Music plays an important role in our everyday life. There are songs that accompany us and even set the mood for each episode in our lives. But just as they talk directly to us due to the themes and emotions portrayed in them, there are great songs that, more than talking about generalized emotions or human experiences, tell a specific story. Their narrative quality is so good that, even when you know it’s a song, it makes you feel as if you were watching or reading a story. Of course, there’s the matter of quality as with any other type of music, but the songs we’ve selected tell a deep story that will keep you waiting for a sequel to know what happens next or to get more details.
“Space Oddity” – David Bowie (1969)
Naturally, we had to start with the great David Bowie and his iconic story of Major Tom. This song has everything: characters, emotions, cliffhangers, plot twists, and an open ending that makes you think about the story and even guess what’s next. No kidding, there are long papers analyzing each word to see if there’s a hidden meaning that sheds light on Major Tom’s fate. Here, we know he’s on a spatial mission and that the spatial service on earth’s ground control is trying to contact him to see if he’s alright. He manages to make contact with them and starts describing what he’s seeing, but all of a sudden he finds himself lost, not really knowing the way back. It’s heartbreaking how he feels he’s not gonna make it and asks them to tell his wife he loves her. This part gives the character an emotional dimension that ends up rounding the narrative. Plus, the music is great.
“Stan” – Eminem (2000)
I know there’s difference of opinion when it comes to Eminem, but the song is great. Here we have an epistolary narrative, meaning that we’re listening to what the main character, Stan, writes in his correspondence with his all-time idol, the musician Marshall, or better said, Eminem. The story is tragic because, as it moves forward and he continues writing, we can perceive the anger and despair of this obsessed character that sees the tardiness of his idol's response as a direct offense and absolute disregard. The heartbreaking part is when Marshall replies to him and realizes that the guy died in a car accident after recording one last message to the musician.
“Shooting Star” – Bad Company (1975)
With a more country tone, this rock band tells us the story of Johnny and his musical career as a rock musician. Johnny is the classic teenager who falls in love with rock and music after listening to the Beatles. He creates a garage band, plays at some gigs, and starts becoming a popular star. However, just as his popularity grows, his addiction to drugs and parties does as well, leading him to a miserable life and imminent death.
“Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” – The Beatles (196)
And talking about The Beatles, we had to include them here. They have so many songs with stories that it was kind of hard to just pick one. However, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is the one that always leaves me wondering what the hell is going on. The melody might sound light and even comical, but actually, this is what makes it even more confusing. It tells the story of Maxwell Edison, a fictional medical student that murders his girlfriend with a silver hammer. Not happy with that, he also kills his teacher and the judge at his trial. If you want a disturbing song with great quality, this is the one.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” – Nirvana (1993)
This is a classic folk song that many have covered throughout the years. However, the way Nirvana does it is magnificent. Add the unique voice of Kurt Cobain with all the emotions he had inside, and you have a powerful tune. Jealousy, pain, death, and a missing body, this song conveys its anxiety as you listen to it.
For more songs take a look at these: