In honor of National Tell a Story Day, I’ve made a list of ten great stories told in song, avoiding some of my favorites and some obvious choices. This is not a top-10 list; it is a good-10 list. I hope you find something you like here. Maybe you already know it, maybe it’s new. These songs prove you don’t need a lot of words to tell a great story — but a story of love gone wrong won’t hurt.
10. Queen Bitch, David Bowie
Jealousy, angst, illicit behavior, Bowie’s wailing perfectly representing a lover’s darkest hour. Definitely a top-five Bowie song for me.
9. Judy’s Turn to Cry, Lesley Gore
Recently, my husband asked, “Did you know there’s a sequel to ‘It’s My Party (I’ll Cry if I Want To)?'” It took me a minute to remember, but hell yeah! Johnny came back, right after punching a romantic rival for kissing the storyteller. Suck on that, Judy. Get your own man.
8. You Know I’m No Good, Amy Winehouse
Girl, we miss you. I was going to choose “Rehab” because this song starts our list off heavy with cheating, but Amy’s take on being the cheater is gritty and real. (I went down a rabbit hole with Amy today. “Tears Dry On Their Own” has gorgeous imagery but does not suit this list.)
7. He Stopped Loving Her Today, George Jones
Heartbreaking, beautiful. I heard it recently on the way home from driving my kids to school, after not hearing it for years. This story of unrequited love story ends in an unexpected way.
“He said ‘I’ll love you till I die,’ she told him ‘You’ll forget in time,’
As the years went slowly by, she still preyed upon his mind.”
6. Come A Little Bit Closer, Jay and the Americans
Hot damn, sometimes it’s hard to resist something when you know you should just walk away. Luckily, the storyteller gets out the window in time to avoid the vengeance of bad man José who until this very day while researching I thought was Madman José. My interpretation is a better lyric because it makes José seem like he has a gangster name. A scarier rival gives the narrative higher stakes. Fight me on it. They call me Ol’ Murderous Sarah.
5. Levon, Elton John
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this week announced their young baby would be named Louis, a fine name for a young prince, but I would have liked to hear, “He shall be Levon.” Levon has a sad ending, though, after such an exciting birth announcement. He must have spent too much time counting that money and not paying attention to his son, who leaves him while Levon slowly dies.
4. Out of Range, Ani DiFranco
Actually, you know what? Forget Johnny. No one needs a two-timing, hypocritical jerk. Ugh, but a hottie on a motorcycle is hard to quit. “You’ve been juggling two women like a stupid circus clown.” Ani, the mistress of angst we’re grateful to have outgrown, gets it right in this story about a woman struggling to end it with her lover while fantasizing about running away with her lover.
3. Love Is Blind, Eve
When you get your hands on the abusive, motorcycle-riding idiot your friend couldn’t quit.
2. Afterlife, Paul Simon
The storyteller has died and gone to the afterlife. What happens next? First, fill out a form.
1. Just a Friend, Biz Markie
The song that inspired the list. RIP, Biz Markie. There’s no one like you.