Playlist: Songs as storytelling

Category:  Music
Friday, November 12th, 2021 at 2:11 PM
Playlist: Songs as storytelling by Samantha Mannion

For as long as I can remember, I have been a sucker for good lyrics that tell a story. It's always been a huge part of what has made music click for me, and why certain songs have become my favorites. The following are some of my favorite story-driven songs. 

 “Piano Man” – Billy Joel  

This song was a song that I immediately thought of when creating a playlist of beautiful story driven songs. Essentially, it discusses Billy Joel in his early days as a performer. It's about a struggling pianist in a bar, but it also focuses on several other bar-goers such as John “the real estate novelist,” and “Davey who’s still in the Navy.” There are such well-developed characters in this song; they’re all just trying to get by and help the piano player get out of his current situation. The gorgeous piano ballad showcases Billy Joel’s talent, and it makes you root for him, hoping that he’ll eventually get out of that bar and achieve his dream of one day becoming a successful musician. 

 “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” –  Gordon Lightfoot 

This may be the only song I genuinely don’t like that I put on a playlist. My father, whose music taste is usually much better, loves this song. He made us listen to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on every road trip when I was growing up. While boring and excruciatingly long, it is a beautiful example of storytelling. It is the true story of a ship, the Edmund Fitzgerald, that sank in Lake Superior. Its lyrics speak of the wreck from both the captain and the cook’s perspective, as well as the story of the ship itself. The music is very slow and somber which help capture the stormy night shipwreck vibe which ultimately enhance the story in a gorgeous way.  

 “Uneasy Rider” –  Charlie Daniels Band  

Another song brought to you by my dad; this one a much more successfully played road trip track. I feel that this list wouldn’t be complete without a good old fashioned folk song, and this one fits the bill perfectly. “Uneasy Rider” is about a hippie who gets a flat tire on a road trip and stops into a bar to make change for the phone. A guy then walks in and asks who owns his car – he tries to leave when five large men and a woman stop him. He is asked to tip his hat to the woman and his hair is exposed. To get out of a fight he makes up a whole story about the biggest guy being an FBI agent investigating the KKK, a communist, and a hippie as a distraction. The actual hippie runs away, gets in his newly fixed car and races away. The simple guitar melody backing up this story allows you to focus and even laugh at the insane story being told.   

“Alice’s Restaurant Masacree” – Arlo Guthrie  

If this song didn’t make the songs as storytelling playlist I would need to be fired. It is a classic folk song that is also comical. It's the story of how the narrator and a friend got arrested on Thanksgiving Day for littering. Since they are in a small town, it causes a big media moment. The narrators friend Alice herself bails them out and they go to court. Soon after he gets drafted. He has his examination and tries to set up both his physical and psychiatric examinations. He even tells the shrink he wants to kill. They ask if he has ever been arrested and he has to say yes. He sits next to these really burly dudes and they ask what he got arrested for and he has to say … littering. The military personnel have to ask him if he is rehabilitated which he gives a very funny response to that I will not spoil for you. My only tip is to strap in because this song is over eight minutes long, but it is worth it.  

 “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" – The Beatles  

The Beatles manage to fit a full blown love story into their three minute song, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” You see these characters Desmond and Molly fall in love, get married and have kids throughout the short course of this track. Throughout the song you get a vivid picture of the couple’s life together and how happy they are together. They grow and change and develop as the song goes on which is incredibly impressive and says so much about the writing team of Lennon-McCartney. The music behind the story is an upbeat piano track which further radiates the joyful relationship throughout the song.  

The songs as storytelling playlist can be viewed on Spotify. 

Samantha Mannion is the general manager of Fighting Scots Radio. She can be reached at

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