If you’re anything like us, your most-cherished songs are likely ones that tellincredible stories.
It’s certainly no secret that the greatest songwriters of all time owe their success largely to their ability to tell fantastic stories through their songs. Great storytelling is what turns a song from a nice-sounding tune into a wholly-relatable and thought-provoking experience.
In this article, our awesome team of musos have compiled 70+ amazing songs that tell a story, along with jam-packed insights into the actual stories behind each song.
Let’s get started!
70+ Amazing Songs That Tell A Story
1. So Long, Marianne (Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen’s song “So Long, Marianne” referred to his long-time lover Marianne Christine Stang Ihlen, who shared a passionate romance with Cohen on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.
Starting as an affair, she left her husband for Leonard, who opted for fame and left her and her child behind to pursue “an education in the world.”
He regretted this decision until his dying day, which was a short time after Marianne’s death. Both on their deathbeds, one of the last words she heard was Leonard calling her to tell her that he had always loved her and that they would meet again.
2. Jolene (Dolly Parton)
Jolene tells a tale of a woman begging her husband’s potential mistress not to take her man. Dolly claims that the song was inspired by a redheaded bank clerk who flirted with Dolly’s husband when they werefirst married.
She later claimed the description of Jolene’s auburn hair and emerald eyes was based on a fan who once went on stage to ask for an autograph.
3. These Boots Are Made for Walking (Nancy Sinatra)
This song is about a scorned woman’s fury at her two-timing spouse, who she plans to leave.
Funnily enough, the song was written by a man,Lee Hazlewood,who was planning to sing himself about a cheating woman! Nancy convinced him it would be a better song for a girl and less ominously abusive sounding.
4. You’re So Vain (Carol King)
Carol King’s iconic song tells of a younger woman being seduced by a rich, jet-setting womanizer who he then jilted.
King finally confessed that the song was about her affair with Warren Beatty long after the world had already suspected that since the 70s. She did make a caveat: it was only Beatty in the second verse.
5. Horror Business (The Misfits)
This song is a ratherdark reference to the unsolved murder of Nancy Spungen – who was alleged to have been murdered by Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) at their apartment in Chelsea Hotel New York.
Spungen died from a single deep stab wound to her abdomen; the song is rumored to be written from the perspective of Vicious, warning Spungen “not to go into the bathroom with [him]” or he’ll “put a knife right through [her].”
6. Someone Like You (Adele)
This track was played so much when it hit the charts that you could barely escape it. The song recounts the awful experience of the heartbreak of seeing someone you love move on with their lives while for you, “it isn’t over.”
Adele later opened up about her ex Alex Sturrock, which many believe was the inspiration for the song (though Adele has never confirmed this openly).
7. I Don’t Like Mondays (Boomtown Rats)
This famous tune tells the tale of a young girl who experiences a breakdown and goes to school to teach the children “how to die” because she wants to “shoot the whole day down.”
The song was inspired by the actual events of the Cleveland Elementary shooting.
8. All of Me (John Legend)
This swoon-worthy love song has become a wedding day staple, as it recounts the love of a man for his lady love.
The song was written for his beautiful wife Chrissy Teigen, who said she knew the song was about her in the first line when John refers to her “smart mouth.”
9. Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac)
Lindsey Buckingham – the lead guitarist for Fleetwood Mac – wrote this track about his breakup with Stevie Nicks, which devastated him.
Stevie recounts that Lindsey telling the world that “packing up, shacking up was all [she] wanted to do” used to make her furious when they performed the track.
10. Wrecking Ball (Miley Cyrus)
Miley took the charts by storm with this particular track.
The song recounts the fallout of a passionate relationship, with violent metaphors of a wrecking ball to represent the action of love. Cyrus wrote the song up with Chris Helmsworth, who she later reunited with, married, and then divorced.
11. One (Metallica)
Metallica hit the ball out of the park with this fist-pumping song of despair and isolation.
The lyrics tell of a man imprisoned in his own body after a landmine took all of his limbs. The song pays homage to the young men left brutally disfigured by the events of World War 1.
12. Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen)
“Famous Blue Raincoat” tells of a husband’s complicated emotions after his close friend had an affair with his wife.
Given his womanizing reputation, some believe Leonard was actually referring to himself as the adulterer and seeing himself through his friend’s eyes. However, Leonard himself never clarified the real story behind the song.
13. Lady in Red (Chris de Burgh)
Another first choice for a wedding day, de Burgh recounts the feelings of a man looking at his partner and marveling at her beauty as they prepare to go out to a party.
Chris says that the song is about the first time he ever saw his wife, Diane.
14. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
In one of the most famous prison songs of all time, Cash sings of being in prison and hearing the sounds of a train passing him by to freedom he will never find.
However, it sounds like prison is the right place for him as he confesses in the song to killing “a man in Reno, just to watch him die.”
15. Layla (Eric Clapton)
Old Slow Hands made this unforgettable classic where a man begs a lady to accept his love.
Clapton based the song on a 7th-century Arabian love story, which later became a famous poem called theStory of Layla and Majnun during the 12th Century. The story tells of a young man that fell so deeply in love with a beautiful woman that he went mad and subsequently could not marry her.
16. Father and Son (Cat Stevens)
This famous song involves a conversation between a father and son exploring the nature of human relationships.
The father cautions the son to follow the conservative path of settling down, getting a job, and marrying, while the son wants to break free and find his own way.
17. You Can’t Take That Away from Me (Billie Holiday)
Holiday sang this song, written by Ira and George Gershwin, about the enduring memories of love.
The song lists all the quirks and foibles of a lost lover, who sounds like a bad boy by the references to how he held his knife!
18. Creep (Radiohead)
Singer and guitarist John Greenwood of Radiohead wrote this song while at Exeter College. The self-denigrating song laments the singer’s unworthiness for his lady love, making the singer feel that he is a creep who is beneath her.
Greenwood said that the song recounted a woman he used to follow around (creepy, right?) who unexpectedly came to one of his performances.
19. Take me to Church (Hozier)
This breakout hit recounts a man’s love for his woman as a religious act, fraught with sexual undertones and passionate surrender.
Hozier wrote the song in his parents’ attic in County Wicklow, channelling his pain after a particularly bad breakup.
20. Roxanne (The Police)
In this Police hit, the singer tells of a man in love with a prostitute and begs her not to “sell her body to the night”.
Sting says the song was inspired by the prostitutes he watched around his seedy hotel in France when he played there in 1977.
21. Because of You (Kelly Clarkson)
Kelly Clarkson wrote this emotional track that tells of the complex relationship of a person who has suffered an experience that leaves them scarred for life.
The song tells of the emotional havoc of being too young to cope with their parents’ life compilations and then following in their footsteps.
Kelly said the song expresses the trauma of her parents’ divorce and the deteriorating relationship withher father.
22. Welcome To The Black Parade (My Chemical Romance)
This title track of the album of the same name blew me away when it first came out. Traces of Pink Floyd and Queen permeate the album.
Gerard Way, the singer, wrote the track to reflect his notion of death appearing to a person through a treasured childhood memory. In this case, a child accompanying his father to see a marching band.
23. The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel)
“The Boxer” recounts a classic folksy narrative of a man who laments his attempts to overcome poverty and loneliness in New York City.
The song then turns into a third-person description of a boxer, who perseveres despite being beaten down, as a metaphor for the man’s struggle in the cold and unfeeling city.
24. Cry Me A River (Justin Timberlake)
This song is an anthem for scorned lovers and tells of a man whose woman cheats on him and begs him back.
In this ultimate revenge fantasy, the singer rejects her attempts to reconcile and tells her to “cry me a river…” Timberlake admitted later that he wrote the song about his breakup with Britney Spears.
25. Stan (Eminem)
This dark offering tells the story of a psychotic fan Stan, whose letters become increasingly deranged as his obsession grows. The song grows increasingly dark, ending up with the fan admitting his pregnant wife is trapped in his car trunk.
The song ends with Eminem writing to Stan, telling him not to take his lyrics literally and to seek help. He mentions a news article about a man driving off the road into a river, killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend.
26. Shine on you Crazy Diamond (Pink Floyd)
Pink Floyd is one of the greatest bands ever to live, and their legacy has influenced generations of music. This track is moody and atmospheric, referring to a person who was once brilliant and “shone like the sun”, and became changed through his life to a darker one through his childhood and the pitfalls of stardom.
The band wrote the song for their fellow band member Syd Barrett. The band had to ask Barrett to leave the band with great regret due to his deteriorating mental health anddrug addiction.
27. Hypnotize (System of a Down)
System of Down ramps up their highly evocative and politicized music with the track “Hypnotize”. The song tells the story of a man sitting in his car waiting for his girlfriend and musing on the atrocious events of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
In this terrible massacre, the Chinese government opened fire on students with assault rifles and tanks.
28. Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
Croce wrote this beautiful song only a year before his tragic death in an airplane crash. The long laments that there never seems to be enough time to be with the one you love.
