It’s easy to overlook songwriting as a form of storytelling – we’re usually more distracted by the performer’s persona, or by the catchy tune that accompanies the words. For me, there are some songs that stand out for their lyrics above all else. These are the songs that are crafted to take us on a journey, to ward us of evil or to share a message through (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful means of storytelling. I believe a good story can be appreciated in spite of its musical genre, even if it’s a style of music you wouldn’t usually consider.
Here are a few of my favourites, varying from folk music to heavy metal, but each one with a great story to share:
The Mariner’s Revenge by The Decemberists
We are two mariners
Our ship’s sole survivors
In this belly of a whale.
Its ribs are ceiling beams,
Its guts are carpeting,
I guess we have some time to kill.
This indie/folk song doesn’t take much interpretation. A wronged man swears revenge on the man who exploited his mother, his rage all-consuming. The story starts with the two men trapped inside the belly of a whale, and the song represents the last words spoken before revenge is sought.
Terrible Things by Mayday Parade
Now, son, I’m only telling you this
Because life can do terrible things.
In this song, a father urges his son to stay away from love because of the pain he endured when the boy’s mother passed away. Certainly not an upbeat number, but it is moving to see how the father communicates his suffering. I could never decide really how I felt about the message of this song – did the father have any right to discourage his son from love?
You Eclipsed By Me by Atreyu
Hate can be a positive emotion
When it forces you to better yourself.
You built me,
Constructed my desire,
Perfected my hatred.
Another wronged man driven by anger, he sends a message to the person who made him this way. There’s a certain bittersweetness to it in the way that the narrator acknowledges that despite the pain, he is stronger for it. I’ve seen people interpret the song as the man being hurt by a woman, but I’ve always felt it could have been about a man’s relationship with his father, or anyone who put him down in his life and made him feel worthless.
Fun fact: my love for Atreyu stretches back ten years, mostly for the unbeatable songwriting of their first albums.
Worcester City by Eliza Carthy
In Worcester City there lived a damsel
And now the truth to you I’ll tell;
She by her servantman was courted,
Who often told her he loved her well.
This is another folk song that I’ve always loved. Eliza Carthy tells the tragic tale of a man who murders the woman he loves and then commits suicide to join her. The message at the end, as they die in each other’s arms, is that young men should be wary of what their jealousy might drive them to do.
Any songs that stand out to you as excellent examples of storytelling?