Stories That Sing
A couple of weeks ago, I saw mention of the song “One Tin Soldier” on Twitter. I hadn’t thought about that song for years. Even though I was a little girl when it was a “Top 10” hit, I still remember the words. It reminded me of a few other popular songs around that same time, like “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” and “Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” What they all have in common is they tell vivid, character-driven stories, in 3 – 4 minutes. What songs made an impression on you due to their storytelling power? Michele: This one’s easy. The Last Kiss, originally released in 1961, with several later versions. Oh how I argued with my children that the Pearl Jam version was NOT better. I can still recite the lyrics without prompting. (Of course, I can’t remember anything about the Magna Carter, etc.) What was endearing about this musical melodrama was that it was perfect for a group of wailing teenagers to belt out while driving around and listening to it on the radio. “Hold me darling for a little while,” before they have that last kiss. I love a happy ending. But the song Leaving on a Jet Plane, written by John Denver, but made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary, still hits anyone who grew up during the Vietnam war right in the gut. I remember being in a wedding where it was played as the recessional. The whole congregation sang it as the bridal party exited. Alexia: So many songs paint pictures in my head. That’s part of why I love music:“Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling (1983)– I built an entire scifi movie around this song about an astronaut sacrificing himself to save the planet (in my fan-fic movie in my head) asking someone to give a farewell message to his loving wife.“Ode to Billie Joe,” by Bobbie Gentry“Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen and by Semisonic–both about closing time at a bar. I can imagine being in the bar in both songs.“Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” by Cage the Elephant“Wicked Ones,” by Dorothy.Darth Vader’s theme, (“The Imperial March”) by John Williams which, without a single word, tells me exactly what Vader is like.“Mr. Jones,” by Counting CrowsNumerous Irish pub songs, such as “The Irish Rover,” “Black Velvet Band,” and “Molly Malone”“Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues I like the 1961 version [of The Last Kiss] better than Pearl Jam’s. Sorry, Eddie. Oh, and I’ve turned “Hotel California” into a horror movie in my head. Paula: I love story songs. A few of my faves: Mary Chapin Carpenter’s I Feel Lucky, Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashbard Light, Picture, by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crowe, The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne, Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane, Dolly Parton’s The Coat of Many Colors, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and my fave, Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee. Alexia: Thanks, Paula, for adding a few songs to my playlist. Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car is one of my favorites, too. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is stuck in my head now Paula: That’s okay. Coat of Many Colors is stuck in mine. Robin: Hotel California is looping in my head now. And I decided the long instrumental ending is when the hero hacks the robot overlords to escape. Susan: When I was young, and my children were little, and my mother was living with us, and my husband was on partner track at his law firm, and I was insane, I used to love listening to country music. There was a country music station in New York City at that time, and I was always driving the car somewhere and singing along. Every country song tells a story, and usually it’s the same story, but I loved Reba McEntire’s “Is There Life Out There” and Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” and anything by Shania Twain and John Michael Montgomery’s “Life’s a dance.” Alexia: Which reminds me, Susan, of the (bad) joke, What happens when you play a country/western song backward? You get your job back, your house back, and your dog back. Paula: Ha! When I was young I wrote a whole album of (bad) country music and sang and played guitar (badly) for my dad who loves country music, much like that joke lol Michele: Oh Susan, you made me remember, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille. With four hungry children and a crop in the field.” Robin: I just heard “Love, Me” by Collin Raye a little while ago, another great country story song and one that makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. Alison: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. I’m completely sucked in to this song every time I hear it. The music, the story, all of it. What’s not to love about a golden fiddle and the devil? Pure genius. Alexia: Ooh, good one, Alison. Cate: So many good ones on this list. My daughter is actually playing Last Kids on the guitar now. She’ll be performing it in a month at school of rock, so I have heard the Pearl Jam version three to four times a day for about a month. Along the same vein, Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Jeremy.” Eddie Vedder loves the story songs. Robin: Funny, “Jeremy” makes an appearance in my new book 🙂 How about you, dear readers? What are some of you favorite story songs?