128 Story Songs
January 19, 2018 3:07 PM   Subscribe

 


Well, this is a rabbit hole that killed whatever productivity I had left in me today.

Of course, a lot of people don't know it, but you know who has some of the best story songs? Weird Al.
posted by vverse23 at 3:16 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Josh. Fucking. Rittor.

that’s all I want to say right now.
posted by es_de_bah at 3:24 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]


Crediting "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" to Reba McEntire? Really?
posted by thelonius at 3:26 PM on January 19 [15 favorites]


Robert Earl Keen kind of owns this genre for me. If you want a collection of story songs that could be turned into movies, there are worse people to listen to. 'Shades of Gray' for example has about 7 characters including a cow, and tells the story of 3 guys who steal said cow and then are caught and released by the FBI, who are looking for the Oklahoma City Bomber. The cow isn't even treated as a throwaway character as you exactly who it is stolen from and serves to build a backstory for one of the main characters. All in 5 minutes of running time.

Love Vigilantes by New Order is a pretty good story song from a band that doesn't normally do story songs. It's even somewhat ambiguous, as I've heard it argued that the wife and child are dead, but I think they are alive because the narrator says she has been crying.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:27 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Ctrl+F "Pancho and Lefty"

OK. I am really out of evens, now.
posted by thelonius at 3:28 PM on January 19 [21 favorites]


Josh Ritter is good too. Check "Getting Ready to Get Down", which has pretty Biblically clever lyrics about a lady who wants to grow up (and have sex) but everyone labels her no matter what she does.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:31 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


This list could be much longer.

What about "Surfin' Bird", the story of a man who has a bird, that surfs, and this same man who suddenly becomes incoherent when he finds out he is the bird's Papa?

What about "The Star Spangled Banner", about a man who sees a flag, and then he doesn't - but then he sees it again ... or does he?

What about "Wipe Out", the story of a man who uses a public facility that has no bathroom tissue, and who - out of frustration - beats a rapid tattoo on the door of the stall, from the inside?
posted by Modest House at 3:33 PM on January 19 [28 favorites]


Left out Pancho and Lefty, geez. And Into the Great Wide Open, Mary Jane's Last Dance, Coat of Many Colors, Eighteen Wheeler, and and and I could be here all night even if I excluded Tom Petty, Tom Waits, and all of country music before 1990.
posted by dilettante at 3:34 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Lots of great songs!

But c'mon BEER RUN
posted by Caxton1476 at 3:40 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Crediting "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" to Reba McEntire? Really?


Crediting "Fancy" to Reba McEntire? wtaf Was this list put together by Reba's social media team?

Ctrl+F "Delta Dawn"
Ctrl+F "Never Been to Me"
Ctrl+F "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves"
Ctrl+F "Billy Don't Be a Hero"

gtfo
posted by the sobsister at 3:42 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


I've always wanted to make a list like this, but with songs from movies that describe what is about to happen, what is happening, or what just happened on screen. Like that song at the end of First Blood, or that song from Dead End Drive-In. Those are the only ones I can think of offhand, but I feel like "songs that tell the story that the movie is also telling" is a good related list to this one.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:46 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Pleasantly surprised to see Drive By Truckers, although at least a dozen of their earlier songs tell more complete stories than The Deeper In.

Um. Dylan? Bob Dylan? Ring any bells at all?
posted by Occula at 3:46 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Tom Russell's the king of the story song. Here's one of his best.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:50 PM on January 19


No Whiskey in the Jar? Shame on you. Yes I know there are many versions, this is the one that I heard first.
posted by Splunge at 3:50 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


This list is missing Faith No More's Everything's Ruined, which has never been more relevant.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:56 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Some Chapin goodness.
posted by Splunge at 3:59 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Burl Ives' take on "Diesel Smoke" is fantastic in this genre.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:02 PM on January 19


“The Coward of the County” is in the top 20, so all is right in the world.
posted by chavenet at 4:06 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Taxi- Harry Chapin, The Hurricane- Dylan, Deportee-Dylan, One More Cup of Coffee- Dylan, Suzanne-Leonard Cohen, Refuge of the Roads-Joni, Song for Sharon-Joni, Harry's House-Joni
posted by Oyéah at 4:09 PM on January 19


W-wait. No Springsteen? No “Thunder Road”?!

