Songs with unreliable narrators?
April 14, 2012 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Songs with unreliable narrators?
posted by Trurl to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: The Kinks' "Art Lover."

Bare Naked Ladies' "The Old Apartment."
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:08 PM on April 14, 2012

Nick Cave - Mercy Seat
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:08 PM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Brian Eno's entire Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy is sardonic and chirpy. At least, I think it fits the bill.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:13 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Rolling Stones — Time is on my Side

XTC — Making Plans for Nigel
posted by John Cohen at 5:15 PM on April 14, 2012

"Outlaw Song" 16 Horsepower

That's a folksong, so it's a traditional. You can probably find your favorite band playing it.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:22 PM on April 14, 2012

The Beatles-- A Day in the Life
posted by costanza at 5:23 PM on April 14, 2012

There's a whole genre of these with men/women talking about how they don't miss their old lovers. Are those fair game?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:25 PM on April 14, 2012

A lot of the songs from the Buzzcocks' Singles Going Steady come to mind... as does Amy Winehouse's "Rehab."
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:27 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Psycho (Leon Payne/Elvis Costello)
posted by peagood at 5:29 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of Talking Heads songs come to mind ... "Nothing but Flowers" has a postapocalyptic David Byrne pining for the now-overgrown parking lots and 7-11s, and in "Don't Worry About the Government" he's just happy to have a nice new condo and think about his favorite laws.
posted by lisa g at 5:38 PM on April 14, 2012

  • I'm Lonely (and I love it) – Future Bible Heroes
  • I Don't Really Love You Anymore – the Magnetic Fields
  • Pretend Love – The Avett Brothers (this one is solidly unreliable, and a total piss-take. I think.)
  • The District Sleeps Alone Tonight – the Postal Service (such ambiguity in "I am finally seeing that I was the one worth leaving")

  • posted by iamkimiam at 5:43 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Elvis Costello, I Want You (that's a Fiona Apple cover of it)
    posted by Diablevert at 5:48 PM on April 14, 2012

    Nick Cave, Song of Joy
    posted by Faint of Butt at 5:49 PM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

    Randy Newman's early stuff is all about irony and gotchas and sly meanings. Burn On Cleveland is not a tribute to Cleveland, despite the lyrics, "Cleveland city of light, city of magic." Similarly, I Love L.A. has a semi-hidden zinger, "Look at that bum over there / Man, he's down on his knees." Short People "got no reason to live," but then later, "short people are just the same as you and I."
    posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:54 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Suzanne Vega, "Luka"
    posted by nicebookrack at 6:03 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    I'm not sure if Burn On is a unreliable narrator, so much as just a straight diss song. But Randy Newman's Sail Away is a clear cut case; it's a sales pitch to Africans to come to America -- circa 1680.
    posted by demiurge at 6:09 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Phantom Planet, "The Stalker"

    "My Girlfriend, Who Lives In Canada" from Avenue Q is total Blatant Lies, though it's more obvious in the context of the show.
    posted by nicebookrack at 6:09 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    The Everly Brothers' "I'm Not Angry."
    posted by Sidhedevil at 6:20 PM on April 14, 2012

    Of course Randy Newman's "Rednecks" is another song where who knows what the perspective is; on the one hand, the narrator is spot-on in highlighting tons of racist hypocrisy in the North, but on the other hand, the narrator is himself pretty racist and also thinks Dick Cavett is Jewish, so.
    posted by Sidhedevil at 6:23 PM on April 14, 2012

    Best answer: [forehead slap] Randy Newman! [/forehead slap]

    His entire catalogue basically, with the possibly exception of You've Got a Friend In Me, but off the top of my head
    Let's Drop the Big One Now,
    Short People,
    It's the Money That I Love,
    I Love LA

    Also, Christmas Card from a Hooker In Minneapolis, Better Off Without a Wife, The Piano Has Been Drinking, and a bunch of other Tom Waits songs...

    Child Psychology by Black Box Recorder, Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen

    It occurs to me if I start going through my itunes looking for songs by sarcastic depressives we could be here all night.
    posted by Diablevert at 6:24 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

    A lot of the Talking Heads' "Fear of Music," where the narrator describes how air, animals, and electric guitar are all out to get you.
    posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:27 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Paul Kelly's God Told Me To.
    posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:42 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Phil Ochs "Outside a Small Circle of Friends" (more of a piss-take really)
    posted by jessamyn at 6:42 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Leonard Cohen, "Famous Blue Raincoat" (it's an epistolary song that theoretically has Cohen as both the narrator and the person the letter is addressed to.)

    The Magnetic Fields, "I Don't Wanna Get Over You." Also their "Washington DC" is at least ironic, and potentially has the same tone as the abovementioned "I Love L.A."

    Maybe The Decemberists "I Was Meant For The Stage" or "Los Angeles, I'm Yours". But we might be getting into "songs that are dubious tributes to American cities" there, and not so much songs with unreliable narrators.

