If you’re like most music lovers, sometimes you look for songs that you enjoy listening to because of a catchy beat or hook. Other times you’re in the mood to listen to music that evokes deep emotion and songs that tell a story.
Songs that tell a powerful story transcend time and capture our imaginations. Whether it’s a story of first love, betrayal, or determination to overcome obstacles, these songs stand out not only musically, but also for their storytelling.
1. Shine on You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd
This song is a tribute to one of the original Pink Floyd members, Syd Barrett. If you look closely at the title of the song, you’ll see that it spells out his first name:
Barrett was Pink Floyd’s lead guitarist and penned the majority of their early hits. However, he began to have issues with mental health early on and was removed from the band in 1968, only three years after the band was founded.
Drug use played a big role in Barrent’s issues with mental illness.
Before being removed from the band, Barrett would routinely get on a live stage and play the same note repeatedly or refuse to play at all.
2. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – Gordon Lightfoot
Canadian singer and songwriter Gordon Lightfoot wrote, composed and performed “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” as a way of commemorating the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a bulk carrier that sunk on November 10, 1975 on Lake Superior.
Lightfoot was inspired by the Newsweek article published on November 24, 1975 about the ship’s sinking, which was entitled “The Cruelest Month.”
Lightfoot says that this song is the best work of his career.
3. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Written by Robert Plant and Jimmy Paige in 1971, this song is easily one of Led Zeppelin’s most well-known recordings. In fact, many people consider it to be the best rock song ever made.
“Stairway to Heaven” tells a story about a greedy woman who is unnaturally optimistic about her very unpromising future.
The song is known to resonate with younger listeners, where it opens doors to different realms of spirituality and a mystical life view.
4. Hurricane – Bob Dylan
“Hurricane” is a classic Bob Dylan protest song that was written with the help of Jacques Levy. It was released on the album “Desire” in 1976.
This is one of the best story-telling songs because it details the imprisonment of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer who was arrested in 1966 with his cousin for an alleged triple homicide.
Dylan’s masterpiece compiles the racist profiling that he believed lead to Carter’s false conviction.
5. Stan – Eminem
“Stan” was released in 2000 by rapper Eminem, with backup vocals from singer Dido.
The music video and song detail the musings of a young man named Stan who has become obsessed with the rapper.
Stan’s obsession with Eminem shows through in a variety of ways, including copying the rapper’s look, confessing to harming himself, and eventually recording his suicide with the intent that the recording goes directly to Eminem.
6. Viva la Vida – Coldplay
“Viva la Vida” is a retelling of the French Revolution and the death of King Louis XVI.
The song was written as an interpretation of the king’s final speech prior to his death. It is presented through the point of view of the king himself, as he gives his apologies to his people and accepts his eternal fate.
7. Lovers – Jackie Evancho
Since her 2010 appearance on America’s Got Talent, Jackie has released eight albums while touring throughout the world.
Her song “Lovers” details a simpler time in her life, growing up in her hometown while immersed in a young love that she’s never forgotten.
8. A Day In the Life – The Beatles
“A Day In the Life” is a dispassionate, detached look through the eye of John Lennon’s consciousness during everyday life that he was more content to allow to pass him by.
The song was inspired by a disconnected series of events that included:
- Lennon’s appearance in the film “How I Won the War” from Richard Lester
- The death of Tara Browne, a millionaire socialite
- A council survey that found 4,000 holes in the Blackburn, Lancashire roads
The song is the conclusion to the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
9. American Pie – Don McLean
Did you know that prior to the release of this song, the term “American Pie” didn’t even exist? Don McLean actually created and coined the term when he released the song in 1971.
McClean says the song and chorus are all about America at the time he wrote it.
“I saw the implication of America going bye-bye, since by 1971 we were a horribly divided country with tremendous anger being directed at the government over the Vietnam War.”
However, McLean has never dropped a full “answer key” for the song to tell us everything it’s about. Undoubtedly, his theory is that as long as he keeps his audience guessing, his legend will live on forever.
10. The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel
“The Boxer” was released as a standalone single on March 21, 1969, then later included on their fifth studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water in 1970.
In the song, Simon frequently refers to athletes like Joe DiMaggio. Frank Llyod Wright also garners a mention in the song, who may have been a substitute subject for Garfunkel. After all, he was a student of architecture at the time.
It’s believed that the boxer to which the song refers to is either Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis.
Songs That Tell A Story Live Forever
This list of songs that tell a story contains songs that never seem to get old. In fact, every time you listen to them you can probably find a hidden gem within a lyric that you hadn’t noticed before.
If it’s been a while since you’ve listened to these classic songs, there’s no better time than now to dive back into them with a fresh ear.
You may be surprised by how powerful these songs truly are.