WTF
posted by chavenet at 4:09 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]


worst list of 128 story songs ever
posted by philip-random at 4:13 PM on January 19 [9 favorites]


YouTube gave me this when seeking out that Burl Ives track - here's Burl Ives and Glen Campbell doing a rapid-fire duet medley of songs-that-tell-stories accompanied only by their guitars on a television set made to look like an abandoned train station, and it is as fantastic as you're imagining it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:16 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Hadn't listened to that "Traveling Soldier" song by the Dixie Chicks in ages. Manipulative as hell, and holy fuck, sad as hell.
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:18 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


The Tragically Hip: 38 Years Old, Fifty-Mission Cap

Sloan: Underwhelmed

John Prine: Sam Stone

Dean Friedman: Ariel
posted by Sys Rq at 4:21 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


I am very frowny that they fail to recognize the vast superiority of Bruce Robison's "Traveling Soldier" over the Dixie Chicks version.
posted by wintermind at 4:22 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


gather 'round the campfire, children, and I will sing you the song of Clickbaity McListicle and the Ranked List that Omitted Several Very Good Songs That Are Personally Important To Me. You all know the chorus, right?

I didn't click, no, I didn't click
I knew that I was angry before I even had to click

posted by prize bull octorok at 4:23 PM on January 19 [27 favorites]


Now, it was bad enough leaving out Robert Earl Keene, but NO Lyle Lovett?! These are bad people and they should feel bad.
posted by wintermind at 4:27 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Is Richard Thompson too far out of the genres? 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and Beeswing are two sad but good stories.
posted by Botanizer at 4:27 PM on January 19 [14 favorites]


I am very frowny that they fail to recognize the vast superiority of Bruce Robison's "Traveling Soldier" over the Dixie Chicks version. posted by wintermind at 6:22 PM on January 19
Okay, didn't know that existed, and yeah, it's great.
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:29 PM on January 19


I believe that Robison wrote it, but the Dixie Chicks version is much better known.
posted by wintermind at 4:35 PM on January 19


Lucinda Williams - Lake Charles (among many, so many, others)
Guy Clark - Let Him Roll (among many, many more)

Just to get started, really.
posted by kneecapped at 4:39 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Well, I loved seeing that list and glad that Edmund Fitzgerald is on it, and the Ode to Billy Joe!
posted by Oyéah at 4:40 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


What lists like this really, really need is the follow-up article "The things that should have been on the list (according to you), but weren't", because that would be just as interesting and also acknowledge the fact that these lists just exist to start arguments.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:47 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


There's a lot of great songs on this list, but relevant to my particular opinions it 1: Has NO Tom T. Hall which is outrageous and 2: Has a weird Taylor Swift choice, who wasn't a bad storyteller back when she was doing more of that. I'd have gone with Fifteen, even if the message is kind of reprehensible.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:52 PM on January 19


I humbly nominate almost everything by Stan Rogers. My favourites:

Northwest Passage
Barrett's Privateers
Lock-Keeper
Tiny Fish for Japan
The Field Behind the Plow
posted by clawsoon at 5:01 PM on January 19 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure I'd count R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" as a story song so much as the first chapter in a song epic. A completely ridiculous epic.
posted by clawsoon at 5:07 PM on January 19


A story song, eh? How about "Frankie Teardrop" by Suicide? Just don't listen to it before you go to bed.

