In search of songs with timeline / stories split by chorus. Suggestions?
September 25, 2017 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for good or well-known examples in rock, pop, and indie of songs that tell a story (not just a single scene/moment, but songs where there are multiple elements along a timeline: A happens, then B, then C, etc.). Really, any musical genera is fair game, with the exception of songs from movies/musicals. Thanks! :) Strong examples: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer (George Thorogood); Richard Cory (Simon and Garfunkel); Billy Brown (Mika); He Went to Paris (Jimmy Buffett); My Old School (Steely Dan); Maxwell's Silver Hammer (The Beatles); I am a Can of Tuna (The Chenille Sisters); Major Tom (Peter Schilling); Bullets (Passenger); Sunny Came Home (Shawn Colvin)

Ideally link to a youtube video with the lyrics. Thanks!
posted by ch3cooh to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 




The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
posted by Sassyfras at 1:22 PM on September 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


Ani DiFranco's Napoleon has a really cleanly separated version of this -- each verse is a separate scene, from a separate stage in a character's career.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:22 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]




Beatles: She's leaving Home.
posted by hydra77 at 1:24 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Beeswing and 1952 Vincent Black Lighting by Richard Thompson. (a lot of his stuff actually)
Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton by The Mountain Goats
King Henry and John Barleycorn by Steeleye Span
Most murder ballads.
posted by jessamyn at 1:24 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Goodbye Earl) (Dixie Chicks).
Hotel California (The Eagles).

If One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer is pop enough, maybe 40 Cups of Coffee (Ella Mae Morse)?
posted by peppercorn at 1:25 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


10cc - Dreadlock Holiday
posted by homesickness at 1:27 PM on September 25, 2017


Cat's In The Cradle by Harry Chapin

maybe Jed the Humanoid by Grandaddy
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:29 PM on September 25, 2017


The Highwayman by The Highway Men
posted by iamkimiam at 1:31 PM on September 25, 2017




obscure Mac McAnnally tune: Barney

Mac McAnnally has been in Jimmy Buffett's band for a lot of his career, but is a singer/songwriter in his own right. This song's an oldie.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:37 PM on September 25, 2017


(ah, sorry for the dupe)
posted by thelonius at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Squeeze - Up The Junction (lyrics)
posted by corvine at 1:40 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Nick Cave has many, many narrative songs. Start with The Carny.
posted by srednivashtar at 1:41 PM on September 25, 2017


What? No "Ode to Billie Joe"? One hell of a story...

"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton, and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, y'all, remember to wipe your feet
And then she said, I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge..."
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:50 PM on September 25, 2017 [7 favorites]


"It's Nothing To Me" ... Many versions, I like the one by Sanford Clark
posted by rhizome at 1:51 PM on September 25, 2017


Iron Maiden has a few, "The Trooper" probably being their best known.

"X-Ray Visions" by Clutch and its sequel "Firebirds."
posted by Boxenmacher at 1:51 PM on September 25, 2017


Lake Pontchartrain, Ludo
The Homecoming Queen's got a Gun, Julie Brown

Songs in which the story is spoken word and the chorus is sung:
Alice's Restaurant, Arlo Guthrie
Detachable Penis, King Missile
I Dream of Jesus, Ded Milkmen

Folk Ballads:
Susie Clelland, June Tabor and the Oysterband

Jamaican ska:
Shame and Scandal, Peter Tosh

Country:
The Devil Went Down To Georgia, Charlie Daniels Band
The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
Goodbye Earl, the Dixie Chicks

Early rap: Back when Will Smith was the Fresh Prince, he was the king of the narrative song. The vibe is a little dorky and '80s now, but his raconteuring is still superb; you can see how he made the transition to acting so easily. Start with Parents Just Don't Understand and go from there.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:59 PM on September 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


Another good Josh Ritter one: Another New World
posted by omnie at 2:05 PM on September 25, 2017


Barry Manilow's Copacabana has a 30-year time jump (and is seriously depressing, despite the peppy disco setting).
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:16 PM on September 25, 2017 [7 favorites]




He Thinks He'll Keep Her - Mary Chapin Carpenter
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:22 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Does He Love You - Rilo Kiley
Does He Love You - Reba McEntire
Fancy - Reba McEntire
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:27 PM on September 25, 2017


My favorite is Escape (The Pina Colada Song)
Much darker is Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon
posted by itsamermaid at 2:36 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


"New Routine" by Fountains of Wayne. Not sure if it's what you're looking for, but it's a series of narratives, actually, jumping from character to character. It starts with two men in a diner, and a brief bit of story, and then hops to the waitress at the chorus. After the next verse, it hops to the guy she started seeing, and the chorus carries through his story, and so on.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:02 PM on September 25, 2017


Ballad of the Teenage Queen Johnny Cash
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 3:03 PM on September 25, 2017


Robert Earl Keene, "The Road Goes On Forever"
Steve Earle, "Billy and Bonnie"; "Mercenary Song"; "Tom Ames' Prayer" (and he has a bunch more)
Doc Watson, "Tennessee Stud"
Lucinda Williams, "Pineola"

Oh, heck, here you go: 119 Favorite Pop, Rock, and Country Songs That Tell a Story
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:06 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


OH! Kicking myself for forgetting the marvelous story from Guy Clark, "Texas 1947." Small town, big train, and a little boy's souvenir of that big day...
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:08 PM on September 25, 2017






The Battle of New Orleans (Johnny Horton).

