Stories in Songs by Allison Symes

 Image Credit: Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos.

We all love stories. The best non-fiction books can read like novels so you could include those here too. But I must admit I have a soft soft for stories in songs and this time of year reminds me of that.

Many of the Christmas carols tell the story of the Nativity, taking in different viewpoints. There are carols for the shepherds, the Magi, and even the donkey and the holly and the ivy after all. It was thinking of these that made me consider other songs which are stories.

One of my favourites is Up the Junction from Squeeze which is a proper ballad and a heart-wrenching story. Well worth a listen if it’s not one you know. There is a great story structure throughout. And yes, I did guess the ending. I didn’t guess just how poignant it would be.

Another favourite of mine is Hazard by Richard Marx. This tells the story of an oddball (his small town suspects him of “not being right”) who is suspected of the disappearance of his girlfriend and he pleads his innocence throughout. It is presumed the poor girlfriend has been murdered. Again, a well crafted and poignant story and wonderfully shown through music.

The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby is my favourite track of theirs. Deeply moving, wonderful music, and you get an incredible depth of characterisation here. Think about the characterisation of Father McKenzie shown darning his socks and then later wiping his hands after conducting Eleanor’s funeral. 

Not many words used at all (which appeals to my flash fiction instincts) but enough details to get a picture of a life - and not just Eleanor’s.  

I also have the feeling here if only Eleanor and Father McKenzie could somehow have got together, their lives would have been happier. It is always a good sign when you can visualise characters enough to think about what else might have happened to them had their lives taken a different turn.

Then there’s David Bowie’s Space Oddity. Beautiful, sad, and imaginative. Wonderful song.

Compressing a story into what is usually a three minute song can’t be easy. It’s about picking out the key details listeners need to know in the same way flash writers do in their tales. You work out what has to be shown and leave readers/listeners to infer the rest and there is often room for different interpretations too. (A key element to poetry here too).

Many of the great love songs can leave you wondering if they were based in truth in some way. The Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun tells the story of a newly married couple. Again the use of telling details here makes a great impact - white lace, promises etc. 

I find it encouraging stories are retold in ballads so the link with stories and songs goes back a long way. 

Have you any favourite stories in song?


Peter Leyland said…
I posted a comment yesterday Allison but it doesn't seem to have appeared yet. I really liked your piece and will try again later if this one works!!
Allison Symes said…
Many thanks, Peter. Comment now through. This must be a Blogger issue. I am on Blogger elsewhere and it happens, unfortunately.
Peter Leyland said…
Hi Allison, I love ballads and taught them once, way back to 1765 from Percy's Reliques. A number of bands in the 60s reawakened them. As you know I'm a Liverpudlian and Paul MxCartney's Eleanor Rigby is a great favourite. I looked up the fascinating story of how he wrote in in his book of Lyrics published this time last year. Eight pages!!

I think you are so right about the compression of story and character in a ballad. As you say this is just like what happens in Flash Fiction which you are really good at describing in blogs. Anther Beatles one that you might know is Norwgian Wood, mainly by John Lennon, and Oh what a story!

Wishing you a happy Xmasand New Year.

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