For something a little lighter, "No Thugs In Our House" by XTC
posted by SansPoint at 5:09 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Now, to engage honestly with the shortcomings of the post, here are some songs I'd suggest for the list (all links are to YouTube): I could go on, but that's probably more than my fair share!
posted by wintermind at 5:09 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Almost everything by Johnny Horton would count. North to Alaska is pretty good. Johnny Reb, on the other hand, hasn't aged so well.
posted by clawsoon at 5:11 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


No Springsteen?

"Fast Car" is kind of the like "Born To Run", but the singer only escapes to a different shit situation, if that makes you feel any better.
posted by thelonius at 5:11 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


For the first half of my life, two names defined 'story songs' to me: Harry Chapin and Shel Silverstein.

Glad to see "Cats in the Cradle" on the list (which I first heard when my radio mentor interviewed him and he pulled out this 'song I haven't recorded yet' to play and my mentor reacted like he'd been shot directly in the heart), but also the aforementioned "Taxi", splunge's sneakily linked "30,000 Pounds of Bananas", "WOLD" (the radio disc jockey's anthem), and his account of the University of Texas tower shooting "Sniper".

And "A Boy Named Sue", performed by Johnny Cash is a Silverstein song (and he wrote a 'follow-up' song, "The Father of a Boy Named Sue" which is exactly what you'd expect) as is Dr. Hook's "Sylvia's Mother"and most of the group's early material, including "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" (does it qualify as a story song?).

I could go on, but others are beating me to some great examples. Keep it up!!!
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:17 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Ctrl+F "The lost melodies of homeric epics captured in the clay of an amphora makers' spinning wheel"

Really??!! Nothing???!! wtffffffff
posted by gwint at 5:19 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


(I think I sort of stretched/ignored the definition in some places, sorry, but they're all great songs!)
posted by wintermind at 5:19 PM on January 19


Stanard Ridgway, a seriously underappreciated songwriter, has done some wonderful story songs... Just Drive, She Said is a great example, with its hungry taxi driver caught in the midst of a crime. “I Wanna Be A Boss” is hysterical with its delusional, idiotic narrator. “Salesman“ is a vivid character study of a guy living and selling on the move. “Peg and Pete and Me” is “The Postman Always Rings Twice” made into a short song with a big bite.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:30 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]


There is a shocking lack of Tom Waits on that list.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 PM on January 19 [11 favorites]


kinnakeet: Oh, yes! And his work with Wall of Voodoo should not be ignored either. "The Passenger" is a dark story of a would-be terrorist, and "Call of the West" is just plain epic.

Also, from his solo albums, let's not forget "Camoflauge", and the excellent "King for a Day".
posted by SansPoint at 5:33 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Patches.
posted by clawsoon at 5:34 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Ctrl+F "Pancho and Lefty"

Pancho and Lefty

Tbh, I think there are too many songs I don’t know and not enough Belle and Sebastian, but then I think that about every list.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:38 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Disappointed but not surprised that Hot Rod Lincoln was overlooked.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 6:01 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Evil Ruby, Beasts of Bourbon

Psycho, Eddie Noack

Silver Wings, Merle

Twa Corbies Pied Pipers (trad)

Down in the Willow Garden, The Meat Purveyors

Henry Lee, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey
posted by mwhybark at 6:11 PM on January 19


Ctrl+F "The lost melodies of homeric epics captured in the clay of an amphora makers' spinning wheel"

lol! "Henry Lee" gets us back to around 1100, surely in the high seventies someone set some Homer to plinky plink and harp
posted by mwhybark at 6:14 PM on January 19


Ctrl+F "Pancho and Lefty"

OK. I am really out of evens, now.


This is exactly what I did, too.

I am a big fan of country-western truck driving songs, so I am glad to see someone mention 18 Wheels and a Dozen Roses. Some other good ones with stories:

Bonnie Jean by David Lynch Jones. Chorus:

Little sister rolls them 18 wheels.
She knows how the lonesome highway feels.
She's got a heart of gold and nerves of steel.

