I’m a big fan of the narrative told in a song. Yes, you can argue (clever you) that every song tells a story. But what about those songs that are TRYING to tell a story? A very specific one with characters?
Yeah. Those songs slay me. And I’ve decided that you all need to know my favorites. Because I’m right.
“Lake Pontchartrain” by Ludo.
This song is creepy. And wonderful. And gets you pumped. And it was awesome when Ludo opened the St. Louis concert in August with this.
So. The story goes that the narrator and his two friends (Darius and Nolan) are going on a road trip. Just trying to get out of Missouri. No big deal. Only it ends at Lake Pontchartrain. Here’s a video with the lyrics. Enjoy it.
“That’s how it happened. Why would I lie? There were no bodies, I’ve got none to hide.”
“Bronx Sniper” by Mister Heavenly
This song is quite powerful. Nick Thorburn’s crooning voice sings of a sniper who’s gunning people down, while Ryan Kattner’s (Sidenote: I’m convinced I could be happy living in a cardboard box if Ryan would live in it with me) harsher tones sing of having no remorse while he’s gunning people down.
“I shot you down. You never had a chance in hell. I shot you down. And I felt no remorse ’cause this heart’s a stranger and you’ll love it ’cause it’s dangerous like, this heart’s a stranger and you’ll love it ’cause it’s dangerous like yours.”
“Transistor Radio” by Cloud Cult
I’ve mentioned this song before, but it’s worth mentioning again. This song is really great. It’s all about a little boy discovering that his grandfather, who had passed away years ago, was trying to contact him and let him know something important. The boy goes through a journey, eventually coming to the conclusion that his grandfather was trying to tell him that,
“Where I’ve been, where I am is the show.”
“O Valencia!” by The Decemberists
This song is Romeo and Juliet. It’s a song about forbidden love, and it’s done in such an upbeat way that you almost don’t notice the chick dying…except she does. It’s sad. And the music is really catchy. It’s weird in a way you’d expect from The Decemberists.
“Oh Valencia! With your blood still warm on the ground. Valencia! And I swear to the stars, I’ll burn this whole city down.”
“The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by the Decemberists
Okay. I know what you’re thinking. I’m just putting up Decemberists songs because they’re my favorite band. You’re halfway right. I’m really familiar with their discography. As in, I can tell you what was released when, what was going through Colin Meloy’s head when he wrote individual songs, and how good the song is live.
And “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” is just something that sticks with you. I’ve seen it live twice now and, wow. It’s kind of the bomb (assuming the bomb consists of the band members pretending to die midway through the song and Colin telling the audience exactly how loud he wants them to scream).
This song is about a boy who’s mother dies after being taken advantage of by a sailor. The boy vows revenge and, years later, he comes quite close to getting it.
If you don’t listen to any of the other songs, or read any of the other lyrics, do yourself a favor and listen to and/or read the words for this one. It’s that good.
Here’s the song with the lyrics.
“It gives my heart great joy to see your eyes fill with fear. So lean in close and I will whisper the last words you’ll hear.”
“The Gambler” by Fun.
I’ve mentioned this song before, because I happen to think it’s a wonderful romantic song. It’s about the life of a couple, after they meet when they’re 18. It goes through the phases of their relationship, ending with their children coming to visit them again (presumably when the couple is now old and adorable). When I started off writing this post, I didn’t think I wanted to include any mushy-type things at all. That being said, it seemed right to mention this one. It’s how everyone wants their love story to go (if they’re sane), so deal with my brief romantic moment.
Here’s the song with the lyrics.
“But like the night you took my hand beside the fire, thirty years ago to this day. You swore you’d be here ’til we decide that it’s our time, well it’s not time, you’ve never quit in all your life. So just take my hand, you know that I will never leave your side. You’re the love of my life, you know that I will never leave your side.”
“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” by Arcade Fire
This is arguably my favorite Arcade Fire song. I love it. It’s a story about a boy and a girl who are alone in the world due to what must have been one heck of a snow storm. Listen to it and tell me it doesn’t have some of the most beautiful melodies and imagery in it (hint: don’t actually tell me that. I’ll know you for a liar).
“Then, we tried to name our babies, but we forgot all the names that, the names we used to know. Sometimes we remember our bedrooms and our parent’s bedrooms and the bedrooms of our friends. Then we think of our parents. Well, whatever happened to them?”
“Jellybones” by The Unicorns
This song is hilarious. It’s about a patient being diagnosed with a very serious case of JELLYBONES. Unfortunately, the doctor can’t do anything for him.
“I woke him up and broke the news. After everything was sewn I said, ‘Son, you’ve got a full-blown case of what is known as Jellybones.'”
“The Hazards of Love” by The Decemberists
Of course, the songs mentioned earlier don’t include a couple of what I consider excellent concept works. The first is “The Hazards of Love” by The Decemberists.
This album is genius. The entirety of it (from the first song to the last) flows seamlessly into one another to tell a story about Margaret, her shape-shifting lover, and the trials they go through. It’s wonderful.
Here’s a playlist with every song in the album. And, word to the wise: Sometimes, you can shuffle the playlists I provide you and you will not be threatened with bodily harm. This time, however, I HIGHLY recommend you follow my advice and DO NOT SHUFFLE. You will do yourself a disservice, since you will undoubtedly not know what’s going on. The story is complex. Don’t underestimate it.
“The Hazards of Love, you’ll learn soon enough. The prettiest whistles won’t wrestle the thistles undone. Undone.”
“The Tain” by The Decemberists
I also recommend listening to “The Tain” by The Decemberists. It began in the same tradition that “Hazards” did, but I think the EP isn’t (purely because of time constraints) as well developed and epic as “Hazards.”
“Darling, dear, what have you done? Your hands and face are smeared with blood.”
“Broken Bride” by Ludo
Then we have what I would probably say is my favorite EP, the “Broken Bride” EP by Ludo. If you’ve seen/read “The Time Machine,” you know the general plot of the EP. Of course, that doesn’t begin to do it justice. It’s really an epic five songs, and won’t take you too much time to listen.
“I crashed before the birth of Christ, pterodactyls swarming. You died in 1989, wanna get back to that morning in May. Keep you in bed. Never escape. Holding you close. Listen to you breathe the evening’s glow of fading light and cooling space.”
Am I missing other concept albums that deserve a shout out? Probably. Tell me about it. Otherwise I’ll never know the error of my ways, and I’ll be insufferably arrogant forever. Do you really want THAT on your conscience?
*I disagree with some of the lyrics this site has up. I think the first line is “Later on in the epilogue, THEY FOUND HIM,” and that the last lines of the chorus are “This heart’s a stranger AND YOU’LL LOVE IT ’cause it’s dangerous like, this heart’s a stranger AND YOU’LL LOVE IT ’cause it’s dangerous like yours.”