July 17, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

Mix CD time again: popular songs that tell stories

I'm putting together a couple of discs for an 11-year-old boy who seems to like songs built around strong, simple stories - beginning, middle and end stuff. He also enjoys Johnny Cash, NOFX, Nirvana, Radiohead. I think most traditional boy/girl stories aren't going to hold his interest.

Some examples (as you can see, I'm struggling for more recent stuff that fits):

Royal Guardsmen - Snoopy Versus The Red Baron
Jimmy Dean - Big Bad John
Battle of New Orleans
Bobbie Gentry - Ode To Billie Joe
The Devil Went Down To Georgia
Hot Rod Lincoln

Thoughts, anyone?
posted by Leon to Media & Arts (62 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Decemberists' The Mariner's Revenge Son or My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist may work. I forget what it's like to be 11, so I could be off.
posted by buddha9090 at 10:05 PM on July 17, 2005

Warren Zevon - Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Nick Cave & PJ Harvey - Henry Lee
The Pogues - The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
posted by nomis at 10:10 PM on July 17, 2005

One of my favorite "story songs" has to be Slick Rick's "Children's Story." Since it's Slick Rick, my first impression is that Mos Def's version might be more palatable for an 11yo, but I've just listened to it again, and nah, the Slick Rick version is fine, and it's better.

On preview: Oooh, the Decemberists are an inspired choice. Basically every song on the first album is a great story.
posted by .kobayashi. at 10:12 PM on July 17, 2005

Johnny Cash, Boy Named Sue (he may already know about this one)
posted by Brian James at 10:14 PM on July 17, 2005

Tallahasse Bridge... Harper Valley PTA.
posted by dial-tone at 10:20 PM on July 17, 2005

NOFX - The Death of John Smith
posted by knave at 10:25 PM on July 17, 2005

The Highwayman, by Lorena McKennitt. (Well, she sings it, but the lyrics are based on a much older poem)

Re: The Nick Cave suggestion above - some of his other songs tell some kind of story too, - "Henry Lee" is part of an album called "Murder Ballards", and well, ballards are stories :) Another popular song from that album is "Where the Wild Roses Grow" sung in duet with Kylie Minogue.

Going back a bit, one that everyone knows is "Leader of the Pack" by the Shirelles.

Here is an good one, but you'll probably have to look pretty damn hard to find it, because it was a hit from a one-hit-wonder band in the 50's or 60's and as far I know has never been been done as a cover, so has basically disappeared: "Except from a teenage opera" by Keith West.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:29 PM on July 17, 2005

"Ohio Air Show Plane Crash" by Joe Henry.
posted by dmo at 10:30 PM on July 17, 2005

It's not really the same musical style (although who knows, it might open up a new avenue for him), but when I think of story in song, I think of Bob Dylan's Desire album. In particular, Hurricane, but also Joey.
posted by chrismear at 10:30 PM on July 17, 2005

Except = Excerpt
It's "Excerpt from a teenage opera". Oops.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:31 PM on July 17, 2005

Gordon Lightfoot -- The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald. It's a mainstay of my formative music-listening years.
posted by jgee at 10:32 PM on July 17, 2005

chrismear: Hurricane is an *excellent* choice.
posted by jgee at 10:34 PM on July 17, 2005

1952 Vincent Black Lightning -Richard Thompson
Red Barchetta -Rush
Tangled Up In Blue -Bob Dylan
Hurricane -Bob Dylan
Me & My Uncle -Grateful Dead
Adventures In Failure -MC 900 Ft Jesus
Powderfinger -Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Arnold Layne -Pink Floyd
Drips -Eminem
Stan -Eminem
posted by doctor_negative at 10:50 PM on July 17, 2005

Michelle Shocked does some good story-ish songs, like "L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore" and "V.F.D."
posted by nomis at 10:51 PM on July 17, 2005

Many songs by Stan Ridgway. "The Big Heat," "Drive She Said," "Peg and Pete and Me," perhaps "Camouflage." He also does a great cover of Dylan's "As I Went Out One Morning," which surely qualifies.
posted by kindall at 10:52 PM on July 17, 2005

Anything off of Johnny Cash's Murder.

In particular, I'd suggest Mr. Garfield. It's an upbeat song about a presidential assassination!

Also: Bob Dylan -- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
Billy Joel -- Goodnight Saigon
Arlo Guthrie -- Alice's Restaurant Massacree
Barenaked Ladies -- Grade 9
Blues Traveler -- Psycho Joe (Goes to the Electric Chair)
posted by strikhedonia at 10:55 PM on July 17, 2005

Boy-Girl Stories
Jack And Diane - John Mellencamp
Ob-la-di Ob-la-da - The Beatles
Mari-mac Traditional, nice version by Great Big Sea
Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. Not very uplifting, but if you've already got Billie Joe then it might fit.

