After seeing Rocketman and writing a blog post about my Top Ten Elton John songs, I went on a bit of a musical nostalgia trip and came across a few classics that fall into a genre I don’t often think about. That genre is the ’story song’. Perhaps there is a better name than that but that’s what I’m going to call them. My definition of a ’story song’ is one that tells a story throughout the narrative of the lyrics. Not just describing a few events or situations but actually characters going through a journey. And the lyrics are not normally artistic or flowery. They are normal narrative descriptions as if it’s a person doing a voiceover. So, for example, I wouldn’t include Hotel California as a story song. It kind of has a rough story but the story isn’t the main hook to the song, it gets quite artistic and dreamy in places. And I wouldn’t include Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm by the Crash Test Dummies as it’s more a series of short vignettes than one full story. There’s obviously a grey line, but all of the examples below would be categorised as story songs by me. They’re normally quite long and often quite melancholy. The top two in my Top Ten list are perfect examples of what my definition of a story song is. Some of the others are more musical and some have more storytelling, so it was quite hard to rank some of them.

Richard Marx – Hazard
This was so close to making my list. I remember when it came out and I used to regularly listen to it on my paper round each morning. It’s very similar to no.8 in my list actually. Same sort of melancholy vibe. 

Marc Cohn – Walking in Memphis
Again very close to making my list. Amazing song and I really want to learn how to play it on the piano.

Charlene – I’ve Never Been To Me
I think I first came across this song in the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert and I loved it. It’s so cheesy in places “That’s truth, that’s love”, but it’s got great heart and it’s a damn good piece of music too.

10. Ugly Kid Joe – Cat’s In the Cradle

I’m putting the Ugly Kid Joe version here, rather than the original by Harry Chapin, because it’s the version that I knew growing up. It’s a great song but I love the cyclical nature of the parenting behaviour. That last line of “He’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me” gets me every time.

9. Elvis Presley – In The Ghetto

I very nearly put this around no.3 in this list but it ended up getting pushed further up. I remember watching a documentary where Priscilla Presley describes how Elvis didn’t like doing ’story songs’ (she had a better name for them but I can’t remember what it was – maybe ‘anthology songs’?), but she said she thought this song was so good that she persuaded him to do it. It’s a great song and one that’s on my regular karaoke list, but it’s maybe just not got quite as much storytelling as the other songs in this list.

8. Bruce Springsteen – The River

This song isn’t quite as descriptive as some of the stories below but it definitely has a story and is such a beautiful haunting track that I had to include it.

7. Stan Ridgway – Camouflage

Here is one that is undoubtedly a story song. And what a story. Ghosts of dead marines? Sign me up for that movie. I bought this as a vinyl single when I was about 9 and I still have it. Great song.

6. Eminem – Stan

From Stan Ridgway to Stan by Eminem. This is a proper story. It could be made into a movie. That’s the sign of a good story song. It has characters, intrigue, plot and a surprise ending. Great track.

5. The Eagles – Lyin’ Eyes

I struggled about where to place this one. It was as high as no.3 and as low as no.7 at different stages. I absolutely love The Eagles and I love this song. It’s melancholic and tells an interesting story. It’s not as detailed as other stories perhaps but it’s an amazing song.

4. Meatloaf – Paradise By The Dashboard Light

What a song. It’s not the same stye of story song like some others and doesn’t tell an epic narrative, but it undoubtedly tells a story about these lovers’ situation in the car. It has a definite start, middle and end, so it 100% deserves its place in this Top Ten. Great fun doing this one at karaoke if you can find someone else to sing the other part.

3. Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue

Here’s another one that moved up and down the ranks whilst compiling this list. It’s a very good song but not amazing musically. But it does tell a story and it is one that is so well known that it is often referenced in conversation. That shows the power that the story has had on people. And for that reason it has managed to claim the no.3 spot.

2. Rod Stewart – The Killing of Georgie Parts I and II

This is a beautiful song. It’s my exact definition of a story song. It introduces characters, has a definite story arc, and is a bunch of verses that progress the narrative. Love it.

1. Bob Dylan – Hurricane

There was never any doubt about my no.1. Hurricane is a great song and a great story and it’s a true story! It’s a piece of education, an interesting journey and fantastic music. The perfect story song. Well done, Bob.