songs about folk tales
November 19, 2013 4:36 PM   Subscribe

You know that Decemberists song "The Crane Wife"? I'm looking for more songs like that - songs that re-tell, are inspired by, or make explicit references to a particular folk tale or fairy tale.

Recent pop* songs preferred; pop/rock recordings of old songs (or folk songs, whatever) are ok too. Basically, something a 14-year-old can listen to without freaking out.

I am not interested in folk songs that tell a new story - this needs to be something that started out as an oral or written story, and then someone wrote a song about it. I am also not interested in "educational" songs (a la Schoolhouse Rock, which I love but is not useful for this project).

I am more flexible about what counts as a folk/fairy tale - do you know an awesome song about Beowulf? Tell me!


* not actually meaning, say, One Direction, but pop in the sense of "popular" and encompassing all the popular genres
posted by goodbyewaffles to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Any of the modern recordings of the Child ballads would fit your criteria. Anais Mitchell did a record of them just this year. I'm fond of her version of Tam Lin.
posted by yasaman at 4:40 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Amanda Seyfried did a creeptastic acoustic cover of Little Red Riding Hood when she was in the movie of the same name.
posted by fshgrl at 4:42 PM on November 19, 2013

This fourteen year old is going to love Murder Ballads and the Child Ballads. The latter tend to be less scary than the former.

Lots and lots of covers of these in the pop idiom, starting with the folk revival in the 60s. Dylan has a few great ones. I've always loved his take on "The House Carpenter".
posted by Sara C. at 4:44 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kate Rusby's first album, Hourglass, is accessible and modern while retaining a trad feel and lyric tradition.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:55 PM on November 19, 2013

Ok, so these are not current, but they weren't when I was listening to them as a story song loving teenager, either:
Kiss that Frog by Peter Gabriel
Ok, this one is a Bible story, but Rock Steady by Sting. Noah's Ark with a sassy Noah's Wife.
Metallica's Whiskey in the Jar

Also, I LOVE Murder Ballads, precisely because they are so spooky and have such great story telling.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:57 PM on November 19, 2013

"The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie" by mewithoutYou would qualify as one.
posted by metroidhunter at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Green Jellÿ - Three Little Pigs
posted by Sys Rq at 5:04 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bruce Springsteen has a version of John Henry; I don't know if it's non-freaky enough for a 14-year old, though--it's pretty old-timey.
Both Smashing Pumkins and Bowling for Soup have covered Sam the Sham and the Pharoah's Little Red Riding Hood.
And let's not forget Green Jello's Little Pig, Little Pig
posted by drlith at 5:06 PM on November 19, 2013

Does mythology count? If so, U2's "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" is a version of Orpheus and Eurydice. Salman Rushdie wrote the lyrics.

And Anais Mitchell again, but she did a whole sort of opera called Hadestown, which is also a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice, and includes Justin Vernon as Orpheus and Ani DiFranco as Persephone, among other guest stars.

This one is maybe reaching a bit, but I'm very fond of Arcade Fire's "Abraham's Daughter," which is sort of a retelling of the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac.
posted by yasaman at 5:10 PM on November 19, 2013

Speaking of The Decemberists, The Tain retells Táin Bó Cúailnge.
posted by sad_otter at 5:13 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

As others have noted, the line between "folk tale" and "folk song" is kind of blurry, and many of the Child Ballads straddle that line. My own favorite version of Tam Lin is the one by Fairport Convention.
posted by neroli at 5:13 PM on November 19, 2013

If bible stories count, there's always "Story of Isaac" by Leonard Cohen. Mirah's take on it is also nice.
posted by Sara C. at 5:14 PM on November 19, 2013

It's a bit of a stretch, but Led Zeppelin's Ramble On references Lord of the Rings.

Jerry Garcia Band's Gomorrah is a pretty straight retelling of the story of Lot and his wife.
posted by Mendl at 5:45 PM on November 19, 2013

"Calypso," Suzanne Vega
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:06 PM on November 19, 2013

The Silke by The Secret Commonwealth (Nashville Celtic band) is the tale of Seal Wife (also known as the selkie).

Romeo & Juliet- Dire Straits (ok... Shakespeare is a stretch)

Soul Cake- Sting

The Return of Pan- The Waterboys
posted by kimdog at 6:46 PM on November 19, 2013

Steeleye Span has some songs like that, especially Child Ballads. I recall something like that on their album Commoner's Crown.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 7:45 PM on November 19, 2013

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have a nice rendition of Reynadine (wiki article on the song)
posted by Maecenas at 8:24 PM on November 19, 2013

Totally different style of music, but Iron Maiden is very literary. Rime of the Ancient Mariner, for example. They also have an Aldous Huxley-inspired song, Brave New World. There's one about Icarus, too.

Kenny Loggins has that song about the house at Pooh Corner.

White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane -- based on Alice in Wonderland.

Simon and Garfunkle, Richard Cory.

The Resistance by Muse is based upon 1984 by George Orwell.
posted by Ostara at 9:50 PM on November 19, 2013

Another stretch, but Ryan Adams's "The House Is Not for Sale" is definitely about Beetlejuice (the '80s movie. The character is a folk tale in the movie...? I just love that this song exists, I guess).

Kate Bush is great for this. "Wuthering Heights," obviously, but "The Kick Inside" is based on a Child Ballad. And then there's The Red Shoes.... Similarly, I'm not sure what the specific references are, but Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood has a very murder-ballad-y folk-talish feel and I remember reading that she was inspired by Eastern European folk tales.

Richard Shindell's "The Ballad of Mary Magdalene" is a different take on her relationship with Jesus, which could be interpreted as a folk tale (that's maybe too rich a vein!)

How about Joanna Newsom's "You and Me, Bess" - based on the story of The Highwayman Dick Turpin and his horse, Black Bess.

Ooh, how about "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Based on a story from Plato.
posted by kickingthecrap at 9:59 PM on November 19, 2013

The links are a bit tenuous, but arguably Rhiannon, by Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac; and The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn by the Pogues.
posted by misteraitch at 2:21 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fleet Foxes have a song about Lorelai.

Loreena McKennitt The Bonny Swans is based on an old ballad.

Many of the songs on June Tabor & Oysterband's album Ragged Kingdom are based on folk songs and stories. One is The Bonny Bunch of Roses, another Son David. They're not very well-known, but all the more interesting for all you can learn about them

Ice Man by Dublin Fair tells the story of Ötzi - so a real tale, but still.

There's dozens of versions of Scarborough Fair, popularized by Simon & Garfunkel.
posted by harujion at 12:28 PM on November 20, 2013

I came here to suggest "The Fox, the Crow, and the Cookie" by MeWithoutYou, but MetroidHunter beat me to it.
posted by tacodave at 3:52 PM on November 20, 2013

« Older What's the #1 change you've made to improve your...   |   Motivational sites like Health Month and Fitocracy... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.