Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I think VH1 has (had?) a Storytellers series where musicians who tell stories in their songs do an "unplugged" kinda thing. Either that, or they just get famous musicians to talk about their famous songs and then play them? I don't know, never seen the show. POINT IS, I wanted write a blog post about some of my favorite current songwriters who are adroit (total crossword word) at crafting narratives in their songs that take the listener places and introduce them to characters all the while telling a story. Now writing a decent song is tough enough, but telling an actual story during a song? SKILLZ, right?

Here are a few of my faves (in alpha, cuz that's how I (sc)roll):

Belle & Sebastian
Stuart Murdoch's songs don't usually have a beginning, a middle and an end, it's not really his thing. His thing is introducing characters and bringing those characters to vivid life. These snapshots into the lives of loners, losers and lovers often involve seemingly mundane details that just add to the context. Tell me you don't have a visual in your brain of what the Major, Judy, Sukie and Lord Anthony look like. Of course you do (unless you're a cyborg. Are you a cyborg?).

Blitzen Trapper
I'm not gonna profess to be some kind of Blitzen Trapper super fan, but I do like the band and I especially like their 2008 album Furr and even more especially, that album's title track. It's not a stretch at this point to call it one of my favorite songs of all time. Black River Killer is a really good song that tells a (dark) story as well.

The Decemberists
Colin Meloy and co. have put together back-to-back albums with a cohesive, solid narrative running though them, but that's not why they make this list. Nope, they make it on the strength of their first three albums (and EPs and such) that had individual songs that read like Dickens novels. Tough to pick just one song here, but I'll go with this one:

Flaming Lips
The weirdos from Oklahoma make it based on one outstanding concept album - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. I don't know what they were on when they thought of the concept or wrote the music, but I bet it was fantastic.

The Hold Steady
Craig Finn paints vivid pictures of Midwestern youthful exuberance and isolation. His characters come to life in the span of four-minute rock songs as his sing-speak style tells their stories, often revolving around, what else - sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

Jens Lekman
Jens' tales come off so damn charming, it's sickening. He uses really plain language, nothing too flowery or descriptive, and then mixes in tiny specifics to bring his characters and stories to life. Here's one of my faves.

So there's a few my favorite bands/songwriters who can spin a yarn within the confines of a song/album. There are numerous rap/hip-hop artists that are really good at this as well, but I'll let Terry school us all on those in the comments.


The Notorious T.D.P. said...

The greatest storytelling song of ALL time is actually a hip hop song. That title is indisputable:

Slick Rick - A Children's Story

Also, how could you forget Cube and the classic classic It Was A Good Day:

A Tribe Called Quest - I left My Wallet in El Segundo:

De La Soul - Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa :

I can show you more if you'd like to do a post on it.

Jim said...

Paul Revere is also a good one. "Now here's a little story I got to tell..."