Great Story Songs of Yore

Is it just me or is the melodramatic story song a lost art? Here are some gems from the long-ago time before “niche programming” made pop songs about cannibalism all but impossible to pull off.

Run, Joey, Run
Thank you, Glee, for bringing this forgotten gem to a whole new generation of potential story song geeks.  It’s a better world for your efforts.
Best line (must be sung while running out of breath):
“Daddy please don’t, it wasn’t his fault, he means so much to me…Daddy please don’t, we’re gonna… get… mar-ried…”
Despite being pregnant and recently shot by her father (who was aiming for her babydaddy), sweet little Julie manages to belt out quite a few lyrics before trailing off melodramatically. La Traviata’s consumptive soprano had nothing on this chick.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia
Murder. Adultery. The town slut. An unreliable narrator. It’s like a Lifetime Original Movie in 4/4 time.
Best line: “Well, he got mad and he saw red, and Andy said boy don’tcha lose your head, ’cause to tell you the truth, I been with her myself.”
Now that we can look lyrics up online and don’t have to try to fill them in from our 9-year-old’s understanding of life, I find it’s best not to analyze this Southern ditty too much. (Wait–they tried, convicted and hanged Seth before little sister could even blurt out, “Little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun”? How about, “Don’t hang my brother–I did it!” Or “Stop!” Yeah. Let it go. Just let the art flow over you.  That’s what Vicki did.)

Dig this morsel of a jaunty pop tune from ’71. A mine. A cave-in. Imminent starvation. Curiously bad grammar.
“Trapped in a mine that had caved in
And everyone knows the only ones left
Was Joe and me and Tim.”
Maybe the songwriter was trying to sound like a coal miner? I dunno.
Meatiest line: “Timothy, Timothy, Joe was looking at you…
Timothy, Timothy, God what did we do?”
Then, the light of day. A full stomach. And (spoiler alert!) no one ever got around to finding…Timothy.
(My favorite of the ancient death ballads of my youth.  Check out here where someone has actually recorded the 45 playing on a “record player.”)
Little slice of trivia–Rupert Holmes is the songwriter, the same guy that did that other staple of storysong lists, “Escape.” Though it sounds like a sequel to Timothy (“Timothy2, Timothy’s Revenge”) it’s really a sweet little dating song from that bygone era of personal ads as a way to cheat on your mate. You might know it as “The Pina Colada Song.” I didn’t include it because I didn’t want to get it stuck in my head–


Too late.

Hm, somebody dies in every single one of these. Does a great story song have to end in a death?
In the Ghetto–yep, plus there’s a police stand-off.
Seasons in the Sun, Last Kiss, Ode to Billy Joe
1) Yes, eventually 2) Big time with sound effects 3) Yes, but why remains a mystery. (Made-for-TV lame-o movie that made up an ending, I’m not even try to hear you.)

Tune in later for more story songs because I can’t stop myself.

Next up on Devlin’s blog:
Huck Finn; an Alternate Take

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6 Responses to Great Story Songs of Yore

  1. Aaron says:

    Devlin, you are such a devil, devil girl, devlish. Oh my God! I love melodramtic story songs. You’re right, they are a dying breed. Except, for, may I remind you, country western music. Loving you.


  2. Aaron says:

    Vickie Lawrence as in THE Carol Burnett Vicki Lawrence, or am I missing something?


  3. Chris Devlin says:

    Yeah, I hear C/W music is still full of angsty-story goodness, but I’m just not a fan. Sorry!
    And yes, it’s THAT Vicki Lawrence. She put out an album in ’73, and The Night the Lights Went Out was the biggest hit from it. Good times, good times.
    Good to hear from you, so to speak.


  4. You forgot “a href=””>”The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace

    Caution: Repeated playback of this song will turn your kitchen appliances avocado green and cause your floors to grow shag carpeting. 😉


    • Chris Devlin says:

      Daven, too funny that you mentioned good ol’ Paper Lace. I actually wrote up a whole couple of paragraphs about The Night Chicago Died, one of my favorite storysongs of all time, but the post was just getting too long so I shelved it for now. But I’ll revisit Paper Lace, and Honey, and Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, etc. in another post. There are just too many great story songs.


  5. Pingback: More Great Story Songs of Yore | Chris Devlin's Blog

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