Robin, our guest conductor this month, asked for "songs that tell a story" for today. Naturally, I went wild and came up with a baker’s dozen, but I’m sure some of these will be repeats from other folks on this weekly musical journey, so I don’t feel too bad.
- Chicago, "Saturday In The Park" From 1972’s Chicago V. A little story about walking through the park and seeing all the different people hanging out there on the 4th of July. This went to #3 nationally and propelled the album to #1. It ranked at #43 for the year.
- Stories, "Brother Louie" A story of love that the parents don’t approve of. The song was written by Errol Brown and Tony Wilson of the British band Hot Chocolate, and covered by Stories, who took it to #1 on the Hot 100.
- Paper Lace, "The Night Chicago Died" The first time I heard this, I thought "the east side of Chicago is Lake Michigan!" There is a significant portion of Chicago that sits east of State Street, and the Port of Chicago sits there, so technically they’re right, but it’s never actually called the East Side. Anyway, it reached #1 on the Hot 100 for a week in 1974.
- Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, "Billy, Don’t Be A Hero" Paper Lace originally released this in the US in the early part of 1974, and it only got as #68 on the Hot 100. In April, Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods covered it, and took it to #1, and it finished at #21 for the year. A lot of people think this song is about the war in Vietnam, which was going on at the time, but the war is never specified, and it might actually be the Civil War.
- Bobbie Gentry, "Ode To Billy Joe" The quintessential story song. In fact, it was made into a movie a few years later. Bobbie tells this from the perspective of a family sitting down to dinner (which, in that part of the South, is eaten at noon) and talking about one of the local kids jumping off a bridge and killing himself. The relationship between the narrator and Billy Joe is never quite resolved…
- Harry Chapin, "Taxi" Harry Chapin was a master of songs that told stories, and this story of a taxi ride, where the driver and the passenger have an intimate history, was the first that most of us heard from him. The high voice that has a solo toward the end is provided by bassist "Big" John Wallace.
- Gordon Lightfoot, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" I never realized that this shipping disaster happened not long before the song came out. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was a huge freighter and a real workhorse that carried iron ore from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the steel works all along the shores of the Great Lakes. It ran into trouble during a violent storm in November 1975 and it sank, killing the crew of 29, whose bodies have never been recovered.
- Jim Croce, "You Don’t Mess Around With Jim" Jim Croce was a singer-songwriter from the 1970’s who wrote a lot of story songs. This was his first hit, which didn’t achieve the success of "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" but told a similar story. It only reached #8 on the Hot 100, but was a sign of things to come.
- Helen Reddy, "Angie Baby" This was a big hit for Helen Reddy, reaching #1 at the end of 1974. It tells the story of a mentally-disturbed girl named Angie who spends her entire life listening to the radio.
- Carpenters, "Superstar" Written by Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney & Bonnie), it’s the story of a young woman pining for the rock star with whom she had an affair and who’s probably forgotten her by now.
- June Christy, "Something Cool" Title track from her iconic 1953 album. A first- person account of a woman’s interactions at a bar.
- Fred Astaire, "One For My Baby" A song by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer from the 1943 movie The Sky’s The Limit. A conversation between a patron and a bartender at closing time.
- The Temptations, "Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone" The story of a mother telling the truth about her estranged husband to her son after the father’s death. Originally done by The Undisputed Truth ("Smiling Faces Sometimes"), producer Norman Whitfield (who wrote the song with Barrett Strong) expanded it to an 11-minute masterpiece when done by The Temptations.
This playlist should keep you busy for a while. That’s Monday’s Music Moves Me for February 17, 2020.