Song Mix Sundays #4: Storytelling

February 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

As a writer, I’m a sucker for songs that tell a good story. From vibrant characters to imaginative narratives, I love it when lyrics engage my literary senses. Here are 10 songs from my library that tell stories about people, times, and relationships that inspire my writing soul.

1. Crystal Vases – The Last Royals, The Last Royals EP (2010) “The crystal vase, a wedding gift / That through the years has made the shift / What once held flowers now holds ash / From my two packs a day” Start with a dynamic cast of characters (the socialite ex-wife, the narrator soothing his heartbreak with a new 2-pack-a-day habit, and his only friend, the maid), and hinge the relationships on a crystal vase that symbolizes the breakdown of a love affair. Shake well with ice and garnish with some feel-good hand claps. Serve straight up with a side of catchy chorus and brilliantly woven lyrics. [download]

2. Baby Britain – Elliott Smith, XO (1998) “Baby Britain feels the best / Floating over a sea of vodka / Separated from the rest / Fights problems with bigger problems…” I’ve been on a huge Elliott Smith kick lately, and it’s upbeat songs like this about tragic characters that make me admire his songwriting. [download]

3. Sukie in the Graveyard – Belle and Sebastian, The Life Pursuit (2006) “She had an A-1 body and a face to match / She didn’t have money, she didn’t have cash / …She had the grace of an eel, sleek and sharp / As the shadows played tricks on the girl in the dark // Sukie was the kid and she liked to hang out in the graveyard…” Sukie is the kid I wanted to be in high school. And college. And now. Every bit as effortlessly cool and confident as Belle & Sebastian’s songwriting suggests. [download]

4. Falling of the Rain – Billy Joel, Cold Spring Harbor (1971) “In the forest green lived a girl who put her hair in braids / And she sang as she walked all about the wooded glades / She was glad when the rain came falling on her face / And she sang cause she didn’t mind the falling of the rain” I’m probably compromising some kind of indie cred by including Billy Joel in a mix. But this whole song sounds like a fairytale, right down to the “once upon a time.” [download]

5. Romulus – Sufjan Stevens, Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State (2003) “Once when we moved away / She came to Romulus for a day / Her Chevrolet broke down / We prayed it’d never be fixed or be found…” Vignettes of a broken family framed in first-person perspective and achingly, honestly beautiful. [download]

6. Taxi Ride – Tori Amos, Scarlet’s Walk (2002) “Lily is dancing on the table / We’ve all been pushed too far / I guess on days like this / You know who your friends are…” I can’t think of a song that better captures the mood of the morning after the worst day of your life shared with friends. Worn-out, frustrated, not mincing words. This track is from a concept album which involves Tori’s alter-ego Scarlet documenting her cross-country trip through the US. She stops in Chicago where a gay friend of hers has just died, and some people are less than sympathetic. I especially love the biting poetic twists on cigarette terms: “Just another light missing…” [download]

7. The Ascent of Stan – Ben Folds, Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001) “Once you wanted revolution / Now you’re the institution / How’s it feel to be the man?” Ben Folds creates some of the most striking characters in his songs, including Stan and his story of sacrificing conviction and passion for a bigger paycheck. Where’d the years go? [download]

8. Summer Skin – Death Cab for Cutie, Plans (2005) “Squeaking swings and tall grass/ The longest shadows ever cast / The water is warm and children swim / And we frolicked about in our summer skin” Shedding a relationship like shedding a freckled summer skin. The sensory images draw me in the most. [download]

9. Jane’s Dmitri – Rachael Sage, Ballads and Burlesque (2004) “The moment that she realized / She’d already had the love of her life / It was fifty years and five minutes too late…” A school girl on a class trip finds love in Russia and ultimately loses it. Fifty years later, he finds her again too late; she’s already moved past it. And Rachael Sage constructs some of the most striking similes I’ve ever heard. [download]

10. Smoke – Ben Folds, Ben Folds and WASO Live in Perth (2005) “Leaf by leaf and page by page / Throw this book away / All the sadness all the rage / Throw this book away / Rip out the binding and tear the glue / All of the grief we never even knew we had it all along / Now it’s smoke” Another song that’s all about the imagery and parallels, comparing the end of a relationship to a book that you just want to rip up and burn. This version was recorded at a concert Ben Folds performed in Perth, Australia with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and is on my list of The 10 Most Gorgeous Songs Ever (to be posted in coming weeks. Probably). [download]

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