Alabama, Roll On Eighteen-Wheeler

I am also a big fan of "woman walks out on domestic duties." In this sub-genre, you have:

Nanci Griffith, Ford Econoline.

Chorus:

She's the salt of the earth, straight from the bosom of the Mormon Church
With a voice like wine, cruisin' along in her Ford Econoline

Nanci Griffith again, Listen to the Radio.

My favorite verse:

I left a handsome, two-steppin' good ol' boy back in Tennesse,
Now he's sittin' on the sofa, lookin' for his supper, wonderin' what's become of me.
I got a double-o Martin in the backseat of my car, and I am leavin' Mississippi with the radio on.

And another favorite of mine: Sara Evans, Suds in the Bucket. Great fast-talking lyrics, swingin' beat, fiddles.

And of course so many more.
posted by Orlop at 6:25 PM on January 19 [7 favorites]


Pop, rock and country, but no rap, soul or jazz?

Hmm.
posted by clawsoon at 6:30 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


I appreciate this post deeply. Not for the link, but for all of mefi creating a superior list on a friday nite.

Here’s another one from a guy who’s a master of the form:
Mountain Goats’ Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton
posted by es_de_bah at 6:34 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Love Vigilantes by New Order is a pretty good story song from a band that doesn't normally do story songs. It's even somewhat ambiguous, as I've heard it argued that the wife and child are dead, but I think they are alive because the narrator says she has been crying.

No way, silly. Everyone’s alive. The government made a bureaucratic error and sent the “death” telegram instead of the “your husband’s coming home” telegram. See, happy ending!!

no way the pilot’s dead. Ghosts don’t exist and why on earth would anyone write such a sad song?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:37 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Well obviously you can't swing a Fender Telecaster without hitting a whole slew of great story songs, but how could they have overlooked Bob Dylan's Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts? Not to mention probably dozens of other Dylan songs, but that's the one that I like the best.
posted by Flashman at 6:42 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


This is so clearly Springsteen territory that I cannot image why he would not be on the list - or for that matter, just get cursory mention in this thread. Off the top of my head, there must be a dozen story songs on the first 4-5 albums alone.
posted by she's not there at 6:44 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this list is weak, most of these songs aren’t even “stories,” as in character—>problem—>crisis—>resolution.

I nominate Country Death Song by Violent Femmes

Also, The Hold Steady/Craig Finn are really great story-Song writers and my favorite rock and roll story of all time is the album Separation Sunday — each song is a self contained story that is part of a larger narrative about freedom, drugs, religion, and redemption following our hero, Hallelujah.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:44 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Missed the edit window, would like to apologize for mis-typing David Lynn Jones' name.
posted by Orlop at 6:51 PM on January 19


Oh good lord, not one single version of Stagger Lee. Spinditty, I want my money back.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:51 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Bruce Robison also wrote "Angry All The Time." He frequently plays it with his wife, Kelly Willis, so it's better than the version you've probably heard.

(Bruce's brother, Charlie--awesome storyteller in his own right--was married to Emily Strayer of The Dixie Chicks. So there's a lot of cross pollinating there. "The Wedding Song" is a good example.)
posted by Cyrano at 7:33 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Okay my Ctrl-F must be broken because I know Convoy is in here somewhere. Right?

You know, the story song they made into a movie?!?
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:39 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]


37. My Name is Luca (1987)

List invalid.
posted by davebush at 7:42 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]


Just have to say this thread is far better than the listsicle for great music. So in the spirit of this post, Cocaine Blues by Johnny Cash. Or you can also have Led Zeppelin singing about vikings marauding toward the western shore. Or Tolkienesque battles.
posted by TedW at 7:57 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


Me and My Uncle Grateful Dead Weir/Barlow Classic Bobby cowboy song with ironic ending.

and,

Wharf Rat Grateful Dead Garcia/Hunter

"I got no dime but I got some time to hear your story..."

