Some of the best songs don’t just have a good beat, but also covey a deeper story to the listener that’s unforgettable. Songs that tell a story are popular because the story can be about anything: It can be as dramatic as death to as lighthearted as being in love.
The following 21 songs all tell stories in a wide variety of genres:
1. “Devil Went Down To Georgia” – The Charlie Daniels Band
This song is one of the first that comes to mind when you think about songs that tell a story. Although The Charlie Daniels Band was popular before this song came out, this song help put them on the map, so to speak.
If you’ve never heard this song before, the story is about the devil, who is in a bind because he’s running short on souls. With nowhere else to turn, he comes to Georgia where he meets a boy, named Johnny, playing a fiddle. Confident in the devil’s own musical skill, he decides to bet Johnny a fiddle of gold against his soul if Johnny can out play the devil.
2. “Third Rock From The Sun” – Joe Diffie
“Third Rock From The Sun” was released on July 4th, 1994. The song was written by John Greenebaum, Sterling Whipple, and Tony Martin while it’s preformed by the artist Joe Diffie.
This song is unique in that it was written about one lie that the police chief makes and how that can snowball out of control.
Rather than going home to his wife, he lies and tells her he’s working late while he’s really at a bar flirting with another woman. As the lie starts to get bigger, a car is stolen by teenage boys who crash it, causing the whole city to lose power. As panic erupts in the street, unable to find the chief, the police are forced to call the mayor for help. The mayor then matter-of-factly states that if they can’t find the police chief, he’s “hiding from his wife down in Smokey’s Bar.”
3. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” – Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot wrote, composed, and preformed “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, a song about the November 24, 1975 sinking of the boat with the same name. The boat was traveling home from Wisconsin with ore when the northern wind started to pick up, causing waves to start breaking over the deck of the boat.
Gordon Lightfoot has gone on record saying the song was the best of his career.
Next read: Best songs about home
4. “Love Song” – Taylor Swift
The story starts with two young teenagers meeting at a dinner party. The gentleman introduces himself to the young lady, a princess, and the two are soon sneaking out to see each other behind their parent’s backs. The story has a very Romeo and Juliet vibe to it, with Taylor Swift singing, “Romeo save me, they’re trying to tell me how to feel… this love is difficult, but it’s real.”
Just when it seems like all hope is lost for these two, Romeo sneaks out one more time, this time so he can propose. Taylor Swift, of course, says yes.
5. “Cassie” – Flyleaf
This song is a real story about Cassie Bernall. She was a Columbine High School student during the tragedy on April 20, 1999. She was asked if she believed in God, and being born a Christian, she answered yes. She was a victim with a single shot to the head.
6. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” – Cage The Elephant
This song tells three different stories in one. In the first, a man is approached by a women who promises him a good time if he pays the right price. In the second, the same man is captured by a guy with a gun who tries to rob him. Finally, the day comes to an end and the man sees on the news that a preacher has stolen money from the church.
Each time these events happen, the man asks why you would put yourself through those things. Each time the person replies, “There ain’t no rest for the wicked, money don’t grow on trees…”
Next: Top songs about money
7. “Teenage Dirtbag” – Wheetus
This song is about a guy who is in love with a girl, Noel, who doesn’t know he exists. He often dreams about going out with her and listening to Iron Maiden with her. He feels like he doesn’t have a chance with her, because “I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby.” This is an ultimate song about unrequited love, for sure.
The surprise comes at the end of the song when, Noel, surprises the protagonist with tickets to an Iron Maiden concert. She asks him to come, because she’s just a teenage dirtbag too.
8. “Goodbye Earl” – The Dixie Chicks
This song tells the story of two best friends, Mary Anne and Wanda. After they graduated highschool, Mary Anne moved to Georgia while Wanda married an abusive man named Earl.
It wasn’t two weeks after they got married that Wanda started getting beat. Wanda finally filed for divorce, letting the police handle the matter from there. Unfortunately this didn’t stop Earl, and he beat her up so bad she ended up in intensive care.