He wrote the song for his wife Ingrid when he first heard that she was pregnant. This sentiment was ironic because he died not even a year later.
29. Dear John (Taylor Swift)
An anthem to jilted young ladies everywhere, Taylor recounts being poorly used by her lover, who played games with her innocence. The tone ends with a hopeful note that she has emerged stronger and brighter from her careless lover.
It turns out it was written about her ex-lover and lady’s man John Mayer. Needless to say, he was not impressed and claimed it was “untrue.”
30. Who Wants to Live Forever? (Queen)
This song is yet another power ballad delivered from the incomparable voice of Freddie Mercury. The song tells of star-crossed lovers who are separated by time and fate, finding eternity in one sweet moment.
Brain May wrote the song as the soundtrack for the movie Highlander, but the song’s fame outshone the film entirely.
31. Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
This legendary song tells of the complex relationship between fathers and sons. It first starts with the father having little time for his growing son, who asks when he is coming home. The song ends with the father asking for time with his son and getting a similar brush-off.
The song was based on a poem his wife Sandra Gaston wrote about the relationship between her ex-husband and his father.
32. The Hurricane (Bob Dylan)
This famous Dylan protest song tells of how Rubin Carter was sentenced to a crime he didn’t commit by a racist system, being deprived of potentially becoming a middleweight champion boxer.
The song tells the story from when the shots rang out in the bar to the framing of Carter and his unjust trial.
33. Where the Wild Roses Grow (Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue)
This famous murder ballad tune tells of a man who murders his virgin lover by bludgeoning her to death with a rock by a river.
Nick tells of the much older 19th-century Irish folk song called “Down in the Willow Garden” that inspired this haunting melody. The old ballad told of a man who murdered his lover and threw her body in the river.
34. Fighter (Christina Aguilera)
This ultimate ladies’ ‘break up and move on’ song tells of being cruelly used by her lover who stole, cheated, lied, and backstabbed the singer.
In the song, the female diva emerges victorious and uses the pain to make herself stronger. The piece turned out to be about her ex-lover, who turned out to be gay. She never revealedprecisely who.
35. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
This iconic track came together from taped bits of music that Robert Plant recorded in a remote cottage in Wales. The song tells the story of a woman whose attitude to her life is that money can buy her everything, even heaven.
The song references pagan rituals and is believed to be about reconciling with nature and spirituality.
36. You Oughta Know (Alanis Morisette)
Another anthem for the scorned and oh so angry ladies is Morisette’s “You Oughta Know”. The song tells of a jilted lover who reminds her lover of the “mess” he left behind. He is already moved on with another older woman, and she expresses her rage and hurt at being so cruelly used.
Morissette is tight-lipped about who the lover was, but many presume it was David Coulier after a friend witnessed Morisette crashing his dinner with his new and older partner.
37. Black Velvet (Alannah Myles)
This 1989 hit refers to a man wearing black velvet who lives in the South, whose music and charm drive all the schoolgirls wild.
The song is about the King, Elvis, and the idea of co-songwriter Chris Ward. He was inspired by being on a bus full of Elvis fans riding to Memphis.
38. Streets of Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen)
Springsteen wrote this song as a score for the Tom Hanks movie Philadelphia and created a heartbreaking track of quiet beauty.
The song is sung from the perspective of a man dying from AIDS, walking alone through the streets of Philadelphia.
39. The Drugs Don’t Work (The Verve)
This sad song captures the heart of the 90s generation with its haunting lyrics and moody instrumentals.
The song tells a story of hopelessness and the feelings of being trapped in misery and trying to escape pain through drugs. It’s also somewhat of a love song as it is directed at his lover lying next to him.
40. Runaway Train (Soul Asylum)
This power ballad blazed the charts in the early 90s, putting Soul Asylum on the world map. The song tells a sad story of hopelessness and despair.
A man calls up a lover in the middle of the night and recounts how he has “led himself astray.” David Pirner describes his song as about his experiences with depression.
41. A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash)
Johnny Cash made his only top ten hit by making this song about a poor young boy named Sue, created from a poem by famous poet Shel Silverstein.
The song recounts how his daddy left him, and how he had to fight his whole life to defend himself from boys and men who mocked his girly name.
Eventually, he finds his father and tries to exact revenge in a terrible fight with biting, kicking, and gouging. When the guns come out, his dad tells him that he knew he couldn’t protect his son because he was leaving, so he called him Sue to make sure he got tough and could protect himself. They make amends.
42. Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday)
The legend Billie Holiday wrote this haunting song about the atrocities the African Americans endured in the racist deep south of the 1930s.