Other Stories
Cat's Cradle by Harry Chapin (Not Cat Stevens, dammit!!)
The Weight by The Band
One Tin Soldier by many different people, Joni Mitchell comes to mind

And I'd like to strongly second both The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and The Hurricane (Ani Difranco has a nice cover of the latter as well).

You'll have to listen to those all to decide if your particular eleven year old would like them! Might be more later.
posted by nelleish at 10:56 PM on July 17, 2005

Pancho and Lefty - Townes Van Zandt
The Last Gunfighter Ballad - Guy Clark
Bob Dylan's 115th Dream - Bob Dylan
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts - Bob Dylan
posted by bac at 11:16 PM on July 17, 2005

Some random sorta-stories:
Gorky's Zygotic Mynci: Spanish Dance Troupe
Green Jelly: Three Little Pigs
Beatles: Bungalow Bill (I loved the Beatles when I was 11)
Beatles: Rocky Raccoon
I second the recommendation of the Decemberist's: Mariner's Revenge Song
Fiery Furnaces: Blueberry Boat
Fiery Furnaces: Smelling Cigarettes
posted by GeneticFreek at 11:17 PM on July 17, 2005

Billy C. Wirtz - The Tennessee Waffle House Fire.
posted by realcountrymusic at 11:18 PM on July 17, 2005

The Lucksmiths - Fiction
The Decemberists - Eli, The Barrowboy
posted by ludwig_van at 11:19 PM on July 17, 2005

"The Partisan" by Leonard Cohen, off of Songs From a Room.
Also, a good deal of the Mountain Goats catalogue would fit your description, but some of it might not have content you'd find appropriate for an 11-year old (no swearing, just more adult themes).
posted by hototogisu at 11:36 PM on July 17, 2005

Several classic blues/folk songs come to mind:

Stagger Lee (Stack O'Lee, etc.)

Frankie and Johnny

In the Pines

Tom Dooley

posted by trip and a half at 12:02 AM on July 18, 2005

I'll recommend the whole of The Handsome Family's catalog. Rennie Spark's is heavily influence by traditional ballad forms which are highly narrative, thus most of their songs are beautiful strange stories that any fan of Johnny Cash would highly enjoy. She also has a book of short stories called "Evil" for sale on their website, it's exquisite!

on preview: WTF the spellcheck wants to change "website" tio "webster"?
posted by mrs.pants at 12:10 AM on July 18, 2005

Tindersticks - My Sister
posted by azlondon at 12:17 AM on July 18, 2005

When I was 11, I was very amused by "Lola" by the Kinks.....I suppose it depends on the kid if you want to be the one to introduce him to this one or not. As I recall, it just induced giggles about the punchline - I never gave the rest of the lyrics much thought.
posted by TTNoelle at 12:48 AM on July 18, 2005

The Road Goes On Forever - Robert Earl Keen.

White Wheeled limousine - The version with which I'm familiar has, I believe, Bruce Hornsby on vocals, Wynton Marsalis on horn, and Rob Wasserman on... bass, I guess. It appears, though, that Bruce wrote it.

Steve Earle has a number of songs that ought to fit here. For example, "Tom Ames' Prayer" and Copperhead Road.

You might look into an album called Choochtown by a guy known as Hamell On Trial (aka Ed Hamell). The album is a series of interwoven stories, several of which are damn good, including the title song, which is pretty much plot from beginning to end with a little characterization thrown in. Same thing for "When Bobby Comes Down" and "Long Drive," both from the same album.
posted by Clay201 at 1:08 AM on July 18, 2005

A lot of Iron Maiden's songs have lyrics along those lines. Not sure if that style of music would be a bit cheesy for him, what with the Radiohead, Nirvana etc. The Number Of The Beast album is a classic, there's numerous best ofs out there and Live After Death is an excellent double live.

I'd second/third/whatever Nick Cave's stuff, his lyrics are excellent. The Murder Ballads album is a good starting place.

Also, Springsteen's lyrics are (well, can be) good. The Nebraska and Tom Joad albums are stripped down acoustic affairs with some good stories. His lyrics are all available online via his site.
posted by TheDonF at 1:09 AM on July 18, 2005

Rainmaker. Richard Thompson has already been mentioned, I can only think of Shane and Dixie right now but I'm sure there are others. I guess Loudon Wainwright III has some songs that would fit but not everything he's done would be suitable for an 11 year old and I'm drawing a blank at the moment.

