My Top 10 Story Songs

Even though I grew up in the South, I spent most of my time there avoiding country music. As an aspiring writer, I just couldn’t connect with the lyrics of saloon tunes like “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”

But over time, I came to realize that those silly line-dance songs were actually outliers in a genre full of rich storytelling. Infidelity, alcoholism, abortion, loneliness, growing up — country music explores the themes of love and loss through intimate stories rather than broad strokes.

Outside of country music, narrative songs are few and far between, which makes them all the more special. Here are ten of my favorite (non-country) story songs — please leave a comment and let me know yours!

(Note: I’ve included videos here because that’s the easiest way to share music these days, but videos for story songs are rarely on par with the songs themselves. You’ve been warned.)

1) The Leader of the Band – Dan Fogelberg

A beautiful, simple tribute. I dare you to listen to this one without crying. I dare you.

2) Hazard – Richard Marx

Richard Marx made a career of churning out sweet love songs, but he hit his peak with “Hazard,” an intriguing noir set to an equally haunting tune.

3) Operator – Jim Croce

The whole story’s revealed in this one line: “She’s living in L.A. with my best old ex-friend Ray.”

4) Stan – Eminem featuring Dido

Eminem’s creepy tale of an obsessed fan became even more dramatic when juxtaposed with Dido’s angelic voice.

5) Space Oddity – David Bowie

Major Tom is arguably the most prolific story song character in history, having gone on to star in several other songs by both Bowie and other artists.

6) Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

Few songs about the desire to run away capture the life-and-death weight of this story.

7) Same Auld Lang Syne – Dan Fogelberg

The one that got away revisited in one magical yet bittersweet night.

8) Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton

Perfectly illustrates that stories are often told through a series of small, seemingly unimportant moments.

9) Rocket Man – Elton John

One man’s experience being a solitary human separated from humanity.

10) Sand in My Shoes – Dido

The first chapter in a romance story that I really want to read.

Did I overlook a great narrative song? Share your favorite story song in the comments below!

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12 thoughts on “My Top 10 Story Songs

  1. Lisa, I love 3 of your 10 songs, and will definitely download Richard Marx’s Hazard. Once I hear a song that could possibly represent the story I’ve written, I listen to the lyrics over and over for inspiration and to “feel” the emotions my characters feel. For my paranormal, Shadow Watcher, I fixated on Skillet’s Awake and Alive. Like books, songs tell a story. Thanks for sharing your 10 favorites 🙂

  2. Love many of the ones you listed, also Bobby McGhee by Janis Joplin one of my all time faves, Into the Mystic by Van Morrison, Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel,The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia, Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry, Leader of the Pack, this old song called Patches my mom used to sing to me (which in retrospect was fairly morbid for a kid…I’d cry and tell her to sing it again) Brother Louie, In the Ghetto by Elvis, The Thunder Rolls by Garth as well as That Summer, Strawberry Wine by Dena Carter..oh man I could go on and on! 🙂 I love songs that tell stories…thanks for sharing!

    1. oh my gosh, how could I leave out our local legends Lynrd Skynrd, “Give Me Three Steps”, and Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “UnEasy Rider” lol! Classics!

      1. I thought about “Free Bird” which I’ve recently rediscovered, but didn’t consider “Give Me Three Steps.” And “Devil Went Down to Georgia” is epic – good one! Thanks, Jill!

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