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!