Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Value of Story Songs

I love a good story.

I mean, I wouldn't be an author if I didn't, right?

But I also love music. And while I like love songs and instrumentals as much as the next person, I find something special in a good story song.

If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, the contrast is pretty obvious if you look at the progression of a non-story song versus one with a story woven into its lyrics.

Take, for instance, the old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers dance number, The Continental:

Beautiful music, dangerous rhythm
It's something daring, the continental
A way of dancing, that's really ultra-new
It's very subtle, the continental
Because it does what you want it to do

It has a passion, the continental
An invitation to moonlight and romance
It's quite the fashion, the continental
Because you tell of your love while you dance

Your lips whisper so tenderly
Her eyes answer your song
Two bodies swing, the continental
And you are saying just what you're thinking of
So keep on dancing, the continental
For it's the song of romance and of love

You kiss while you're dancing
It's continental, it's continental
You sing while you're dancing
Your voice is gentle and sentimental

You'll know before the dance is through
That you're in love with her and she's in love with you
And you'll find while you're dancing
That there's a rhythm in your heart and soul
A certain rhythm that you can't control
And you will do the continental all the time

Beautiful music, dangerous rhythm
Beautiful music, dangerous rhythm
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/fred-astaire/the-continental-lyrics/#lbOm7ZETP6uwh887.99

Then, you have Slim Jim and the Seven Eleven Girl by one of my favorite Celtic artists, Gaelic Storm:
He saw her every day she was working at the 7-Eleven,
He would buy two hot dogs or some nachos or a Slim Jim
so that he could see her pretty face then he
got up the nerve to ask her out one day
and she replied flat out, "no chance, no way"
but in my mind this is what he heard her say

Will you meet me on the corner
I'll be wearing something pretty just for you
you can hold my hand, kiss my cheek; we'll be together forever
you may be the very best thing that ever happened to me

Well she must have forgotten or dog got sick or something like that
'cause he waited on that corner, hour after hour
then he went back to his flat by himself and watched TV
but the very next day he tried again, and she replied
"not if every other man on this earth were dead" but I swear
this is what he thought she said

Will you meet me on the corner
I'll be wearing something pretty just for you
you can hold my hand, kiss my cheek: we'll be together forever
you may be the very best thing that ever happened to me

Well, he could not help himself, so he begged her just to listen
to what he had to say, he said that beauty is only skin deep
it's what's inside that counts, she said "alright" so he told her
all about how he likes to take long walks in the park, sunsets,
riding motorcycles, watching foreign movies, reading books about
lands that are far far away, and how one day he's gonna travel round the world
singing songs about people and places and finally
she said the words that he heard in his head, she said "Okay, shut up!

I will you meet you on the corner
I'll be wearing something pretty just for you
you can hold my hand, kiss my cheek; we'll be together forever
you may be the very best thing that ever happened to me"
Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/gaelic-storm/slim-jim-and-the-seven-eleven-girl-lyrics/#THaXH6SkpsOXzfK3.99
The contrast is clear. In The Continental, they're singing about a dance. There's really not a rise and fall to a story, although the singer describes the feelings as they are dancing.

In Slim Jim, it's a clear progression: Boy meets girl, asks girl out, girl finds boy disgusting, but he doesn't let that stop him. He convinces her to go out with him, and she finally relents, and you end with the hope of a promising future between Slim Jim and his Seven Eleven girl. If you follow K.M. Weiland's story arc series over on her blog, this kind of song follows a clear progression in a story arc. It may not hit the same timing points as in a novel, but in under four minutes, you have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Country music as well as Celtic artists seem to be especially adept at weaving stories into their songs, but they're not the only ones.

Here are some additional examples of story songs:

 Mack the Knife -- Bobby Darin (this may seem like an odd example, but read into the words. There's definitely a story here.)
Human to a God -- Gaelic Storm (a sad story song)
El Paso -- Marty Robins

Tell me, what are some of your favorite story songs? Do find story songs more engaging than other types of songs? What's something you've learned about writing from story songs?
Copyright notice: Slim Jim and the Seven Eleven Girl is copyright 2008 from Gaelic Storm's "What's The Rumpus?" album. The author of this post uses the lyrics for illustration purposes only. 
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