Friday, August 5, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Music That Tells a Story

The Rileys are back in Tucson after another great July in the Midwest. Meg and the girls flew home, but I drove with my father-in-law and the dog. On the last leg of the trip, I put on one of my favorite records (is this word outdated in our digital times?), Hollywood Town Hall by The Jayhawks. Memories drifted in and out, mostly the Minneapolis days and other road trips, and all felt right with the world. There's something about listening to great music on the road. It clears out all the clutter and frees my mind to wander. Even though it was only a couple days ago now, this latest communion with The Jayhawks already has a nostalgic feel to it.

A great record is like a book. Each song is a chapter, building on the one before it, all of them coming together to tell a story. Hollywood Town Hall is a Minnesota story for me, and I love every song. You can't say that about many records, and it got me thinking about other records that create a story for me.

In the order I discovered them, here are 5 records with great songs from top to bottom, great individual songs working together to create a story.

5) Born in the USA, Bruce: Springsteen is a master storyteller, and this is his best story. It's the story of looking back and finding the meaning in your life. I didn't really understand that when I was young, but when I listen now, I hear a story of reflection with an eye to the future.

4) Joshua Tree, U2: This record spawned a number of hits, but the songs that weren't radio hits are just as good. When I listen to Joshua Tree, I hear the story of my transition from high school to college, a time in my life when this record was perpetually playing in my head.

3) Nevermind, Nirvana: In a lot of ways, Nevermind tells the same story as Joshua Tree. I graduated from college in '91, and this record feels like a chronicle of that time, another time of great transition. Nevermind was a snarling record, a call to make the transition to adulthood on your own terms, regardless of what others might say. 

2) Hollywood Town Hall, The Jayhawks: My first night in Minneapolis, I walked up to the Uptown Bar and Grill to listen to some music. I'd never heard of The Jayhawks, but I fell in love straightaway, and this record is the story of my years in Minneapolis, a time when I became a teacher, met my wife, bought a home.

1) Day and Age, the killers: Hailing from Las Vegas, the killers know a thing or two about the desert. The desert is an unforgiving place, but it is also a place of unrivaled beauty. Day and Age is a story about seeing beauty all around me, the beauty of creating a family in a troubled world.

I hope I'm not the only one who hears stories in his favorite music. What are some other records that tell great stories?


  1. I like all your choices, except I've never heard of the Jayhawks. Also love me some Sting. So many of his songs are like stories. I always thought he should write novels too. :)

  2. LG: The Jayhawks do the alt-country thing, great harmonies. Good point about Sting. Wasn't he an English teacher for a while?

  3. You had me up until you mentioned Nirvana. Sorry, but I consider Cobain one of the biggest idiots in lyrical history. Either that, or I just have never been on enough alcohol and/or drugs to really "get" it. The rest of your list though includes some really great choices.

    Others that I would include are select songs by Dire Straits, most Sting songs, and certain ones by Phil Collins.

  4. Squilla's AuntAugust 5, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    Cool. It's like this is the soundtrack to your life. I can't list full-on albums, but John Denver, Neil Diamond, U2, Amy Grant, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Hornsby, James Taylor, Fine Young Cannibals, Fernando Ortega, Cat Stevens, Genesis, Newsboys, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel and Third Day would all have songs on my life's soundtrack.

  5. I find that most progressive rock bands produce concept albums, where the songs progress one through a story. Ayreon and Dream Theater do this with almost every album. Seventh Wonder's album Mercy Falls is a powerful and sad story.

  6. The title had me thinking this post was gonna be about songs that actually tell stories...
    Saginaw Michigan by Lefty Frizzel, Dead Man's Blunder by The Kingston Trio (not to be confused with Cocaine Blues by Johnny Cash, or newer fair such as, Love Vigilantes by New Order, or Billy and Bonnie by Steve Earle (okay, pretty much anything by Steve Earle)...
    Oh and I just discovered an AWESOME one last night, The Ballad of Love and Hate by the Avett Brothers, if you like the Jayhawks, your next out click should be to find the Avett Brother's Emotionalism LP.
    Excellent post by the way, glad to here you swing to Jayhawks and The Killers.

  7. Hot Fuss by the Killers is one of my favorite albums. I haven't heard of the one you mentioned. Did that come before or after?

    American Idiot by Green Day tells a great story, and is in my Top 5 favorite albums. Every song is amazing.

  8. Hello. Thank you for reading. As far as albums telling stories Springsteen's Nebraska works in that way that it creates a tone and structure more than anything I've heard from him. But other albums become stories from what I experienced while listening, built into the texture of my own story. Fantastic.

  9. Tim;

    Love the list.

    Am clicking over to Itunes now to see if I can grab some Jayhawks ... I'd switch "The River" for "Born in the USA", but it's a quibble not a criticism, as they are both stellar, in their own way ... Just a personal preference thing.



  10. Springsteen would be the first that comes to mind. Dylan and Cohen, too, though their stories can be less than clear.

  11. I love your choices, except that I don't know the Jayhawks. Will have to look them up. I would add Born to Run, my favorite Springsteen album, and U2's Achtung Baby. Also agree with a previous poster about American Idiot.

    Just reading this post makes me want to go on a road trip! :)