My 4-year-old self CRUSHED this karaoke-style.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:19 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Bob Dylan's Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts is the first that came to mind, but my favorite is
The Other Shoe by the Old 97's
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:26 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


I have a good one!
39 by Queen has two timelines on different time scales because of relativistic time dilation. (It's on the first side of 'A Night at the Opera')
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:43 PM on September 25, 2017


As long as we're talking Bob Dylan, there's always Hurricane.

Lots of songs by Drive-By Truckers would qualify, I'm just selecting two:
Tornadoes was inspired by an actual gig interrupted by a funnel cloud.
Ronnie and Neil is practically a documentary song, being about Ronnie Van Zandt and Neil Young and how their responses to racist violence in the 70s put them at odds.

Slobberbone's "Billy Pritchard" is basically a Southen Gothic tale
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 3:47 PM on September 25, 2017


I Remember Me by Silver Jews is a pretty heartbreaking story-song; maybe it's typical for this song style but the meaning of the chorus shifts as the song unfolds.
posted by xueexueg at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2017


β€œIn 1975 or 76 I was home in Peoria, Illinois visiting my family for Christmas,” he remembered. β€œI went to a convenience store to pick up some whipping cream to make Irish coffees with, and quite unexpectedly ran into an old high school girlfriend. The rest of the song tells the story.”
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:01 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


7 Years by Lukas Graham - He sings about different things happening at specific ages in his life.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 4:15 PM on September 25, 2017


He sings about different things happening at specific ages in his life

Frank Sinatra, "It Was a Very Good Year."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:35 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Weird Al does this a fair bit in his songs; a couple examples off the top of my head:
Albuquerque
The Night Santa Went Crazy
posted by Aleyn at 5:18 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves - Cher
posted by carmicha at 5:58 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Third Rock from the Sun - Joe Diffie
posted by carmicha at 6:01 PM on September 25, 2017


Young Turks - Rod Stewart
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:28 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


The Mariner's Revenge Song, by the Decemberists. Lyrics. Story summary.
posted by theatro at 6:32 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Nick Cave, pretty much the entire album Murder Ballads
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:21 PM on September 25, 2017


John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:26 PM on September 25, 2017


Tom Petty, Into the Great Wide Open
posted by holborne at 7:57 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also by Bobbie Gentry, Fancy, one of my favorites.
posted by bendy at 8:25 PM on September 25, 2017


Tracy Chapman's devastating study in Occam's Razor, "Fast Car"

The Band's valentine to an enabler, Up On Cripple Creek, and their Biblical epic The Weight

Fastball's ode to an elderly couple who went missing, "The Way"

The Bangles' little-known, nostalgic and eerie "Glitter Years"

BNL's cautionary tale about drowsy driving, "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel"

Neko Case does the story thing all the time, but her earlier material is more country-fried, and has more of the chorus element.
posted by armeowda at 8:41 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


KISS - "Detroit Rock City"
posted by rhizome at 9:51 PM on September 25, 2017


El Paso by Marty Robbins

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot

Billy Jack (One Tin Soldier)

Billy, Don't Be A Hero - Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods

The Night Chicago Died - Paper Lace

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce

Don't Mess Around With Jim - Jim Croce

Convoy - C. W. McCall

Amos Moses - Jerry Reed

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - The Band
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:33 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Not all as well known but good examples of the genre:

Last Dance with Mary Jane by Tom Petty
Ballad of Josie and Ed by Bow Thayer
Four Blue Walls by The Mammals
Rubin and Cherise by the Jerry Garcia Band
Silver by Nirvana
Transistor Radio by Cloud Cult
I and Love and You by the Avett Brothers
Furr by Blitzen Trapper
Jack and Diane John Cougar Mellencamp
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Lots by Stan Rogers, start with The Mary Ellen Carter, but most anything in the linked playlist. (Northwest Passage, Barrett's Privateers, ...)
posted by a person of few words at 12:04 PM on September 26, 2017


Paul Revere by the Beastie Boys
posted by 4ster at 1:53 PM on September 26, 2017


The Drive-By Truckers are champions of this genre:
My Sweet Annette
Go-Go Boots
Puttin' People on the Moon
The Living Bubba
The Fourth Night of my Drinking
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:56 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Billy Joel has quite a lot of these spanning many years.

Probably most famously, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.

Also (sorry, I can't link all these right now, but they are easy to find)
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
Miami 2017
Downeaster Alexa
Leningrad
Captain Jack
posted by mikepop at 12:11 PM on September 27, 2017


Tweeter and the Monkey Man, Traveling Wilburys
posted by mikepop at 5:06 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


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