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STORYTELLERS: Songs that tell stories

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#1 of 34 North



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Posted January 22 2005 - 10:28 PM

As I sit here and listen to the lyrical brilliance of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" by Bruce Springsteen, it occurs to me that I must be missing sooo many great songs that tell equally visual tales. The whole album itself is amazing, but very low-key so if you want to dance or feel good, forget about it; you got the wrong number. If you want to be transported into people's lives and struggles by a song however, run out and get this recording. Get "Nebraska" too while you're at it.

So: If anyone has any other good examples of songs (or whole albums) that tell stories, I'd love to hear them.

Here's a small sample of mine:

- Bruce Springsteen's: The Ghost Of Tom Joad, the whole album but particularly: Highway 29, Dry Lightning, & Straight Time.

- Gordon Lightfoot's: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

- Mark Knopfler's: Sailing to Philadelphia.

- Kenny Rogers: Coward of the County (I know, I know, a guilty pleasure Posted Image )


#2 of 34 Henry Gale

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Posted January 23 2005 - 12:54 AM

I'm going to nominate Guy Clark.
Here's the first paragraph of the allmusic.com entry for him:
Guy Clark doesn't just write songs, he crafts them with the kind of hands-on care and respect that a master carpenter (a favorite image of his) would have when faced with a stack of rare hardwood. Clark works slowly and with strict attention to detail — his output has been sparce since he first signed to RCA in the early '70s — but he has produced an impressive collection of timeless gems, leaving very little waste behind. His albums have never met with much commercial success, but the emotional level of his work consistently transcends sales figures and musical genres. He remains the kind of songwriter whom young artists study and seasoned writers (and listeners) admire.

This just serves to remind me that I don't own enough of his CDs...but I have been able to see him live many times over the last 30 years. Another advantage of living near Waterloo, Texas. Posted Image

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#3 of 34 ScottCHI



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Posted January 23 2005 - 05:27 AM

as i read that, i was thinking guy clark, as well. definitely one of the best storytellers we have. seen him many times myself; always a potent performer.

and there's john prine, steve earle, townes van zandt, ramblin' jack elliott, etc. ............
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#4 of 34 TomCW


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Posted January 23 2005 - 06:02 AM

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer - When I Go, Tanglewood Tree and Drum, Hat, Buddha albums. Dave was a fantastic storyteller!
Samples here.

John Hiatt - Crossing Muddy Waters album, all John's albums are great, you can't go wrong with any of them.

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#5 of 34 Jeff Ulmer

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Posted January 23 2005 - 07:18 AM

Gordon Lightfoot was my first response to the subject, with albums worth of great stories. Dar Williams has some pretty interesting tales on her albums.

#6 of 34 Tom McDonald

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Posted January 23 2005 - 08:34 AM

Harry Chapin probably the best story teller ever.

#7 of 34 Chet_F


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Posted January 23 2005 - 11:23 AM

Shawn Mullins has some great storyyteller songs.
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#8 of 34 TomCW


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Posted January 23 2005 - 01:18 PM

Dar Williams, John Prine, Harry Chapin are really fine storytellers.
How's about:
Jonatha Brooke (West Point), Janis Ian (Welcome To Acousticville), Todd Snider (Gee, I don't know, pick one), Michelle Shocked (Come A Long Way), Joni Mitchell 'River, or about a thousand others). There are so many good storytellers, this thread could (should) go on forever!
My finger is gettin' tired.

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#9 of 34 Will_B



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Posted January 23 2005 - 04:14 PM

Singer/songwriter (and sometimes very loud rocker) Stuart Davis manages to tell stories about people experiencing whatever flaws they have and sometimes overcoming them - and he makes it interesting and sometimes scary and sometimes sad or beautiful.

On the self titled album "Stuart Davis Stuart Davis" also known as "Shiney Naked" because Stuart is painted silver on the cover, there's some wild stories about wild characters, like this guy:

I've got a birth defect
My heart's inverted
It took all my karma
and reversed it
No matter what I do, people spill compassion
I sin and sin, and nothing happens

And his album "Bell" from last year was mostly about female characters.

It seems like anyone who has at least once done the folk style songs end up as superior storytelling rockers.

