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Listening

Story Songs

Like good stories, songs with compelling narratives are to be treasured. Here is a collection, ever-growing, of such kinds of songs.

Book Digest I was looking over a recent copy of The Believer (the annual music issue) and was much pleased to see there was an article on singer/poet/songwriter Gil Scott-Heron, once of the long-ago Last Poets, who were known for their anthemic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”

About this time I also came across a new recording by Randy Newman, (Harps and Angels). The film music writer/singer started as a singer-songwriter (“You Can Leave Your Hat On,” “Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield”) before he turned to the family business (he is the son of film-score producer Alfred Newman) with Toy Story and other Pixar movies.

As a devotee of good stories, I am also devoted to songs like Newman’s: those that deliver a compelling narrative in a small time frame—as also, despite their commercial intention, some TV commercials are able to nail a complete story in under a minute. That’s valuable stuff in the new short-attention-span economy. And that new economy is why I am going to give you a list instead of attempting to wax eloquent on my favorites. Here are a few “story” songs that stand out in my hazy recollection of the last 30 years or so of recording. In no particular order:
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