I’ve compiled what is going to act as part one of a list of songs that employ some kind of narrative, whether tight or loose. Personally, I think some of the best songs are ones that tell a story, and this aspect of songwriting is something that is becoming harder and harder to come by as music progresses (or digresses if you’re a pessimist as I am). Some of these songs could be brand new, or forty years old, or older. Either way, if you’re looking to hear a good story with some rhythm and rhyme, here are some suggestions:
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel
—This song is probably one of my favorites, and personally, I think it is Billy Joel’s best. The story follows two lovers as their relationship grows and falls apart, and also incorporates the aspect of a flashback if you read it that way. The amount of story that is told in seven and a half minutes rivals that of some ninety-minute films.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
—The statement “the best song ever written” is not too much of an exaggeration when it comes to Queen’s masterpiece. The story and shift in tone that the song employs could be considered monumental. Not to mention some of the best musical composition you’ve ever heard, or will hear.
Hotel California – The Eagles
—A classic in every sense of the word. By mixing a sense of luxury with what some may even call horror, the story and tone that this song presents is one of a kind. A line from the song that embodies this mix in tone, and one of the coolest and most clever lines I’ve ever heard is “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Interpret it as you like.
That Was a Crazy Game of Poker – O.A.R.
—At one point in my life, I was clinically obsessed with this song. What starts out as a step-by-step outline of a very odd and quirky night of poker turns out to be so much more. Enjoy.
Hurricane – Bob Dylan
–By one of the greatest lyricists of all time comes a song and a story that takes place in my home state of New Jersey, which is why it might strike a bigger chord with me than with others. It tells a small twisty-turny homespun murder story that incorporates huge themes like violence and race. Not to be missed.
Kick, Push – Lupe Fiasco
—This is the first rap song that I’ve thrown into the mix. Not only because it employs a story, but because it’s not like most of the garbage you hear on the radio. This song follows the life of a rebel skater traveling through the steps of life. Kick, push, and coast. Also, be sure to check out Kick, Push II.
Hospital Beds – Cold War Kids
—The Cold War Kids are an incredible band simply because of their very unique sound. And they write very meaningful songs. This song is very different than most of their other songs in sound, but ends up being one of their best because of the very interesting and depressing circumstances their “main character” is thrust into.
Cause – Rodriguez
—This is an artist and a song I came by very recently because of a documentary that has been released about his life. This song has a very loose narrative, and strays from a storyline in many ways, but the pure talent found in Rodriguez’ writing is not to be missed. Also, check out the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”.
Dance with the Devil – Immortal Technique
—Oh, this song. This song, which is another rap song, is probably the most disturbing song you will ever hear. It outlines a character’s life as he walks down the path of darkness while becoming a member in a gang. Listeners beware! I’m very serious: THIS SONG IS VERY GRAPHIC (to the ears).
Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin
—Probably one of my favorites simply because it is so, well, simple. A classic father and son story that any parent or child can relate to.
American Pie – Don McLean
—To me, this is “the best song ever written”. A story that is written almost completely in metaphors ends up being completely comprehensible, and that’s a feat in itself. And, in a way, this song is about music, since it was inspired by the plane crash that brought about the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper. It also incorporates one of the most famous choruses of all time.