Twisted mix tape this week highlights a subject I looked forward to--story songs. As a young woman trying to write poetry I found myself incapable writing a narrative poem. (I still am not good at it,) Meanwhile the radio waves of the 70's were filled with songwriters who were producing marvelous narrative ballads. These are some of my very favorite songs.
Flowers Are Red by Harry Chapin
The whole list could be Harry Chapin of course, no one was so prolific in the writing of story songs. I thought about Cats in the Cradle, and Taxi, but then I decided on this less well known cautionary tale. Harry once said it was inspired by a employee whose son brought a note home from school saying "Your son marches to the beat of a different drum, but we'll have him in step with everyone else in no time."
City of New Orleans--Arlo Guthrie
When my kids were little we travelled by train a lot. (Then Amtrak rerouted the trains, just like in the song, and they didn't come through our town anymore, and we started taking the Greyhound instead). When they were still small and didn't know I couldn't sing and were just happy I knew the words, I used to sing this song to them. I love how the rhythm perfectly matches the feel of a moving train. I chose this version for two reasons, because Arlo tells a great story about meeting the author, Steve Goodman in a bar and hearing the song for the first time, and because the guy over in the corner on banjo is my hero, Pete Seeger.
Leader of the Band--Dan Fogelberg
When I was in college and first started seriously acquiring recorded music, one of my favorite albums was Dan Fogelberg's The Innocent Age. It was loaded with great songs including the title tune, In The Passage, Run For The Roses, Same Old Lang Syne and this lovely song, which Fogelberg wrote for his musician father. Dan's gone now too, which makes the song both sadder and lovelier.
Last week I was lucky enough to get to write about the late Jim Croce for Raised on the Radio and spent a lot of time listening to his music. He was another person who wrote great story songs, both funny and sad. I actually considered lightening the mood around the blog with Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown or You Don't Mess Around With Jim, but in the end I had to go with this perfect little story is about a man's conversation with a phone operator who is trying to put him through to his ex girl, who has left him for his best friend. The last lines give me chills every time I hear the song, even after 40 years.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald--Gordon Lightfoot
Once upon a time, ballads were how everyone got the news. Minstrels wrote songs about what was going on and then went from village to village and sang them to people. I was a sophomore in high school in Northeast Ohio in the fall of 1975, and Cleveland was the winter destination the ship Edmund Fitzgerald never arrived at. The story of the ship was big news for weeks. When the recording was released in the summer of 1976, I was fascinated to hear an event that I had watched on the news and read about in the paper become a song, and an epic ballad at that. I bought the 45 and played it over and over.
One of the things I love about this song is how Mr Lightfoot has embraced its success, performing it at many times at memorial services and other events and changing the lyrics in performance in deference to families' feelings and new information about the shipwreck. I also love the way he captures the Great Lakes.
This post is part of Twisted Mix Tape, hosted by Jen Kehl at My Skewed View To see what other bloggers picked for their favorite story songs click here.