Songs that tell a story. What a delight!

I know, I know, you’ve almost forgotten what I look like. I’ve been so incredibly neglectful of my blog recently. So sorry! My excuse is that I started a new day job a couple of months ago and I’m really struggling for writing time. My standard working week is longer by 2.5 hours and I have a longer commute. We’re not talking a huge commute, but what used to be 10 mins each way has become 30 mins each way. I know that’s only 20 extra minutes but It soon adds up over the course of a week. Plus, the job is a much more demanding one. The pace is faster and the need to concentrate is greater so I find I struggle to switch off at the end of the day and switch on to writing.

Anyway, that’s not the reason for this blog post. So what is? Let me tell you …

I’ve spend the weekend painting the hall and stairs (don’t panic, the blog post isn’t about watching paint dry!) which has been hard work. Whilst I’d love to have spent Sunday evening writing, I found myself drawn to social media and flicking the channels on TV. There didn’t seem to be much to choose from and I ended up on the True Drama channel watching “To Hell and Back”, the story of Meat Loaf. I missed the first 45 minutes or so but enjoyed the rest. Great music and an interesting insight into Meat’s life.

It struck me whilst watching this true-life drama that one of the reasons I love Meat Loaf’s music, aside from his powerful and emotional voice, is that his songs (penned by Jim Steinman) tell a story.

I love music, although I’m not an avid follower of the charts like I used to be. My daughter asked me the other day what my favourite song is and I had to give her the answer I always give: I don’t have a favourite because I love loads of songs. It’s true. I love some songs because they remind me of a certain era in my life (first time clubbing, being at university, a holiday with friends and so on). I love others because they have a great beat and make me want to dance. Some are romantic and give me a warm and fuzzy moment and/or make me think of my husband. Others I love because they’re so uplifting that they instantly make me feel happy, no matter how low I might have been feeling. But my very favourite stories are the ones that tell stories, which brings us back to Meat Loaf.

‘Bat out of Hell’ and ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ are two great stories, the former depicting the story of a rider dying after a motorcycle crash and the latter about a teenage boy trying to convince a girl to have sex with him in his car. She says she will if he tells her he loves her and he finds himself tied to her for life to fulfil that promise after a night of passion. Most of Meat Loaf’s lyrics tell a story in this way but let’s move on from Meat Loaf and give another couple of examples, both of which I’ve head on my local radio station during the past week.

One of these is ‘A Little Time’ by The Beautiful South. A very poignant song, this tells the story of a man who wants a break in his relationship to sleep around and, when he comes back to his girlfriend after he’s had “a little time”, she advises him that she’s also taken advantage of the time out, had a few flings, and doesn’t want him in her life anymore. Hee hee.

The other one is from a similar era: ‘Hazard’ by Richard Marx. This song is about a mother and son who’ve moved to a town in Nebraska where he’s treated with suspicion as an in-comer. It’s just evil looks and non-acceptance until his girlfriend goes missing and is found dead and all eyes turn to him.

The very first story-based song I remember hearing was one from the sixties called ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ by Ricky Valance. The hero wants to give his girlfriend an engagement ring but can’t afford one. He enters a car race in the hope of winning the money to afford it … but crashes and dies. I remember listening to this on a compilation CD my parents had of 60s hits and sobbing as I listened to the tragic story unfold.

I wonder if it’s being a writer that draws me towards this type of song, because they’re written like short stories rather than a standard song with verses and a chorus. ‘A Little Time’ and ‘Paradise have the classic “twist in the tale” plot and ‘Bat out of Hell’ has a bittersweet ending in which the hero of the story dies (a la Nicholas Sparks!) I think these types of song draw me in like a great novel, carry me along with a clever plot, and leave me feeling satisfied like I do after a 5-star read.

What do you think? Do you like songs that tell a story? Can you think of any others? Please comment and let me know your thoughts. By the way, if you don’t know any of the songs I’ve mentioned, I’ve linked the titles to their videos on You Tube so enjoy!

Jessica xx

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8 thoughts on “Songs that tell a story. What a delight!

  1. Great post Jessica. I love music and often have it on when I’m writing – something which reflects the mood of where I am in the story. Thanks for reminding me of Ricky Valance’s Tell Laura I Love Her. That’s one I discovered as a teenager going through my mothers sixties records!

    • Thank you for commenting, Rachael. Yes, I like to have music on when I’m writing but I have to listen to albums I know really well. If I’ve got something new on, I get distracted listening to it! xx

  2. Really interesting post, Jessica. I always think that one of the reasons I love folk music is because the songs are full of stories. OK some are the stereotypical fifteen verses where the heroine runs off with a soldier who turns out to be an unfaithful git and she ends up heartbroken and then dies tragically but they’re not all like that. One of my favourites is Three Gypsies where the lady of the manor runs of with a handsome gypsy. Now there’s definitely more of a story to tell there!

  3. Are writers drawn to songs that tell a story? Although it’s an intriguing idea, I don’t think being a writer has anything to do with it. I think that we as humans just love to be told stories. And I think adults enjoy it just as much as children, if not more, because, as an adult, the opportunities to listen while someone relates a story to you are far more limited. For me, the love of listening to stories has always expressed itself in listening to talking books, but now you’ve got me thinking about songs as well.

    I too love Meatloaf’s music (I remember my poor father’s patience as I put Bat Out Of Hell on yet again). The first song I can recall hearing on the radio that told a story was Lily The Pink and then the Kenny Rogers song, Ruby, though I wasn’t old enough to understand it properly. One that I found myself singing along with on the radio in the car recently was Copacabana by Barry Manilow, in which not only does the hero get killed but the heroine loses her mind. Talk about tragedy!

    Thanks for an interesting post, Jessica. I enjoyed it. Now I’ve just got to stop humming….

  4. Thanks for visiting, Susanna. I think you’re probably right that there is a natural inclination towards stories in everyone. For me personally, though, I absolutely love music and have a ridiculously large CD collection. There are songs I listen to over and over again and love for various reasons but I always seem to stop and listen to the ones that tell a story. They may not be by my very favourite artists, I might not like the tune as much as others, but there’s something about them that draws me in and makes me stop what I’m doing and listen and I wondered if that reaction was because I’m instinctively drawn towards the plot as a writer. Perhaps others do the same and it’s purely coincidence.

    I don’t know the Kenny Rogers song you mention so I’m going to have to look into that, but I do love the Copacabana story. Seems quite a few of them have tragic endings. I thought of another: Honey by Bobby Goldsborough. Again, before my time, but I remember listening to those heartbreaking lyrics and being absolutely gripped. “See the tree, how big it’s grown …”

  5. Love Bat out of Hell. One of my all time favourites. Love any song with good Lyrics. My favourite of the moment is James Bay’s Let it Go. Unfortunately I always think of the Frozen version when I see the title, so have to hear him singing it,before I can sing along. X

    • Thanks Jackie. I do like James Bay’s song although I have to admit, I’ve never properly listened to the lyrics so must focus on those. Does it tell a story too? Yes, I think Frozen as well. Tricky choice of title!

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