One of the features of a great country music is one that narrates and tells us a story of a person going through life, as we call it. It is interesting how each artist shows this through the lyrics and the rhythm that they put into a certain song. Here are the Top 10 Country Songs that tell a story. Enjoy!
10. “Three Wooden Crosses,” Randy Travis(from 2002’s Rise & Shine)
A story of four different individuals composed by a farmer, a teacher, a hooker and a preacher taking a midnight bus bound for Mexico. The story unravels, a far more significant meaning, a hidden message is revealed. As the material world abridge for the spiritual world, this inspirational hymn may be the most visceral and revealing of the bunch.
9. “Red Headed Stranger,” Willie Nelson (from 1975’s Red Headed Stranger)
Nelson’s larger-than-life character was framed with a honky-tonk instrumentation and a pointed lead vocal. As a dusty tall-tale of a stranger who rides into town on a bay horse that leads to the murder of an unsuspecting woman. Deciphering it makes sense, she did try to steal his horse.
8. “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” Jeannie C. Riley
The fully developed characters live and breathe on their own, while also pointing to stereotypes in the American heartland. This little ditty has a stretch of mainstream influence, as you can certainly see in the work of Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves today. This was one of the defining polaroids of small-time life and societal hypocrisy.
7. “Midnight in Montgomery,” Alan Jackson (from 1991’s Don’t Rock the Jukebox)
The haunting guitar structure was one of Jackson’s finest and most iconic contributions to the greater storytelling cannon. While on his way to Mobile, Alabama for a New Year’s Eve show, the narrator takes a walk to a grave in Montgomery. There, he encounters Hank Williams’ troubled ghost, smelling “whiskey in the air.”
6. “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash (from 1969’s At San Quentin)
A coming-of-age story about a boy named, Sue, the song depicts a journey through the challenges of having a traditional female name. He professes to track down his deadbeat father who abandoned him when he was 3 years old. Sue travels from town to town. And as he gets older, he toughens up and learns how to cope. Eventually, he stumbled across his father in a tavern and a hefty fight ensued. His father revealed the heartfelt intentions in giving him a traditionally-female name strikes a chord with the titular character.
5. “Bobby,” Reba McEntire (from 1991’s For My Broken Heart)
Reba’s powerful portrayal of the story was complex and riveting. The story revolves around of one man’s guilt, allegedly, killing his wife and then going to prison for his crimes was utterly moving. With the typical three-verse structure, the truth soon reveals itself, and if you haven’t felt sadness, you have no heart.
4. “Fancy,” Bobbie Gentry (from 1970’s Fancy)
There was something absolutely magical about the rags-to-riches story (by any means necessary). Fancy was the antihero; she wears her flaws on her skin and ultimately, that’s why she comes out on top. Gentry’s original, though, was more resonating, earthy and soulful. We’ve all heard the story a million times over through the years, but it just never gets old. Well, she ain’t done bad, has she?
3. “Delia’s Gone,” Johnny Cash (from 1994’s American Recordings)
If you thought Underwood singing about a black Cadillac running over her lover was chilling, just wait until Cash strategically brings down a woman named Delia by tying her to a chair and then shooting her. This harrowing acoustic was one of Cash’s most cutting and gruesomely vivid tales. While Cash’s nuance is sinister and powerful, the simplicity of the production made it more terrifying.
2. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” Vicki Lawrence (from 1973’s The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia)
While her solo album was packed with must-hear songs on love and loss, it was this standout cut which has become one of country’s most alluring and darkest stories. Yes, the actress had a music career. What is even more perplexing is the sunny, light-hearted music video (below). It was later famously covered by Reba in 1991, with an appropriately sinister video.
1. “Ode to Billie Joe,” Bobbie Gentry (from 1967’s Ode to Billie Joe)
Gentry’s soft but focused phrasing unravels one of the most fascinating character studies on small town living. This is the gold standard when it comes to story songs. Given Gentry’s seclusion in Mississippi, we may never know what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge that third of June…
country songs, story
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