Mary Anne flew in from Atlanta and held Wanda’s hand as they figured out a way to get rid of Earl. Finally they settled on a plan… Earl had to die.
9. “Ol’ Red” – Blake Shelton
The protagonist in this song was sentenced to 99 years after catching his wife with another man. After spending years in jail, he finally makes the warren his friend, who allows him to take care of the jail dog, Ol’ Red.
Ol’ Red is a basset hound that is trained to hunt any prisoner that escapes. In fact, at the time, Ol’ Red had captured everyone who has tried to escape. The protagonist comes up with a plan to change that.
He gets a friend on the outside to buy a female basset hound, then he lets Ol’d Red out. The two dogs become friend, and he waits until Ol’d Red goes in heat. Then, the only thing left to do is escape.
10. “Cats in the Cradle” – Harry Chapin
“Cat’s in the Cradle” is a 1974 folk song written by Harry Chapin off of the album Verities & Balderdash. The song topped the US Billboard, making it an instant one-hit-wonder.
The song tells about a father and son and their relationship, or lack thereof. The father in the song is always working as the boy grows, and because of this, they don’t get to spend much time together. Still, the son always smiles and tells his father he’s going to be just like him one day. This is definitely one of the top songs about family of all time.
Years go by, the father finally has the time to catch up with his son, only to discover his son is too busy for him now. True to his word, the little boy grew up just like his father.
11. “Escape” (The Piña Colada Song) – Rupert Holmes
Escape, more commonly called “The Piña Colada Song“, tells the story of a married man reading the newspaper in bed while his wife sleeps. He starts flipping through the personal ads, and happens to discover one that catches his eye. He admits to himself that he’s not happy in his marriage, so without even thinking about his wife, he writes into the paper and sets a date to meet the mystery woman.
The day comes, and the man immediately recognizes the woman as soon as she walks in the door. It’s his own wife! The two find out that, even though married, there was a lot they didn’t know about each other. For starters, they both like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.
Next: Great songs about sleep
12. “Something More” – Sugarland
“Something More” is every workers’ dream song. It describes the struggling life of waking up to go to a dead-end job, running late, and getting in trouble with the boss. Jennifer Nettles (lead vocal singer) gives her two weeks, telling her boss that there’s more important things to do before she dies.
The chorus reflects this, saying, “There’s gotta be something more. Gotta be more than this. I need a little less hard time, I need a little more bliss.”
13. “The Princess Who Saved Herself” – Jonathan Coulton
Jonathan Coulton, often called “JoCo” by fans, is a comedy singer and songwriter who quit his desk job to pursue his passion for music. He’s most known for his “Things a Week” challenge, where he challenged himself creatively to write, produce, and publish one song every week for a year.
One of the songs Jonathan Coulton released is “The Princess Who Saved Herself.” The song tells of a princess that lives alone in a tall tower, and she likes it pretty well. When a dragon comes to terrorize the princess, she catches him and ties him to a tree until he apologizes for being mean. Later, an evil witch comes to give the princess a poison apple, but the two decide instead to go on a shopping spree. When a prince does finally show up to save the princess, she hangs up on him, not needing the help.
14. “Mr. Mom” – Lonestar
“Mr. Mom” tells the story of what it’s like to be a stay-at-home parent. When the father loses his job, his wife offers to return to work while he stays at home. Him, of course thinking that staying home with the kids will be easy, happily accepts. He’s expecting getting to watch tv all day and take naps. Boy, is he in for a surprise.
Day one of being Mr. Mom doesn’t go quite as smoothly as the father envisioned. He describes trying to make dinner, burning dessert, and even finding bubblegum in the baby’s hair.
The song ends with the father saying that, if the dog didn’t eat the classified, he’s going to look one more time for another job.
15. “We Didn’t Start The Fire” – Billy Joel
This song is like a mini history lesson all in 4 minutes. Written by Billy Joel, he took the time period of his life, from 1949 to 1989, to record nearly all the historic events that had taken place in his life.
