Sing me a story

Attention MP3 users: Do you have a unique, themed playlist in your music library that you think is really nifty?

Recently a friend and I were comparing notes on how we collect and organize music. In so doing, we discovered a shared fondness for songs that tell stories.

Some might call these ballads but the pop music scene of decades ago really expanded the definition. I was a product of the 1960s and 1970s and, as such, I am only slightly ashamed to lay claim to some of the corniest and most obnoxious “music,” as well as time-honored and clever classics, as the soundtrack of my formative years.

My iPod library houses more than 50 themed playlists, but one I especially enjoy is called, simply, “Stories.” As someone who enjoys words put together artfully, along with good narration, my love of stories should come as no surprise.

“Stories” begins with one of the most famous, “Alice’s Restaurant.” I know people who listen to it once a year as part of their Thanksgiving traditions. Personally, I need it more often. If you’re having a rough day and have 18 minutes and 37 seconds to spare, perhaps on your commute home, give it a listen. It’ll take you way back and give you a chuckle at the same time. And I suspect you have at least parts of it memorized.

Here are a few others, old and new, and at least one added at my friend’s suggestion. I am betting there are some you haven’t thought about in 30 or 40 years, or maybe haven’t heard altogether.

“A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash

“Big John,” Jimmy Dean

“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road,” Loudoun Wainwright III

“Henry,” New Riders of the Purple Sage

“Junk Food Junkie,” Larry Groce

“King Tut,” Steve Martin

“Sic ‘Em on a Chicken,” Zac Brown

“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

“The Streak,” Ray Stevens

“Uneasy Rider,” The Charlie Daniels Band (one of my favorites)

“When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” Jerry Reed

“30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” Harry Chapin

I am still building the playlist.  Have any suggestions?


Filed under Music

12 responses to “Sing me a story

  1. Marty

    Space Oddity…David Bowie…who can forget major Tom

  2. Mom

    How about “The Wreck of the Old 97?”
    Or “The Soldier’s Last Letter?” Both from much earlier times, but well worth a place on the list.

  3. Sheree Moyer

    Bye Bye American Pie! Right up there with “Alice” on my list. LOVE Alice’s Restaurant. Definitely need it more than once a year. We even have the 20th anniversary edition.

  4. Sharon

    “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” Vicki Lawrence

  5. Penny

    Not all from the same era, but how about–

    Bob Dylan: Talking World War III Blues

    Loudoun Wainwright III has bunches. Among them: The Man Who Couldn’t Cry (which was also covered by Johnny Cash), The Acid Song, Your Mother and I, April Fools’ Day Morn, Synchronicity

    Warren Zevon: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Excitable Boy

    Nicolette Larson: The Angels Rejoiced

    Weird Al Yankovic: Albuquerque (11 minutes of fast-moving narrative); Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    If you’re feeling folky, Joni Mitchell’s The Gallery and also That Song About the Midway

    Outlaw songs: Carole King’s “Smackwater Jack,” James Taylor’s “Machine Gun Kelly,” Traffic’s “Forty Thousand Headmen,” and David Crosby’s “Cowboy Movie”

    Stop me before this free-association stuff gets totally out of control…..

    • Wow, Penny, thanks. I can tell you haven’t given this any thought at all. 🙂 I can’t wait to start loading up!

      “Smackwater Jack” was a classic and I’m not so sure you didn’t help me wear out that Tapestry album in my daisy room on Duncan Drive.

  6. Polly

    “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” by Meatloaf, “Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Rocky Raccoon” by The Beatles, “Mother’s Little Helper” by the Stones, “Same Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg… and of course the Chapin you already mentioned and ALICE! “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows on the back of each one explaining what each one was… ” Love it!

  7. Paul Pinkston

    Seeing “The Streak” made me think that almost any of the songs by Ray Stevens would fit into the Stories category… Ahab the Arab, Alley Oop, Guitarzan, etc.

    But one of the best that you may not have heard is “Mississippi Squirrel Revival.”

  8. So many great suggestions. I am already running up a hefty tab on iTunes. I had forgotten one of the classics: Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.”

    Thanks, everyone! Keep ’em coming.

  9. Ellen

    From the group W bench…Patches, The Day that Billy Jo McAllister jumped off the Tallahachie Bridge and of course, Leader of the Pack.

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