"My name is August West and I love my Pearly Baker best more than my wine..."
posted by AugustWest at 8:00 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Obviously this list, site, and internet are invalid without Dopeman.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:06 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors"
posted by Oyéah at 8:20 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


the best story song is still Jenny and the Ess Dog
posted by koeselitz at 8:28 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


Ok, you want some more hip-hop storytelling? There's a hip-hop group who specializes in it. Here's a song where they imagine obtaining ultimate supernatural power. Blaaam!

There's a moral at the end.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:29 PM on January 19


JoeZydeco, I've previously noted that C.W.McCall's "Convoy" paled next to his less successful (peaked below the Top 40) country-rap runaway truck song "Wolf Creek Pass", but it's worth noting that the spoken/sung style I call 'country-rap' lends itself perfectly to story songs, including the immortal future sausage mogul Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John", also sadly absent from this list. And then there's the similarly-titled-but-a-totally-different-thing "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" by Jim Croce.

And it must be noted that Novelty Records are very frequently also Story Songs, so let me offer a few from the Legendary Weird Al Yankovic, including the ones based on popular movies, "Yoda", "The Legend Begins", "Jurassic Park" and "Gump", the gameshow classic "I Lost On Jeopardy", the halfway-serious "Skipper Dan", and of course, "Headline News" (the song it's based on belongs on the list too). Oh yeah, also that festive holiday song "The Night Santa Went Crazy".
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:40 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


Big Bad John.
posted by clawsoon at 8:43 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


On failure to preview - oops.
posted by clawsoon at 8:43 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]


“Up the Junction” (Squeeze) is a story from start to end without any textually repeated verses or chorus.
posted by D.C. at 8:57 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]


Is Richard Thompson too far out of the genres? 1952 Vincent Black Lightning...

This is literally the first song I cried to. I was an uncomfortable nerd into machines and anything Vincent made was sex and supernatural power shoved into a chassis completely unworthy, until Ducati tamed the V-twin as a race engine sometime in the '70s.

I see Angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swoopin' down from Heaven to carry me home.


Ariel is a complicated metaphor and to begin with we'll examine... it's a cool inter-war motorcycle brand, OK?

The singer is a being a doofus on a machine far too powerful for its own good, and he is bequeathing its ruined wreck to the woman he loved, and he assumes she's OK with it, but everyone knows she's not, and...

It's a good song.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:59 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]


Well, just for fun (since y'all are having so much of it), here's an entry from my favorite story teller: Ray Stevens' Mississippi Squirrel Revival
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:04 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]


My best story song ever is Cold Missouri Waters, best performed (I think) by folkie supergroup Cry Cry Cry. Here's the songwriter's performance of it.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:41 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


I'm a huge fan of the more up beat representatives of this genre (the stories of people dying, being abused, suiciding, etc. not so much). About a quarter of any road trip mix I make is going to be these. And while A Boy Named Sue is a classic Cash story song more deserving of a place on such a list in my opinion is his One Piece at a Time.

The Playmates: Beep Beep

Jerry Reed (stories a common theme of his): She Got the Goldmine

under_petticoat_rule: "Disappointed but not surprised that Hot Rod Lincoln was overlooked."

I love this song. Can't remember if it was Commander Cody or Charlie Ryan who managed to spin the tale out to a half dozen tracks in sequels and prequels.

clawsoon: "Almost everything by Johnny Horton would count."

Ooh: Sink the Bismark.
posted by Mitheral at 10:18 PM on January 19 [5 favorites]


Lazarus Man - Terry Callier
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:21 PM on January 19


I have a deep love of rock and roll and its many colourful characters. Of all the amazing musicians and songwriters, Terry Callier tops my list of people I would love to have met.

As to this so-called list, there's approximately a billion story songs out there, and creating a list of them is stupid. Throw a dart into a stack of cd's or records and whammo! you've found a story song.

