The best songs are the ones that tell a story. It's one reason folks love Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean” and why Nas, whose distinctive style of rapping involves a lot of storytelling, is one of the most highly revered rappers.
It's also one reason Taylor Swift has such a wide fanbase — you may not be into the cheese and romance, but the stories she tells are always compelling. And before these artists, others told perfect stories through their songs. Here, we explore some of them.
1. “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
A real-life event inspired this song, written to commemorate the sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. The writer and singer Lightfoot considers the piece his finest work.
2. “Piano Man” by Billy Joel
“There's an old man sitting next to me / Making love to his tonic and gin.” “Piano Man” is a song to forget about life for a while — it is for the broken-hearted and dreamers who are in the mood for a melody.
3. “Stan” by Eminem
Here's one you didn't expect to see on the list. But before anything else, Eminem is a stellar storyteller. While I was new to rap, his music always stood out because there was always a grounded story as opposed to other rap songs.
“Stan” is the story of an obsessed fan who considers extreme measures when Eminem won't respond to his letters.
4. “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins
“Big Iron” tells the story of an outlaw named Texas Red and a ranger “with a big iron on his hip” set to kill him. Texas Red had no fear, for many men before the ranger had tried but failed. However, one fatal slip was his undoing. Listening to the song, you can see every scene unfolding in your head.
5. “Cat's in The Cradle” by Harry Chapin
Every man wants to be the one their son looks up to. However, some never have the time to spend with family, even when they see how big a role they play in their children's lives. This song is the anthem for absent fathers.
6. “It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube
This song is Ice Cube's highest-charting single on the chart and is on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time. The song describes a typical day in the rapper's life.
7. “Tribute” by Tenacious D
Everyone knows this is not the greatest song in the world — it is only a tribute. Many movies have described human encounters with demons. Still, only a handful have done it as expertly as the rock band in this hilarious record.
8. “You Don't Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce
“You Don't Mess Around With Jim” was Croce's debut single. The story song revolves around a pool hustler with a notorious reputation and his gang, who regularly gather at the pool.
9. “Jolene” by Dolly Parton
We all know the story of “Jolene,” the man-snatcher. But for those in the dark, Dolly Parton‘s hit single “Jolene” tells the story of a bombshell with which her lover falls in love. Also, it was inspired by a true story.
10. “The Mariner's Revenge Song” by The Decemberists
This song is about two mariners who survive a monstrous attack. One tells the story of how he met the other and how his widowed mother took him in and cared for him, but he ended up being a misfit.
11. “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers
Don Schlitz originally wrote “The Gambler,” but many artists, including Kenny Rogers, have recorded it. The song describes the protagonist's encounter with a gambler, who offers him advice — in exchange for whiskey.
12. “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman's hit single was the lead single from her self-titled album. It is a story about a couple's life challenges and how she wishes they could sometimes escape it all. Don't we all?
13. “Lullaby” by The Cure
This song is the band's highest charting single — an uncle who told the songwriter scary stories about a carnivorous Spiderman as a child inspired it. The fear and feeling of helplessness spur creativity on this track.
14. “Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
“Hurricane” is based on the real-life story of the middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was falsely accused of crimes and tried to court. Dylan's tour in 1976 was the last time the singer played this song live.
15. “Escape” The Piña Colada Song by Rupert Holmes
“It's about a man who gets bored of his wife because of how dull their relationship has become, so one day when he sees an ‘ad' in the socials column of his newspaper asking for someone who wants to get away with them from their dull life, he responds to it,” one fan shared.
“They plan their escape and meet up, when he realizes it was his wife who made that ad all along. They both wanted to make their relationship more exciting and they shared common interests, but neither of them knew it.”
16. “American Pie” by Don McLean
McLean's “American Pie” song, filled with many pop-culture references, explores the evolution of the rock ‘n' roll genre. It references rock ‘n' roll icons like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin.
17. “Dance With The Devil” by Immortal Technique
Some of the most beautiful storytelling exist in rap. For instance, this song, rumored to be based on a true story, is about a teenager who joins a gang for street credibility and to build a reputation but ends up in a dark pit of terrible decisions.
18. “Hotel California” by Eagles
According to the band, “The true meaning behind “Hotel California” is a commentary on the hedonism and self-indulgence of America.”
One of the most beautiful things about the iconic song is how folks have interpreted it in many ways, with each only adding to its perfection.
19. “The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Reba McEntire
This ballad is a song about a man finding out about his wife's infidelity from a friend, who admits he's “been with her, too.” I know, double punch in the gut.
20. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam
“Jeremy” is based on different stories. The lead vocalist's terrible childhood and the tragic story of a young boy from Texas who took his life in front of his classmates inspired it.
21. “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel
“Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” tells the story of two people and their journey through life, falling in love, getting married, and finally divorcing. An actual restaurant in New York inspired it.
22. “The Last Great American Dynasty” by Taylor Swift
As a Swiftie explains, “”The Last Great American Dynasty” by Taylor Swift so beautifully tells the story of a woman named Rebekah who used to own her Rhode Island home before she bought it.”
23. “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips
Sometimes, dreams don't come true. This Grammy-winning song is about a man who gives up on his dreams of Hollywood stardom and seeks to return to “the life he once knew” in Georgia and his lover, who vows to follow him anywhere.
24. “Don't Take The Girl” by Tim McGraw
This is a heart-wrenching story about a man and his relationship with a girl through the various stages of his life. In the end, he makes a last request to God to take his breath and his life — anything but the girl.
25. “Deconstruction” by Devin Townsend Project
One contributor shares that this song is about a man who dies, goes to Hell, and is offered the chance to know the universe's secrets if he eats a cheeseburger. There is just one problem — the man is a vegetarian. Decisions, decisions.
This thread inspired this post.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Boloere Divine Seibidor, fondly called B.S., is a Nigerian-based writer and poet. Her favorite topics include music, especially Hip-Hop, film, lifestyle, and fashion. She's been published by Feral Journal, Fantasy Magazine, The Temz Review, and most notably, Wealth of Geeks. She enjoys romantic dinners, movie nights, and touring new sights. When she's not writing, she's delving back in time to the underground world of Hip-Hop, watching TikTok, or visiting the cinema.