Oh, how about Cliff Hanger by Blackalicious?
posted by teleskiving at 1:18 AM on July 18, 2005

I Left My Wallet in El Segundo - A Tribe Called Quest, oh and I second And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda - a fantastic song.
posted by jontyjago at 1:43 AM on July 18, 2005

What about The Flaming Lips' entire "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" album? It's a bit more conceptual and looser than what you might be looking for, but the narrative is there nonetheless.

Simon & Garfunkle - Richard Cory
Violent Femmes - Country Death Song
White Stripes - Death Letter (Son House)
Lou Reed - Walk On the Wild Side
Of Montreal - Nickee Coco And The Invisible Tree
Beatles - Ballad of John & Yoko

... and pretty much anything by Arab Strap
posted by nathan_teske at 1:58 AM on July 18, 2005

Mark and Clark band - Worn Down Piano
posted by ijsbrand at 2:36 AM on July 18, 2005

Bob Dylan - The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
posted by fire&wings at 2:46 AM on July 18, 2005

John Prine's "Sam Stone."
posted by enrevanche at 3:25 AM on July 18, 2005

Squeeze - Up the Junction
posted by fire&wings at 3:46 AM on July 18, 2005

Harry Chapin? Almost anything, but W*O*L*D is a goody.
Billy Joel's been mentioned before, but specifically, Downeaster Alexa is a great tune.
Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue - Where the Wild Roses Grow
posted by benzo8 at 4:12 AM on July 18, 2005

Billy Joel: Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Billy Joel: Ballad of Billy the Kid

(mrs.pants, correct usage is "Web site." Go figure.)
posted by sdrawkcab at 4:17 AM on July 18, 2005

Tupelo Mississippi Flash by Jerry Reed.
posted by teleskiving at 4:24 AM on July 18, 2005

Tenacious D - Tribute
posted by dflemingdotorg at 5:13 AM on July 18, 2005

allofmp3.com has Excerpt From A Teenage Opera, for what that's worth.

Morbid songs: Everly Brothers' "Ebony Eyes," "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson (or maybe the Pearl Jam version), and "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" by Dickey Lee.

The what was in the water during the seventies collection: Vicki Lawrence's "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died," Bo Donaldson's "Billy Don't Be A Hero," Helen Reddy's "Angie Baby, and "Wildfire" by Michael Martin Murphy.

Jim Croce's "Leroy Brown," Glen Campbell's "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," "Galveston," and "Wichita Lineman."

Also, if you're gonna include Squeeze's "Up The Junction," then "Misadventure," "853-5937" and/or "Piccadilly" would work, too.

Finally, I'm guessing he might be a bit young for the Velvet Underground's "The Gift."
posted by kimota at 5:23 AM on July 18, 2005

Tom Russell's "Gallo del Cielo" - either Tom's or Joe Ely's version.
David Olney's "Contender"
Lefty Frizzell "saginaw Michigan"
Fred Eaglesmith has a ton of story songs, many about farming, but his "carmelita" comes to mind
posted by notsnot at 5:36 AM on July 18, 2005

Billy C. Wirtz - The Tennessee Waffle House Fire

Just when I thought I would have something to add that no-one would know... Man, it's been too long since I've seen the Reverend perform.
posted by mkhall at 5:58 AM on July 18, 2005

I would suggest some Paul Simon here (both with and without Garfunkel, but most of my favorites are solo). A lot of the songs from the Rhythm of the Saints album, such as The Obvious Child and The Coast, tell obvious stories. Similarly, from the Graceland album, Under African Skies, Call Me Al... hell, the whole thing has a story-teller's feel to it.
posted by Inkoate at 6:18 AM on July 18, 2005

I'm so embarrassed to say this, but I'm also surprised that no one has posted Convoy by C.W. McCall. So big, they made a movie out of it.

"There's a bear in the air!"

Though maybe your 11 year old will never speak to you again.

Cmon, anyone else remember this?
posted by sol at 6:19 AM on July 18, 2005

The Who/"A Quick One"
John Lee Hooker and/or the MC5/"Motor City Is Burning"
Husker Du/"Warehouse: Songs and Stories"
The Animals/"Story of Bo Diddley"
posted by AJaffe at 6:20 AM on July 18, 2005

For some reason, I now have Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" running through my head. It's my own fault.
posted by NewGear at 6:49 AM on July 18, 2005

Tragically Hip: Blow At High Dough
Mr. Lif: I, Phantom (anything off of it)
The Motor City Mutants: Concentration Camp
The Clash: Lost in the Supermarket
Fountains of Wayne: Red Dragon Tattoo
Squeeze: Tempted
De La Soul: BK Skeezers
Common: A Movie Called PIMP (which, so long as you don't mind a little swearing, is appropriate for an 11-year-old who's up for examining women's roles)
And I'll second the recommendation of Springsteen's Nebraska album. It's one of the few things from him that I think is really as good as the hype that surrounds his career.
posted by klangklangston at 7:12 AM on July 18, 2005

The Cat Came Back - any of the many, many, many versions -- or would an 11yr-old think it stupid? I can't remember.
posted by Grod at 7:22 AM on July 18, 2005

The Hip's "Blow at High Dough" doesn't seem to be much of a story to me; "38 Years Old" absolutely does.