Starting in 1940, Billy Joel talks about Harry Truman becoming president, the communist party, Red China, winning the Chinese Civil War, South Pacific opening on Broadway, and Joe DiMaggio signing a $100,000 contract with the New York Yankees.
In the 1950s, the H-bomb is mentioned, as well as The Catcher in the Rye, The King and I, and a Vaccine for polio successfully being developed. The song continues to list important historic events, such as Joseph Stalin’s death and Albert Einstein dying at 76.
The song also mentions more lighthearted things as well, such as Peter Pan being featured by Disney, and Disneyland itself opening their first theme park in 1955.
Next: Best Disney songs through the years
16. “Jesus Take The Wheel” – Carrie Underwood
It’s hard to keep your faith all the time, and that’s exactly what this song is about. During a long road trip to Cincinnati, the protagonist wasn’t paying attention while driving up the winding mountain road. When she hits a sheet of black ice, she throws her hands up in the air, praying for Jesus to take the wheel.
The car finally comes to a stop, and she starts crying, realizing that she needs to focus more on her faith and less on the other issues around her.
17. “Papa Don’t Preach” – Madonna
This song came out in 1986 and was written by Brian Elliot. The idea for it came from some gossip Brian heard from some teenagers outside his recording studio. The song deals with teenage pregnancy, was an instant hit, and became Madonna’s fourth single to be on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the song, Madonna knows that her father is going to be upset. She’s been seeing this boy who doesn’t treat her well, and the father disapproves. Despite this, the character becomes pregnant, and after much debate, decides to keep the baby. The song ends with Madonna begging her father not to judge them, but to give them the love and support they need.
18. “Thriller” – Michael Jackson
It would be impossible to talk about songs that tell a story without mentioning “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. When this song first came out, the music video was like a short film. In fact, it was the most expensive video to date at the time, costing nearly half a million dollars.
In the song, Michael is taking his girlfriend out when their car runs out of gas, forcing the pair to walk. Walking alone in the dark, Michael tells his girlfriend that he’s not like other guys… he’s different. As the full moon finally breaks through the clouds, you see Michael Jackson, along with several others, begin to turn into monsters of the night. Soon zombies, werewolves, and other ghouls and creatures are surrounding Michael’s date.
19. “Fancy” – Reba McEntire
“Fancy” was written and reordered by Bobbie Gentry in 1969. In 1990, it was covered by Reba McEntire on her album “Rumor Has It”. Reba McEntire’s version surpassed the 1969 version on the Top Ten Billboard Hot Hits in 1991.
The song takes place on Fancy’s 18th birthday. She lives in a run down one bedroom shack with her mother and baby. Fancy describes her living situation as desperate. As her mother states in the song, “Your pa’s ran off, I’m real sick, and the baby’s going to starve to death.”
For her birthday, Fancy’s mother spends every last penny she has on a red satin dancing dress. She applies makeup and perfume to Fancy, and gives her a locket that says “To thine own self be true”, then explains to her, “if you want out, it’s up to you.”
Fancy’s luck starts to turn around when her mom kicks her out. She realizes what she has to do, and makes a vow to be a lady, no matter when or how.
20. “7 Years” – Lukas Graham
This international hit came out in 2015 and is still regularly played on the radio. The song discusses what it’s like growing up from ages 7 to 60.
Lukas Graham writes about his mother telling him to “Go make some friends, or you’ll be lonely”, than later his father saying “Go find yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely.”
As Lukas Graham learns more about relationships, he realizes that only those he really love will ever really know him. He also discusses what his future life may be, having kids in his 30 and hopefully having many grandchildren to keep him young once he’s in his 60s.
21. “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven” – Stevie Wariner
Written by Stevie Wariner in April 1998, this song peaked at number 2 on the Billboards both in America and Canada. The story is told through first-person, first as the protagonist recalls the death of his grandmother as a child, then later as he recalls the death of his wife.
The chorus describes the rain that pours down after each death as the tears of the angels who passed away. The protagonist tells his daughter not to be sad, there are holes in the floor of heaven, and her mom is watching over the family now.