Great Songs that Tell a Story
Published on 16 June 2020
For as long as there's been music, there have been people telling stories. The two go hand in hand and when you find an artist who can craft a tale that hooks you, it's as vivid as reading a book or watching a film. This doesn't come easy though, to write a great tune is tough and to fit a story in there is a serious challenge. For some though, it comes effortlessly and it's a rare and beautiful thing. We've put together a list of some of our favourite story song below. Have a listen and prepare to get lost in them!
Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue
'My name is Sue, how do you do? Now you're gonna die!!!' Johnny Cash was the first that came to mind for this list with the epic, rambling madness of A Boy Named Sue. Telling listeners of a boy whose absent father named him Sue to toughen him up, this country anthem follows Sue on a journey for revenge. There's absolutely loads to love about it, from the vivid imagery to the humour, to the nonchalant way Cash sings but we're just amazed at how he thought of such a delightfully quirky tale! Make no mistake, this tune is a classic and rightfully so, have a listen and be glad you don't need to see Mr Cash in a bar any time soon!
Traveling Wilburys - Tweeter & the Monkey Man
We could wax lyrical about Dylan's storytelling ability all day but we thought we'd give you guys this masterpiece to check out. Volumes have been written about what Dylan can do when he sets pen to paper so we're sure you don't need us to tell you about it. This chapter in the saga that is his songwriting career follows two drug dealers on the run from the law, although interestingly it also acts as a homage to Bruce Springsteen, name dropping loads of his iconic New Jersey tracks where the story is set! With George Harrison and Tom Petty both involved in the writing, let's be honest, we were always gonna get some gold. This one's a load of fun guys, vibe out and enjoy.
Eminem - Stan
Sometimes, very rarely, we have to turn our attention away from the guitar bands to give other artists some much need kudos... Don't be shy rockers, your Iron Maiden albums aren't going anywhere! Hip Hop lyrics are full of colourful, vivid stories but this modern classic by Eminem stands out as one of the darkest, twisted and most clever tracks of all time. Told from the perspective of a crazed fan who becomes obsessed with the rapper, this song descends into total gruesome chaos with a fantastic twist. It's equally disturbing and captivating video is absolutely iconic and cemented its place in history. This track came as part of the Marshall Mathers LP and kind of at the peak of Eminem's controversy. Stan showed that while his lyrics were shocking, they had all kinds of depth - be warned though, it's not for the faint of heart...
Tracy Chapman - Fast Car
Who else writes blog articles that take you from Eminem to Tracy Chapman? That's why you love us guys! Fast Car is incredible, catchy, delicate and also totally heartbreaking when you start to listen to the lyrics. Telling the story of growing up with an alcoholic father and dreaming of an escape to a brighter future, only to fall in love with a man who followed a similar path, this tale is sadly all too familiar and relatable. Honest and totally raw, Fast Care is just rippling with emotion and really is a stunning piece of writing. Tugs on the heartstrings big time though so proceed with caution!
Nas - I Gave You Power
Oh, curveball! We've just plunged you right back into the world of hip hop, this time 90s New York! Nas is a lyrical legend and has long been considered one of the finest wordsmiths of the genre but to us, this track is a standout. We absolutely love the vision of the song with Nas taking the role of the lead character which is not a person but instead a gun. The gun acts as a vehicle for the rapper to explore the people and violence surrounding it and you really get drawn in as the track develops. This is totally one of a kind and showcases the incredible ability of the rapper. Whether you're a rocker or a hip hop head, this is Nas doing what he does best, what's not to love?
The Raconteurs - Carolina Drama
Jack White is a master guitarist no doubt, but often his lyrics don't get the credit they deserve. This epic country-influenced piece from the band's sophomore album is vivid, confusing and alluring all at once... Such is Jack's way... Inspired by folk tales, old folk standards and of course, the work of Mr Bob Dylan, this tale of violence and treachery is more than a little hard to follow but such is the mystery. There's been much speculation that it was written to be paired with a The Pickens County Bandits track named 'Ask the Milkman' and when you start to piece the lyrics together, the puzzle starts to make a lot more sense. We don't want to ruin anything so we'll let you explore that yourself, in the meantime have a listen and see what conclusions you draw...
Tenacious D - Tribute
How could we miss out probably the most commercially successful story song of the last 20 years? Yes, Tenacious D may be one of the more err... let's say tongue in cheek bands on this list but there's no denying this absolute cracker of a tune. Following the boys down a long and dusty road, the track sees them meeting the devil himself (or Dave Grohl if you check out the video...), who demands they play the best song in the world to save their souls. Needless to say, Jack and Kyle weather through the storm by rocking the devil into submission. We knew you'd make it lads, well played... Any further on remembering what the song sounded like yet though...?
Justin Townes Earle - Yuma
Steve Earle knows a thing or two about telling a story and it must run in his blood because his son Justin has inherited the gift, big time. Justin has some fantastic storytelling tracks but we've opted for the gloomy but glorious title track of his first album. Again, sorry to plunge you into the darkness but this is a particularly haunting number with a beauty lurking in its stripped-back simplicity. Justin tells us of a young man who left home only to find himself alienated from the world when he gets out on his own. A troubling phone call home to his mother makes up the majority of the track and it's the small details that make it such a tragic yet powerful piece of writing. With lines like "It's been over a year and there ain't nothing I fear so much as being alone", Yuma set a tone for Justin's career; troubled, chaotic with a subtle beauty. Do yourself a favour and have a listen below, hankies at the ready though...
What a journey! Even running through the different artists show how stories transcend genres and tastes, so if you've got a tale to tell, don't bottle it up. Music is such a powerful medium and if you have the power to put a gripping story to it, there isn't much on this earth more potent. We had a tough time narrowing down this list so it's by no means exhaustive. Have a think and let us know your favourite tracks that tell a story below, double points if they're cheerier than ours... We need perked up after listening to this lot!