For this article a snapshot into different kind of songs. I will mainly focus on the story-kind-of-song which most of you may know from people like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
If we can define a song like a story which is set to music you can trace the originals of this kind of idea back to a lot of folksongs from the British Isles and the Americas.
No need to list a lot of folksongs from this kind as the list would be long and confusing. Let me try to sum it up like this: There was Woody Guthrie with his guitar and voice and stories for the folks around him. The stories were for his audience, his children and family. His summed up what was going on around him, what was wrong at the time and what needed to be done about it. Simply really, or is it……..?
Then Dylan came along, gave it a different slant and he modified the songs for the change of the times, he even surrounded those stories in an electric setting, but that is another story really. What is useful to remember this modification for the song to the change of the times. Songs do not really change, stories are stories, some get dirtier, some get shorter but at the end of the day they remain a tale of what goes on today.
From Dylan to Springsteen is only a short walk around the corner. Bruce has recorded so many songs, played them on his own, with a band and………..modified them again and again. There are the love stories, there are the stories about growing up and stories, well you may not even know what they are about but the chorus keeps banging you on your head and the music lifts to words to a new height.
From this piont I can introduce you to some Springsteen songs. Why Springsteen you may wonder? Because his songs seem to fit the Story Song so well, most of them are long, there is a lot of variety in them, some of them do have a neat, hit-like sound while others remain more earthy and folky. Need to say more……………..
Okay now have a listen to this song, it is from his first album, this version is him playing song on his own:
Listen to how he introduces the song. Ain’t this typical “Man and guitar introducing song to his audience”?
The song itself does have a Dylan like sound at some point.
Here the album version, very 70s sound including the uplifting piano parts in intro and middle of the song.
The content of the previous song may have been obvious let us now have a look at this story here:
Maybe this is more what I ment with “Story Song” It is short snapshot in time about a woman, a man and where he is at the time, what he does and how he feels about what goes on around him. Simple idea but there are a lot of words to listen to, a lot of images pass you by, but the roaring chorus of “Thunder Road” brings it all together. You may need to keep listening to the lyrics to hear what is going on next, but then there is again the chorus, the music and that sound and who cares what this thing is really about as it sounds good. Could you turn something like this into a single? Something with a stronger hook and more commercial sound to caputure the ears or an even larger audience? Have a listen to this one here:
Strong intro, including vibrato sound on low strings of the guitar—very 1960s ingredient, but who cares, it still sounded good in the 1970s—-
When Bruce starts singing you know this is not going to be 2.5 minute pop song with repeating lyrics in the verse, but the delivery of the vocal, almost pop (and soul) like with a lift in the melody and that stop and then the Oooogh shortly after that, all this in the very first 40 seconds of the song: Classic pop ingredient: Grap the listening by the throad and beg him/her to listen to what you have to say here. It is all there, but the content of the words and the kind of words? Still very folky but it works amazingly well here to give you the sound of an earopening, gritty song with sure popqualities including saxsolo in middle of the song, a strong chorus line with repeating intro, a modulating bridge which actually does not sound that cliche at all, even for today’s standards.
As with so many of Bruce’s songs you can hear he loves preforming and playing, listen to the extended end, he just loves to play and sing.
Not every story song needs to be a rambling vehicle full of roadcrashes with cries full of anger, some of then can also be tight, neat, sweet and punchy.
Enjoy and hope to catch you again soon,