There's a portrait of a drunkard that has some of the best straightforward lines:

Last night someone drove these balls around
Last night someone swung these fists
I woke up in piss
I woke up in pain
with a lot of uniforms shouting out my name
Oh, no
No, no
Forgive me
I cursed with someone else's tongue
Forgive me
I pointed someone else's gun
Forgive me
I came with someone else's [edited]
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#10 of 34 JonZ


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Posted January 24 2005 - 02:45 AM

The Flaming Lips older stuff.

Forget about "Soft Bulletin" and "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots".

Avoid them.

#11 of 34 AricB


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Posted January 24 2005 - 03:38 AM

the clash-the card cheat off london calling
that's one that comes to mind, that i could just visualize something the first time i heard the song

#12 of 34 GlennH



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Posted January 24 2005 - 05:13 AM

Harry Chapin was the first to come to my mind. Cats in the Cradle, for example. I see others already mentioned him above.

#13 of 34 North



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Posted January 24 2005 - 06:51 AM

Thanks for all the suggestions everybody...I will check ALL of these songwriters out over the next little while so know that your contributions are appreciated.

Will_b...thanks for those Stuart Davis lyrics...powerful stuff. In that vein I'll post the lyrics of one of my favourite visually storytelling songs:

HIGHWAY 29 by Bruce Springsteen (acoustic live-boot version)

I slipped on her shoe...
she was a perfect size seven
I said "there's no smokin' in the store ma'am"
She crossed her legs and then,
We made some small talk...
that's where it should have stopped
She slipped me a number, I put it in my pocket
My hand slipped up her skirt,
everything slipped my mind
In that little roadhouse
On highway 29

It was a small town bank
It was a mess.
Well I had a gun...you know the rest
Money on the floorboards, shirt was covered in blood
And she was cryin',
her and me we headed south
On highway 29

In a little desert motel,
the air it was hot and clean
l slept the sleep of the dead,
I didn't dream
I woke in the morning, washed my face in the sink
We headed into the Sierra Madres,
'cross the borderline
The winter sun
shot through the black trees
I told myself it was all something in her
But as we drove I knew it was something in me
Something had been comin'
for a long long time
And something that was here with me now,
On highway 29

The road was filled with broken glass
and gasoline
She was just a rag doll now,
it was just a dream
The wind come silent through the windshield
All I could see was snow and sky and pines
I closed my eyes and I was runnin',
I was runnin' then I was flyin'


#14 of 34 MatthewKolden



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Posted January 24 2005 - 06:53 AM

Dave Matthews Band has a lot of great storytelling songs. He also has a couple of CD's where he actually stops and tells stories to the audience between songs, and the stories always relate to the songs. They are a great group of musicians.

Springsteen has some amazing stories to tell, as well.

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#15 of 34 gene c

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Posted January 24 2005 - 09:21 AM

"Taxi" is another gem by Harry Chapin. Also, Jim Croce, Dan Fogleberg(?) and even Warren Zevon if you lean toward the bazaar.
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#16 of 34 David Hobbes

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Posted January 24 2005 - 10:00 AM

Some Rush songs come to mind:

Red Barchetta

#17 of 34 Kevin C Brown

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Posted January 24 2005 - 12:18 PM

I'm surprised no one mentioned Alice's Restaurant (Arlo Gurthrie), and there's also Billy the Mountain by Frank Zappa and the Mothers. He has a bunch more.

Rush has quite a few: Bi-tor and the Snow Dog, there are a few on Caress of Steel, Xanadu, etc.
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#18 of 34 Jeff Ulmer

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Posted January 24 2005 - 01:30 PM

My favorite Zappa story is Joe's Garage parts I & II. Not for the prudish though...

#19 of 34 John Kotches

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Posted January 24 2005 - 01:32 PM

Pulling out one from the Eagles' catalog, there's The Last Resort which is a severe condemnation of the CA life style of the 70's Posted Image

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#20 of 34 ChrisMatson



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Posted January 24 2005 - 02:55 PM

I second Dave Matthews Band.

Many Johnny Cash songs come to mind (Long Black Veil is a great example)