I like songs that tell good stories. Unfortunately many of them are sad stories, which makes them somewhat different than sad love songs. Sad love songs generally don’t really have to have a story other than what Lieutenant Frank Drebin said in the Naked Gun: “It’s the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.”
However these songs are about life, disappointment, tragedy as well as real events and people. Sometimes they deal with love, other times loss and sometimes real world events and people. Some are songs that appeal to simpler times, but all tell stories.
I think that songs that tell stories speak to us in ways that we might not otherwise expect. But then for me music is something that can reach my heart in ways that written words cannot. Most of these songs come out of the 1960s and 1970s, which I really think was the time where such songs were most influential and popular. There are others that I could list her but for now I will leave you with these.
Please enjoy them.
Terry Jacks Seasons in the Sun http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhQ13geD2OA is an English adaptation of Jacque Brel’s song Le Moribond.
Gordon Lightfoot The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0DqPSF2fyo is about the loss of the large bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior in 1975.
Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCpsD0ZDfus is a song that speaks about a father who is too busy for his son as the son is growing up and finds that when he is old that his son has “grown up just like me.”
Billy Joel Piano Man http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxEPV4kolz0 tells the story of a bar musician and is a fictionalized retelling of his life before he became famous. His song Goodnight Saigon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJFmRA7ousE is an ode to the Vietnam Veterans that came out as the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was being constructed.
Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler’s The Ballad of the Green Beret http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34CXcgJURbg was written after Sadler recovered from wounds that he received in Vietnam.
One song that has always gotten me is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Mr Bojangles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3YMyW0SqmU was written by Jerry Jeff Walker and recounted his meeting a street performer in a New Orleans jail.
Elton John’s Candle in the Wind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoOhnrjdYOc was written in honor of the late Marilyn Monroe.
Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_P-v1BVQn8 is a really sad and introspective song about a man who struggles with life.
The Beatles Yesterday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIc6AH_2TEs is about the break up of a relationship and was the first Beatles song that only one member sang, in this case Paul McCartney.
Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHkBv-AtKDA was written by Kris Kristofferson and recorded by others before it became a number one hit for Joplin after her death to a heroin overdose in 1970.
Abba’s Fernando http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv_-6XQyIq0 is a song of two veteran’s of the Mexican Revolution remembering their younger days in that conflict.
I have always liked Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcrEqIpi6sg
Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods Billy Don’t Be a Hero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0lKmznjgfQ is an anti-war song that they recorded and released just before Paper Lace in the United States and deals with a love story set amid the Civil War.
Paper Lace’s The Night Chicago Died http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryVh9BuwOs4 tells a fictional story of a police shoot out with the Al Capone gang.
Cher’s Gypsies Tramps and Thieves http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOSZwEwl_1Q is the story of the daughter of a Gypsy family and her struggles to survive.
Joan Baez’s The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnS9M03F-fA was originally written and recorded by Robbie Robinson and Levon Helm of The Band. It tells the story of a Confederate soldier in the closing days of the Civil War.
Bobby Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDHpkYI5_FY is a Southern Gothic type song about suicide, grief, emotional separation and other tragedies set alongside the banal happenings of everyday life.
Coven’s One Tin Soldier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qswm7lHp7oY is another anti-war song but is a story about tow peoples and the desire of one people to attain the treasure held by the other, a treasure that was to be shared, that of peace on earth.
Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfxoM6trtZE was written by Steve Goodman and is set on a nostalgic and bittersweet ride on the Illinois Central Railroad’s City of New Orleans. It was released in 1971 at a time when my family still road the railroads to cross the country and I can feel the emotion of those trips when I hear the song.
Barry Manilow’s Copacabana http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU8TAkl7Tbg is the story of a tragedy that unfolds in the lives of a singer named Lola and her bartender boyfriend Tony in a clash with a mafia don named Rico at the famed New York nightclub Copacabana. Unlike most of Manilow’s songs and for that matter most of these story songs, it is a Disco song.
Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj4nJ1YEAp4 became the epitome of a story song that spawned a number of movies.
Olivia Newton-John’s Please Mister Please http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULJ3KrFwdbA is a song about a woman who cannot bear hearing a song that she associates with her lost love when people play it on the bar jukebox.
Linda Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58id5JIzFao is a sad song about a woman who has lost her love and is away from home longing to return.
The Eagles Lyin’ Eyes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk1g6jJTsXY is one of a number of story songs by that super-group and is the story of a woman who has married a rich old man, but unfulfilled enters into an affair while lying to her husband about it.
I think the way to end this list is with Tony Orlando and Dawn’s Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3ouKAhxZbQ