The song compares the lynched victims to fruit hanging from a tree. The song was hailed as one of the first songs of the Civil Rights Movement.
43. Me and Mrs. Jones (Billy Paul)
Billy Paul’s rendition of this timeless song made #1 on the US Billboard in 1972. The song recounts two people reluctantly being drawn into an affair and meeting each day in a cafe at a specific time.
The song is poignant because they know that it’s wrong, but they can’t seem to fight the growing passion between them.
44. Round Here (Counting Crows)
‘Round Here’ is a melancholy tune about a man leaving his house and feeling insubstantial. The song describes a woman called Maria who came to Nashville with a dream, which was shattered and left her considering suicide.
Frontman Adam Duritz explained the song expresses how sometimes leaving a person or a place can make you feel like you are leaving yourself.
45. Angie (Rolling Stones)
This song, written mainly by Keith Richards but with some input from Mick Jagger, is still used today as it was in the early 70s. The song tells of a failed romance where the man attempts to console his soon-to-be ex-lover as they agree to leave each other.
Although Keith had no particular woman in mind, Jagger’s contributions referred to his breakup with Marianne Faithfull.
46. Master of Puppets (Metallica)
This angry and guitar-ravaged track is one of Metallica’s signature songs from the album of the same name. The song is sung from the perspective of the Master of Puppets, who is twisting your mind and smashing your dreams.
James Hetfield, who struggled infamously with substance abuse, explained the song was about drugs’ control over people’s lives and minds.
47. Me and Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin)
Roger Miller originally performed this Kris Kristofferson song, but the release of Joplin’s cover after her death put the song at #1 on the US singles chart in 1971.
The song tells of two drifters hitching a ride through the American South. They visit California and express regret at having to part ways.
48. Hotel California (The Eagles)
Hotel California has been interpreted in so many diverse ways that no one understands what the Eagles really intended.
The collaborative effort of the band members made a Twilight Zone kind of song, with cinematic aspects and an eerie quality. The song involves a man driving through the desert and reaching a hotel populated by a series of bizarre characters.
The lyrics “Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends” refers to Don Henley’s break-up with Loree Rodkin.
49. Rehab (Amy Winehouse)
This 2006 breakout hit tells of an addict’s refusal to enter rehab, claiming that she will be back on top after she recovers from a ‘black’ period in her life.
The idea for the song was based on her life when she hit a low, and her father tried to get her to go to alcohol rehab, which she refused.
50. 7 Nation Army (White Stripes)
This song tells of someone wanting to escape from people speaking about him and slandering his name behind his back. The man in the song longs for a home away from the ‘opera’ and to live a simple life working the straw away from all the madness.
Singer Jack White described the song as an unwillingness to accept Hollywood gossip about himself and his ex-wife Meg White.
51. American Pie (Don Mclean)
American Pie is an enduring hit and epitomizes the all-American song of the generation. The song alludes to all different cultural icons of the late 50s rock and roll generation.
The references to the day “the music died” refer to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly,The Big Bopper, andRitchie Valensand ended an era in rock and roll.
52. Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton)
Eric Clapton wrote this heartbreaking song after the tragic death of his four-year-old son Conor in 1992.
The song asks the eternal question of whether we will meet those we love after we die, and how the meeting will be if we can. He explores the pain of loss in this beautiful ballad.
53. Red Right Hand (Nick Cave)
Cave’s song tells of a shadowy figure, part God part devil, who stalks through a desolate landscape wreaking havoc by granting wishes and taking souls.
The song was inspired by a line from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, which refers to the vengeful hand of God.
54. Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
Dylan’s song tells of a once high-flying socialite who falls on hard times after being poorly used by her lover. The tone is dark and resentful, and the lover relishes the fall of the woman from grace and having to “scrounge her next meal.”
Dylan remained silent about who “Miss Lonely” really was, but the rumour mill pointed to the socialite Edie Sedgewick. Dylan once had an affair with Edie when she was Andy Warhol’s lover (who he later discarded).
55. Sexy Sadie (The Beatles)
Sexy Sadie is an angry song about someone who deeply disappointed the singer and everyone around him.
This figure that thinks he is “so great” actually refers to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a famous Indian Guru Lennon followed, who tried to make advances on Mia Farrow at the Ashram in India.
56. Don’t Speak (No Doubt)
In this iconic breakup tune, Gwen Stefani channelled her raw emotion. In the song, she looks back to when the relationship was new and how she is losing a lover and a best friend.
Written sometime before as a love song, Stefani changed the lyrics to a breakup lament after Tony Kanai, her lover and bandmate, dumped her after seven years.
