While our love for the written word is indisputable, we can’t deny that stories take many shapes. Though the musical story (or visual album) isn’t necessarily what comes to mind when we think of traditional storytelling, it’s proof that stories are deep-seated across artistic mediums.
Harking back to the traditions of oral storytelling, musical stories offer something unique to their audiences. By combining common components of storytelling (such as characters, conflict, and theme) with those of music (harmony, melody, rhythm), and more recently, film, the end product is a richly interesting and captivating narrative method that takes the greatest elements of each medium to create something that has the potential to be profoundly stirring.
Through these musical stories, we are reminded that not every great narrative is contained within the pages of a book.
And since we can't have our nose in a book all the time, please scroll on for five of our favourite musical stories we hope you enjoy.
“Tropico” by Lana Del Rey
Released in 2013, “Tropico” is a short film that features three songs from Lana Del Rey’s 2012 EP Paradise: “Body Electric”, “Gods & Monsters,” and “Bel-Air.” Del Rey plays the role of Eve alongside American actor and model Shaun Ross, in the role of her counterpart, Adam. The story follows a biblical framework as Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden nd onto the streets of current day Los Angeles.
Alongside Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and other American gods and goddesses of the silver screen, the story is punctuated with sermon-like verses in the voice of John Wayne, whose unique depiction of God narrates this story of sin and redemption. With nods, too, to Allen Ginsberg, Walt Whitman, and John Mitchum, poetry and pop culture blend with an opulently baroque aesthetic and Del Rey's soaring songs. Both visually stunning and musically rich, “Tropico” perfectly encapsulates the melancholic Americana mood Del Rey is known for.
Got your own publishing dreams? Need help attaining them? Set up a call with Kate today.
Lemonade by Beyoncé
Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade may be every scorned woman's fantasy—but let’s be real, no one could do it quite as flawlessly as Beyoncé does in this album, released April of 2016. The accompanying film is broken into eleven chapters, ranging from “Denial” to “Redemption”. Throughout the album, Beyoncé explores themes of infidelity, inheritance, black identity in America, family history, and female friendship. Accompanying each unique and visually delicious chapter is the music the narrative rests on, encompassing a variety of genres including gospel, pop, hip hop, and soul. Lemonade proves that a story can be as complex as the current conversation of politics, gender, and race it engages with.
Spanish Train and Other Stories by Chris de Burgh
We’re not quite sure what it is with the ongoing biblical themes of these albums (I mean, they certainly deal with entities of epic proportions), but the title track from Chris de Burgh’s 1975 album, Spanish Train and Other Stories is checking all the boxes. Imagine a ballad in which God and the Devil gamble at cards to win the souls on a train heading for the Underworld. If you’re as intrigued by that idea as we are, then you definitely need to give “Spanish Train” a listen. Some other favourite rock ballads from the album include “Patricia the Stripper” and “A Spaceman Came Travelling.”
De Burgh offers an unexpected, at times campy, compilation of ballads that captivates listeners through soft-spoken narration and playful cadence and feels more like a book of short stories than a rock album.
“The Odyssey” by Florence + The Machine
Released following her 2015 album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, “The Odyssey” is a journey into front woman Florence Welch’s own heartbreak, as she artfully strings together the album into a cinematic short-film. Through clips of broken dialogue, acoustic covers, surreal imagery, and beautifully choreographed scenes, “The Odyssey” creates a concrete narrative to perfectly complement Welch’s indie-pop sound. Aside from the obvious literary reference to Homer's Odyssey, other literary influences have been cited by the artist and her collaborators: in a Facebook Q&A, Director Vincent Haycock compared the film and the accompanying album to “the layers of Dante’s Inferno,” with each song “a battle that Florence traversed.”
“Hurricane” by Bob Dylan
Known most widely as a protest song, Bob Dylan’s 1975 single “Hurricane” tells the story of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and his wrongful imprisonment for the murder of three men. After witnessing a murder alongside a man named John Artis, Carter and Artis were accused of the crime. Known for his poetics and politics, Dylan dissects accusations, racial bias, and Carter’s tragic circumstances through the song. Though not exactly uplifting, musically “Hurricane” is supported by a fast tempo, violin interludes and, of course, Dylan’s signature voice. The song raised massive awareness of the case but despite Dylan's efforts (to which many other influential musicians, including Stevie Wonder, added their own) did not directly affect Carter and Artis's release. Both men were eventually released, and all charges dropped, some twenty years after their arrest.
Do you have a story that you’re ready to put out there? Sign up for our Publishing Guidebook, or check out our Manuscript Assessment to figure out your next big move.