Gedeon Maheux (the ingenious brain of IconFactory, makers of the popular Twitterific app) sent around a query recently asking people to blog about their favorite songs that tell stories. I have no idea if there’s a genre name for this type of song (narrative?), but I too am a huge fan of songs that tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end — they pull you into the lyrics into a way that songs that simply talk about an emotion or describe something can’t. In fact, one of my first criteria for a great songwriter (a long time back when I was first getting into music) was someone who was able to write a song that wasn’t about the standard love relationship — if an artist could write a song about something that’s wasn’t “he loves her,” or “she doesn’t love him,” or “I love you,” then I considered them pretty good.

And to tell the truth, that definition still stands. But that’s another blog post — here’s five songs that I think tell great stories.

The Decemberists, The Mariner’s Revenge Song
A pirate epic. The Decemberists have a kind of limited sound (gypsy-flavored pop rock, I guess), but boy do they make great use of it here.

Sting, Love is Stronger than Justice (The Municifient Seven)
The album has faded a bit over time, but Sting’s Ten Summoners Tales was one of the first albums I really loved as a whole, and it’s full of songs that tell stories in one form or another. This is probably the best story on the album — though it’s got a country twang (ever since he left the Police, Sting has almost been a little too experimental), it brings a nice murderous twist at the end.

Common, I Used to Love H.E.R.
This song is like Empire Strikes Back for hip hop fans — everybody already knows the secret at the end (and quite a few other rappers have stolen the metaphor for themselves). But if you’ve never heard it before, it’ll surprise you. Jurassic 5’s “Remember His Name” has the same vibe.

The Streets, A Grand Don’t Come for Free
This is actually a whole concept album (“The Streets” is really British rapper Mike Skinner), and there are a few weak points within, but as long as you can decipher some of the heavy accents, the story it tells by the time you reach the last track is really great.

The Gorillaz, Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head
A tribal folk tale with a vague environmental moral told by Dennis Hopper over Gorillaz beats with a Damon Albarn chorus? Does it get much better than that? I saw the Gorillaz at the Apollo special in HD, and Dennis Hopper showed up at the concert himself to do this one live, it was great.

I’m not the only blogger that did this today — you can see more on the blogs of David Miller, David Schultz, TUAW’s Dave Caolo and Christina Warren, Von Glitshcka, Andy Rudkin, Austin Heller, Mason Sklar, Allen Emory, Allain Edouard, Mark Goody, and Jaime Parkins.

Posted on Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008 at 11:22 am. Filed under general.
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