57. No Ordinary Love (Sade)
No one can forget Sades’ smoky tones crooning out this famous lament to one-sided love. The singer tells of giving her everything but having her love taken and not returned.
The person laments how happy she used to be with the unwilling lover, and expresses her pain at being apart.
58. Candle in the Wind (Elton John)
Composed by the legendary Elton John-Bernie Taupin duo, the song tells of “Norma Jean” Marilyn Monroe’s original name and refers to her tragic death.
The song tells of the cost of fame and the harassment of the press that Monroe endured. In 1997, Elton adapted the lyrics to mourn Princess Diana.
59. Love Of My Life (Queen)
Powerhouse Freddie Mercury wrote this powerful love song and lament in 1975, and its fame has lived on until today. The song is a passionate plea for a lover to come back home to him.
The song is said to be written about his lover at the timeDavid Minns, although some claim it was about his wife, Mary Austin.
60. Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Smashing Pumpkins)
This song byBilly Corgan personified the atmosphere of the mid-90s angst, giving voice to a dissatisfied generation and the merging ennui of the millennial.
The song expresses the singer feeling trapped by the world, a vampire, draining and burning the singer. The chorus became the chant of the era, “In spite of all my rage/I’m still just a rat in a cage!”
61. Off to the Races (Lana Del Rey)
Lana Del Rey’s signature drawl captures the essence of this song about a gangster’s girl. The girl with a shady past describes her bad man, who she adores. He adores her as well, with every inch of his “cocaine heart”.
However, the song has sinister tones with how he watches her in almost every place she goes, including the bathroom and when she’s putting on her makeup.
62. Mrs. Robinson (Simon & Garfunkel)
The classic tale of a young man seduced by an older woman is the story of this duo’s enduring hit “Mrs. Robinson.”
They wrote the score for the Movie “The Graduate” starring a very young Dustin Hoffman.
63. Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town (Johnny Cash)
This good old country ballad tells a sad tale of young Billy Joe, who ignores his mother’s advice and takes his guns to town.
In an argument at a bar, he gets shot by a dusty cowpoke with his mother’s words echoing in his head, “Don’t bring your guns to town, boy, leave your guns at home.”
64. Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)
Tracy Chapman’s deep voice accompanied by acoustic guitar never fails to make an emotional impact.
The song describes a woman’s longing to free herself from poverty and the burden of her alcoholic father by leaving town. She is asking someone to take her across the border and into the city to finally have a life.
65. Space Oddity (David Bowie)
The enigmatic David Bowie dons the persona of Major Tom the astronaut in this famous song.
The song recounts the astronaut slowly losing contact with the earth and his lonely orbit in outer space. As he loses contact, he sends his goodbyes to his wife and drifts, with no hope of saving himself.
66. House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)
“The House of the Rising Sun” was made famous by the Animals but was based on an older folk song from the 1930s.
The song tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans in a house called the Rising Sun. The man fell to gambling and sin, begging mothers to warn their children not to do what he has done.
67. Chelsea Hotel (Leonard Cohen)
Chelsea hotel tells of Leonard Cohen’s one-night “affair” with Janis Joplin at the infamous new york “Chelsea Hotel”. The song takes a nostalgic glimpse of a brief affair with a not conventionally attractive, but passionate, woman.
Down and out at the time, he seduced Janis in an elevator when she was hunting for Kris Kristofferson. When Leonard heard who she was seeking, he claimed that she was in luck and he was Kris Kristofferson. They spent the night together.
68. Every Breath You Take (The Police)
This song tells of obsessive love and a man consumed by a woman who left him.
The song was misinterpreted as a love song when Sting himself claimed that the song was about jealousy and ownership.
69. Wicked Game (Chris Isaak)
Isaak’s swoon-worthy voice sings about a man who tries to resist falling in love with a woman who lures him in with her wicked games. The song tells of how desire makes fools of people and is regarded as one of the all-time classic “unrequited love” ballads.
Funnily enough, Isaak didn’t intend to write a love song but wrote the song after a woman called him one night to initiate acasual sexual encounter.So much for romance!
70. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Roberta Flack)
Roberta Flack covered this older folk song written by Ewan MacColl, the singer-songwriter. The lovesong tells of a series of first times with a lover, from the first sight, kiss and the first time they made love.
MacColl wrote the haunting melody to the woman he was having an affair with at the time and later married namedPeggy Seeger.
And there you have it! 70+ intricately-composed songs that tell an amazing story. If you enjoyed this article, why not check out our list of 70+ classic songs that everyone knows next?