Anyway, for the uninitiated, check out the Bear Family label's collection Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels
posted by ashbury at 11:48 PM on January 19 [2 favorites]


> ashbury:
"Truckers, Kickers, Cowboy Angels"

The title coming from Return of the Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons, who is also not on this wretched list.
posted by chavenet at 1:31 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Only One True Slew Foot

same crew whut done brung us Opie 'n Me
posted by mwhybark at 1:54 AM on January 20


No Giddy Up Go?

A lot of these songs tell stories but aren't really story songs. I need a conclusion! Preferably one that causes a lump in my throat.
posted by Admiral Viceroy at 2:48 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


there's approximately a billion story songs out there
in the naked city
posted by thelonius at 4:40 AM on January 20


Speaking of Weird Al, this is my favourite story song from him, all told from the point of view from some guy (possibly Cat Stevens) sitting on public transport living an entire love life inside his own head.
posted by h00py at 5:04 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


“Up the Junction” (Squeeze) is a story from start to end without any textually repeated verses or chorus.

Truly a classic. Squeeze tried to recreate the magic on their next album with Vicky Verky, a slighly poppier tune but with a bit more explicit lyrics about a troubled teen.

Also missing is Run Joey Run, a top 10 hit from David Geddes.

Maybe we need a whole sublist with teenage tragedy songs (Leader of the Pack, Teen Angel, Dead Man's Curve, Seasons in The Sun, etc?)

and then the rabbit hole goes deeper with prison ballads and gunfighter ballads!
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:42 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]




Checking back in to thank everyone for building an awesome story song listening list and also to myself throw another tune on the pile, an absurd song from a band that was no stranger to absurdity: Benny the Bouncer, which merits inclusion both for Greg Lake's OTT mockney accent and in recognition of its role as the palate cleanser before this bit of prog glory.

And wtf no Rocky Raccoon? (Richie Havens cover)
posted by the sobsister at 8:53 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Needs more Brenda and Eddie.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:09 AM on January 20 [3 favorites]


Missing Butthole Surfers' "John E. Smoke."
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:51 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Christmas shoes
posted by wenestvedt at 10:02 AM on January 20


"El Paso," the most essential Marty Robbins story song, is on the list but on behalf of my dear, departed grandfather, I will lodge a complaint that Big Iron, Billy the Kid, They're Hanging Me Tonight, The Strawberry Roan, The Master's Call, Running Gun, and Utah Carol didn't make the list. These are all from the album I memorized during long car trips with my grandparents, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.

[Probably should also include the companion songs for El Paso: Feleena, which tells the same story from the woman's perspective, and El Paso City, in which a modern airplane passenger flying over El Paso is flooded with memories that he never experienced, and thinks that maybe in a past life he was a cowboy who died in the desert below (the cowboy we know from "El Paso.")]
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:57 AM on January 20 [6 favorites]


Parents Just Don't Understand.
posted by clawsoon at 11:58 AM on January 20 [4 favorites]


My bet is that the author lent her well-worn vinyl copy of Nebraska to her best friend's no-good boy friend in sophomore year, the relationship collapsed and the jerk never returned it, and now the mere thought of any of the songs on that album is too hard to bear.
posted by morspin at 12:27 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


More Warren Zevon: Mr. Bad Example
posted by HillbillyInBC at 2:23 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Christmas shoes

cf. Skates by Hayden, from half a decade earlier
posted by Sys Rq at 2:51 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


They missed the best country music story song of all time, Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan.
posted by spitbull at 3:35 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]


Chestnut Mare, by the Birds.

Well I was up on Stony Ridge
After this chestnut mare, been chasing her for weeks
posted by surplus at 5:14 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


What, no "Detachable Penis"?!!1!?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:57 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts. This is by Joan Baez, even though the song was written by Bob Dylan. It's my favorite version. If this doesn't tell a story, not much else does.
posted by annieb at 6:56 PM on January 20


What, no "Detachable Penis"?!!1!?

