15 Songs That Tell Better Stories Than Your Favorite Novel

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We all love good stories. A beautifully woven tale is one of the most effective ways to make sense of the world and also the most straightforward means to transmit a deep, complex message. Nevertheless, we’ve grown accustomed to believing that the greatest stories live in books, but nothing could be further from truth. Any artistic discipline can be used for great storytelling, and one of the best is music. Proof of this are these 15 songs that tell stories better than a novel.

Music brings closer to home the nostalgia of the past. When we listen to the lyrics of a great song, they become ingrained in our minds and never leave. For a brief moment, they become a part of us, and in this way, we let ourselves be flooded by the powerful words and emotions. The stories songs tell can be just as powerful and moving as any novel or film. By listening to them closely, we make them a part of ourselves for just a second. Perhaps that’s why they get to feel so powerful and intense.

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“Henry Lee” — Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Cave’s deep voice accompanied by the delightful PJ Harvey tells a compelling story about faithfulness, jealousy, and murder that will bring you to tears, and leave you reeling with churning emotions. 

“Hurricane” — Bob Dylan

Based on the true story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Dylan’s narrative tells how a boxer on his way to becoming a world champion got wrongly convicted for a triple murder without any evidence due to the color of his skin. Its strong political theme shows step by step how the boxer was unfairly accused. It’s a call to reflect upon who are the real criminals in society and the injustice we constantly witness.

“Swimming Pools” – Kendrick Lamar

Lamar’s song, filled with a schizophrenic dialogue and relentless rhymes, follows the story of a character who succumbs to peer pressure and betrays his thoughts on intoxication. Could you relate with the case?

“Love Vigilantes ” — New Order

Through new wave vibes, so typical of the band, this song tells the story of a man who comes home from the war, hoping to meet finally with his wife and child, but after finding them crying in his home, he discovers he is already dead. 

“Disco 2000” — Pulp

In this heartfelt narrative, Jarvis Crocker tells the story of the narrator’s love life and his obsession with his childhood love. They promise to meet each other  when they’re adults in 2000 in front of a fountain. As the song progresses, we see how the characters distance themselves from each other, yet the narrator’s precious memory of her remains intact.

“Bankrobber” — The Clash

In this song, Strummer sings about a bank robber who decided his way of life was the only way he could ever live freely. The construction of the character is very interesting, since it’s done from the perspective of his son, who is singing  in his name.

“Lover I Don’t Have To Love” — Bright Eyes

In this song, Oberst tells a story about a sexually tense encounter filled with drugs, self-loathing, and pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Not a story you’d like to hear if you’re on a romantic mood.

“Eleanor Rigby” — The Beatles

Focusing on the lonely lives of two characters, Eleanor Rigby and Father Mckenzie, the song’s places the lives of these two lonely souls next to each other. Despite their shared loneliness they never meet, as if each is walking down their own path. It is a story of people we often overlook and whose aching loneliness is their sole companion in life.

“This Night Has Opened my Eyes” — The Smiths

If listening to Morrissey sing about a mother who has to give away her baby is not powerful enough to make you cry, I’m pretty sure your heart is made of stone.

“The River” — Bruce Springsteen

An emotional and deep reflection about coming of age, responsibility, living an idyll, and falling in and out of love. It’s as if Springsteen compressed the tragedy of the working class Middle American into a stream of verses. Such a powerful song.

“Stan” — Eminem feat. Dido

Out of Eminem’s legendary Marshall Mathers LP, this is a song where we hear a hardcore Eminem fan’s slow descent into madness through the letters he writes to the rapper. The narrative is even more interesting because it features the perspectives of three characters within its narrative: Stan, Eminem, and the wife who sings a tuned-down and depressing version of Dido’s verse in “Thank You.” The song became so popular that even the Oxford Dictionary has incorporated the term “Stan” to the English lexicon, defining it as “an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity.”

“All of the Lights” — Kanye West

In this frenetic and overwhelming song, Kanye tells a story in first person about a man who is taken away from his family after committing a crime against the man his wife cheated with. The narrative is rich in imagery and focuses on the spotlight the character must face as he is a celebrity who committed a crime. The story is also a reflection on the relationship with violence and black culture, and how the latter seems to be forever haunted by a specter Kanye calls the “ghetto university.”

“Jolene” — Dolly Parton

Parton’s heart-wrenching song wraps us in a tale of jealousy and infidelity. While the narrative focuses on the perspective of the wife who realizes her husband’s infidelity, the tone of the song is even more heartrending as she implores her husband’s lover not to take him away from her. 

“Famous Blue Raincoat” — Leonard Cohen

Cohen’s song, which is based based on the Bible’s tale of Cain and Abel, tells the story of a love triangle that ends in murder. The narrative of the song is perhaps its best feature, for it is told as if it were a written letter, but listening closely to the lyrics, we realize that it is a dead character who is speaking.

Click here to listen to whole playlist.

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