I'd also suggest "Juke Box Hero" by Foreigner. For that matter, throw in "Shooting Star" by Bad Company and "Into the Great Wide Open" by Tom Petty, since they are all sorta the same song lyrically anyway.
posted by stevil at 8:12 AM on July 18, 2005

I can't believe I am the first to mention "Long Black Veil"! I like Mike Ness's cover, but Johnny Cash does a great one too.
posted by Richat at 8:29 AM on July 18, 2005

I second Hamell On Trial ... His live album is phenomenal too.

What about Bear Mountain Picnic by Bob Dylan?
posted by bryanzera at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2005

stevil, Francis Dunnery's "American Life In The Summertime" is another telling of the same story.
posted by kimota at 8:59 AM on July 18, 2005

Here are two that I liked as an eleven-year-old, not entirely realizing they were about women being forced into prostitution...

Fancy by Reba McEntire
Aldonza's Song from the musical Man of La Mancha
posted by exceptinsects at 9:11 AM on July 18, 2005

The Queen and the Soldier by Suzanne Vega.

Guess Who I Saw Today by Nancy Wilson (the jazz singer, not the one in Heart)

Where Have You Been by Kathy Mattea
posted by widdershins at 9:24 AM on July 18, 2005

some of these probably won't work for an 11 year-old, but i'll let you judge:
Come Sail Away - Styx
Highway Patrolman - Springsteen, Cash.
Once Piece at a Time, Give My Love to Rose, Ballad of a Teenage Queen - Johnny Cash
Kaw Liga - Hank Williams
Three Little Fishies - Spike Jones
Dead Man's Curve - Jan & Dean
White Man in Hammersmith Palais - The Clash
Father Christmas - The Kinks
When I First Came To Town - Nick Cave
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos - Public Enemy
Paul Revere - Beastie Boys
Space Oddity (sort of) - Bowie
and every 11 year old's favorite, Trapped in the Closet (Chapters 1-59) - R. Kelly
posted by hellbient at 9:46 AM on July 18, 2005

The Decemberists - The Infanta
weezer - Only in Dreams
posted by ludwig_van at 10:48 AM on July 18, 2005

Taxi by Harry Chapin:

"It took a while, but she looked in the mirror
Then she glanced at the license for my name
A smile seemed to come to her slowly
It was a sad smile, just the same

And she said, "How are you Harry"
I said, "How are you Sue
Through the too many miles and the too little smiles
I still remember you"

Those lyrics still give me chills. Don't know why, but they do.
posted by cincidog at 11:15 AM on July 18, 2005

Thank you Sol, I'm right there with you.

What about Rocky Raccoon?
Stagger Lee?
Don't Take Your Guns to Town?
Love Potion #9?

and my personal favorite:

In the Ghetto

People, don't you understand
The child needs a helping hand
Or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day

posted by Pollomacho at 12:17 PM on July 18, 2005

In a honky-tonk vein, I'm fond of both The Band's Up on Cripple Creek and Lynard Skynard's Gimme Three Steps.

I'd also recommend songs from the folk trio Cry Cry Cry, especially Cold Missouri Waters and Kid.
posted by junkbox at 12:58 PM on July 18, 2005

Oh, and what about Randy Newman? His album about the south (Good Ol' Boys) is full of stories...
posted by klangklangston at 1:18 PM on July 18, 2005

I don't think I'm qualified to judge what's appropriate for an 11-year old, but here are a few songs I like that I don't believe have been mentioned.

J. Rawls f. J-Live - Great Live Caper
Boogie Down Productions - Love's Gonna Get Ya (Material Love)
Thee Headcoats - Crazy Horse
Biz Markie - The Vapors
Common - The Big Payback
posted by box at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2005

Do the lyrics need to be in English? There are lots of wonderful folk songs in many languages that tell stories. One of my favourite story songs is Brun (The Robber) as sung by Garmana on the Vengeance CD. Then there is the song on Triakel's album (also in Swedish) about the lion and the bride, which does involve a boy and a girl, but also a suicidal lion with teeth.
posted by QIbHom at 3:25 PM on July 18, 2005

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