide classic, and a song that millions of people from multiple generations can recognize, “Space Oddity” tops my list for a few reasons.  First, Bowie structurally makes sure the songs melody follows the mood.  Before the launch, it’s tense, maybe a little worried.  Right after launch, it’s euphoric.  After all, he “really made the grade.”  Then, about the time he’s sitting in his tin can, the song shifts again to panicky as Major Tom loses connection with Earth.  As the song fades out in slow sadness we’re left wondering about life’s mysteries and how poor old Major Tom never made it home.

Well there’s the list, and I’m super tired at this point, so I’m gonna hit the hay.  Make sure to leave me some blog lovin’!



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