These songs recount legends or true stories that teach us something about the human experience. Sometimes touching and occasionally hilarious, they keep our curators enraptured by their narrative until the very last note.
Leave it to Jack White to keep you on the edge of your seat. His voice shivers and shakes as this murder mystery reaches its climax, and you can hear him smirking as he lets slip that last cliffhanger.
The story song against which all other story songs are judged. The contrast of suicide with the “banality of everyday life,” plus the nebulous ending, will keep this song haunting your dreams.
Primus has hella “tall tale” songs. This one is probably my favorite, and features Tom Waits as the voice of Tommy.
Before we had Netflix’s Making a Murderer, we had Bob Dylan. Back when people could understand what he was singing, Dylan wove the narrative of middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s wrongful imprisonment into one a really long song. Despite a lack of physical evidence, Carter was arrested in 1966 for a triple homicide in New Jersey. Dylan and Jacques Levy co-wrote this song in 1975, bringing the case to a larger audience. Carter was retried 10 years later, not so much (if at all) because of the song, but because of woke-ass Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin, who granted Carter a writ of habeas corpus. Carter walked free in 1988.
Probably the ultimate Mountain Goats song. It’s a bittersweet tale of two metalheads in Denton, Texas, aspiring for so much more. An early indicator that MG main man (and master lyricist) John Darnielle would become a New York Times best-selling novelist.
As with so many folk songs, this one passes along real news: the story of William Corder and the Red Barn Murder of 1827, along with its cautionary message for young ladies.
I love Hazlewood’s whimsical approach to country music and storytelling.
In this abstract collage of feelings and moments, Sufjan finger-paints what love and death look like from a child’s perspective. One of the all-time saddest songs. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
In November 1975, all hands were lost when a freighter sank in Lake Superior during a storm. Less than a year later, Gordon Lightfoot unveiled this fitting tribute: an old-fashioned maritime ballad recounting the doomed voyage.
I wish could go to this party. It sure would beat all the ones I end up ghosting out here. At the risk of sounding like Saturday Night Live‘s Stefon, this party has EVERYTHING: a storyteller named Silly Nelly, a trash collector named Jones, mashed potatoes and a human clock-puncher. What’s a human clock-puncher, you ask? It’s that thing where a guy is so dumb that he punches his face with his own fist every time he looks at his watch!