Ooo. King Missle has a lot of great (ie absurd) story songs: Gary and Melissa, The Sandbox, and my personal favorite, Cheesecake Truck.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:58 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


The Year that Clayton Delaney Died by Tom T. Hall
Skin (Sarabeth) by Rascal Flatts
Two Hearts Down by the Black Lillies
Swamp Witch by Jim Stafford
House Carpenter by Nickel Creek
Honey by Bobby Goldsboro
Bitter Green by Gordon Lightfoot
Right Field by Peter, Paul and Mary
You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive by Patty Loveless
Red Dirt Girl by Emmylou Harris
Blue Murder by Niamh Parsons
The Highwayman by Loreena McKennitt
Kilkelly by Rowena Taheny from the CD Irish Roses, Women of Celtic Song
posted by TrishaU at 3:27 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


If you're making up a list that can contain Red Sovine's "Giddyup Go" and Velvet Underground's "The Gift", how on Earth do you manage to miss both?!?
posted by whuppy at 8:38 AM on January 22


(sigh, fine: half credit for the other Red Sovine tunes in the list.)
posted by whuppy at 8:39 AM on January 22


W-wait. No Springsteen? No “Thunder Road”?!

WTF


Not really a story song, IMO. Much better example by the Boss: Incident on 57th Street.
posted by e1c at 11:20 AM on January 22


Yeah, how do you leave out Dylan? Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, Ballad of Hollis Brown, Lilly Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, Tangled Up in Blue, Isis, Hurricane, Brownsville Girl, and many more.
posted by e1c at 11:28 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


On a related note, occasionally you would find an eighties music video that was basically a mini-movie, despite the actual song lyrics. "Take On Me" by a-ha (I’m surprised no one has tried to stretch that into a feature film) or “No More Words” by Berlin come to mind.
posted by Eikonaut at 2:04 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Apologies if this was posted already.

Hurricane
posted by Splunge at 3:50 PM on January 23


Talking Heads:

And She Was

Found a Job
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:59 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I'd have to check to be sure, but at least 80% of Stan Ridgway's songs are stories (Dark Continent less).

Squeeze - Another Nail For My Heart
Monkees - Look Out (Here Comes Tomorrow)
Mike Nesmith - Joanne
Frank Zappa - Bobby Brown

The part I like about the list is how it just gives up 1/3 of the way through and just lists the rest with amazing one-line summaries. Not a terrible list overall, and not 45 clicks!
posted by rhizome at 9:55 AM on January 25


Steve Earle - Tom Ames' Prayer
posted by ElGuapo at 2:38 PM on January 25


10,000 Maniacs - Jubilee has always haunted me.
posted by ikahime at 7:20 PM on January 25


Not really a story song, IMO. Much better example by the Boss: Incident on 57th Street.

Since people keep dropping Springsteen, I’m gonna go with Johnny 99 as his best “tells a story” song.

Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out looking for a job but he couldn’t find
none
He came home too drunk from mixing Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun, shot a night clerk now they call him Johnny 99

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:05 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Most of Pulp's output should probably be on that list. Al Stewart's a bit of a no-brainer too.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:59 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Strawberry Blonde by Ron Sexsmith.
posted by umbú at 8:44 PM on January 30




And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by The Pogues (not theirs originally, but it's the version I know best).
posted by jontyjago at 7:28 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


You can't get much more meta than Bob Dylan's "Eternal Circle," a song about a singer singing a song, that tells a story that unfolds in the time it takes for the song to be sung.
posted by ogooglebar at 10:56 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


Someone mentioned Cry Cry Cry above, but this is really Richard Shindell's wheelhouse. A few among many: Che Guevara T-Shirt, Abuelita, Transit. You Stay Here is a dystopian novel in 3:59.
posted by libraryhead at 8:48 PM on February 2


Late to the game - but I've got a few additions.
4am - Our Lady Peace
Captain Kidd - Great Big Sea
The War Was In Color - Carbon Leaf
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:28 PM on February 8


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