    I've always felt this way about Malvena Reynolds' "Little Boxes", but I doubt it was written in that vein.
    posted by Sara C. at 6:55 PM on April 14, 2012

    Ooh, and while we're on the subject of The Decemberists, what about "The Rake's Song"?
    posted by Sara C. at 7:01 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Carolina Drama - The Raconteurs
    posted by no bueno at 7:13 PM on April 14, 2012

    Kenny Rogers' Ruby.
    posted by klangklangston at 7:19 PM on April 14, 2012

    Might not be what you're looking for, but what about The Lament of Ian the Proud?
    posted by sleepingcbw at 7:39 PM on April 14, 2012

    Pretty much anything by the Afghan Whigs.
    posted by scratch at 7:56 PM on April 14, 2012

    Best answer: Pretty much anything by Steely Dan.
    posted by logicpunk at 8:01 PM on April 14, 2012

    Since its saturating the airwaves right now Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know"
    posted by bitdamaged at 8:08 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Ode to Billie Joe
    posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:10 PM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Pretty much anything by They Might Be Giants
    posted by Scientist at 8:31 PM on April 14, 2012

    Converted by Alabama 3
    posted by rakish_yet_centered at 8:38 PM on April 14, 2012

    Tom Waits, Tom Waits, Tom Waits, Tom Waits:

    Jesus Gonna Be Here Soon
    Long Way Home
    Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

    Seconding the Afghan Whigs, especially Fountain and Fairfax.
    posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:45 PM on April 14, 2012

    Ben Folds, Gone:

    I thought I'd write, I thought I'd let you know
    In the year since you've been gone I finally let you go
    And I hope you find some time to drop a note
    But if you won't, then you won't
    And I will consider you gone

    I know that you went straight to someone else
    While I worked through all this shit here by myself
    And I think that you should spend some time alone
    But if you won't, then you won't
    And I will, then I will consider you gone

    I wake up in the night
    All alone and it's all right
    The chemicals are wearing off
    Since you've gone

    The days go on, the lights go off and on
    And nothing really matters when you're gone
    If you think that you feel nothing at all
    If you don't, then you don't
    If you won't, then you won't
    And I will, then I will
    Yeah and I will consider you gone

    posted by davejay at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2012

    Oh, and of course, the Decemberists' A Cautionary Song, a long tale sung to a child about the horrible, tragic things their mother does while the child is sleeping in order to keep food in the house (while may or may not be true.)
    posted by davejay at 9:24 PM on April 14, 2012

    Links for gone and a cautionary song
    posted by davejay at 9:26 PM on April 14, 2012

    Best answer: And from another direction, "Whatever Lola Wants" from Damn Yankees and "I'm Always True To You In My Fashion" (Cole Porter.) Another quick Tom Waits addition: "Table Top Joe." Oh, and why not: "Elvis is everywhere" (Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.) "Girlfriend In A Coma" (Morrissey.) You know, this is a great question to try answering. Well done.
    posted by davejay at 9:37 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    One last, because they popped into my head: Bitchin' Camaro and Detachable Penis. Heh.
    posted by davejay at 9:38 PM on April 14, 2012

    Depending on what you mean by "unreliable narrator"… Night Vision Binocular by Passenger?

    And from the oh-so-(delightfully-)cynical Beautiful South:
    A Little Time
    You Keep It All In
    Song for Whoever

    On preview and continued reflection: Oh, HEY: Tom Waits - Step Right Up
    posted by Lexica at 10:30 PM on April 14, 2012

    I've always thought "At Last" by Etta James could have some different reads to it. There's just this sadness that makes you think maybe she's actually lost something instead of finding it.
    posted by amanda at 10:33 PM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

    Grateful Dead - Loser and Warf Rat.
    posted by octothorpe at 5:16 AM on April 15, 2012

    The Who - Fiddle About
    posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on April 15, 2012

    Creep by Radiohead.
    posted by savvysearch at 8:49 AM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Missing You - John Waite
    posted by SisterHavana at 2:31 PM on April 15, 2012

    Some by Jonathan Coulton:

    This One Is Not About You
    Creepy Doll
    Todd the T-1000
    President's Day (Observed)
    Re:Your Brains

    ...and more, depending on your definition of unreliable narrator.
    posted by attercoppe at 2:52 PM on April 15, 2012

    Lou Reed - Perfect Day. Is the song about walking in the park and visiting the zoo - or about heroin use, an affair gone wrong and/or depression?

    Minor chords, "I thought I was someone else, someone good", "You just keep me hanging on", "You're going to reap just what you sow."
    posted by iviken at 3:37 PM on April 15, 2012

    Buenos Tardes Amigo by Ween
    posted by ElmerFishpaw at 10:31 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: On listening just now, one of the greatest of one-hit wonders: Tommy Tutone, "867-5309 Jenny"
    posted by Trurl at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2012

    Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home A Heartache," although I suppose that's more a song with a creepy narrator – who expresses his love for his inflatable doll by hissing insistently that "my breath is inside you..."

    One of my favorite Pavement songs fits this, really – "Range Life." That song got more notoriety for the line about the Smashing Pumpkins that Billy Corgan took silly offense at, but the interesting lines to me was the bit where the narrator apparently outs himself as a sort of teenaged burglar:

    Run from the pigs, the fuzz, the cops, the heat
    Pass me those gloves, this crimin' is never complete
    Until you snort it up or shoot it down, you're never gonna feel free
    Out on my skateboard, the night is just hummin'
    And the gum smacks are the pulse I follow
    If my Walkman fades, well I got absolutely no one
    No one but myself to blame?

    posted by koeselitz at 10:22 PM on April 20, 2012

    Nothing Better- The Postal Service
    posted by tweedle at 10:56 PM on December 30, 2012

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