Mixed Tape Tuesdays: SONGS THAT TELL A STORY

I just discovered an awesome blog hop over at My Skewed View. It’s called “Mixed Tape Tuesdays” and, as the title implies, takes place on Tuesdays. I’m a little late to the party this week, but, c’est la vie! The idea is that you compile, based on the week’s theme, a mixed tape of five songs that fit said theme. This week’s theme? “Songs That Tell a Story”. This is right in my wheelhouse, folks. Right. In. My. Wheelhouse. These are my favorite types of songs. It’s going to be difficult to stick to five, I’ll be leaving out LOTS of songs that I love, but I’m going to do it anyway!

On a personal note, my blog actually began as a “song of the day” blog. My plan, when I first began writing, was to choose a song and discuss what it meant to me. That lasted all of two weeks, HA-HA! I realized two things from this exercise, though: 1. I did not have the discipline to write every day and 2. That while I love music, focusing only on one subject area was too limiting for my ADHD brain.

Now, I hardly ever write about music. I still love it, though, and I think that participating in “Mixed Tape Tuesdays” might be a great way to discuss it in a format that appeals to me. So, here goes, my first foray into “Mixed Tape Tuesdays”!



1. A BETTER PLACE TO BE (Harry Chapin, from the album Sniper and Other Love Songs, 1972. Written by Harry Chapin.)

For my money there are few singer-songwriters who can tell a story better than Harry Chapin could. Part Arlo Guthrie, part Will Rogers — Mr. Chapin was both a humanist and a humorist. And, boy oh, boy, could he tell a story! I could, at random, discuss almost any one of Harry’s songs, but this one, has always spoken to me, even more so than his more well-known pieces, works like Taxi, Cat’s In the Cradle, or I Wanna Learn a Love Song, to name a few.

It’s the story of, as Mr. Chapin often introduced it, “a little night watchman and a rotund waitress”. It’s sad, bittersweet, and hopeful. It haunting. And it’s beautiful. Give it a listen. (Pay careful attention to how Mr. Chapin changes his tone to indicate in whose voice he is speaking — brilliant!) If the ending doesn’t give you goosebumps, you may be a sociopath. Run, do not walk, to your nearest mental health clinic!


2. THE BIG PARADE (10,000 Maniacs, from the album Blind Man’s Zoo, 1989. Written by Jerome Augustyniak and Natalie Merchant)

This song is so sad that it’s almost painful to listen to. Natalie Merchant’s dissonant, yet harmonious, inflections and trademark phrasing take us on a journey from Detroit to D.C. with the adult son of a soldier killed in action during The Vietnam War. His destination? The Vietnam War Memorial — the “black granite wall”. The song would be perfect if it weren’t for the couple of overtly political lines that are thrown in near the end.

The line I love, though?

How would life have ever been the same?
If this wall had carved in it one less name?

3. SHERRY DARLING (Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, from the album The River, 1980. Written by Bruce Springsteen)

Sure, I could have chosen Jungleland, Thunder Road, Meeting Across the River — really almost anything from Born to Run or Nebraska would fit this category, but that would’ve been almost too easy. I’m a Jersey girl, so I’m pretty familiar with Bruce’s catalog. And, well, I just love this one!

It doesn’t tell a very important story, but the rules never said the song had to tackle a weighty subject — just that it had to tell a story. And this one does.

It’s a comical story of a guy who has grown annoyed with his girlfriend’s mother, but it’s a story nonetheless. It’s hysterical. It’s also one of the best examples of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone skills that I’ve ever heard. What’s more? It’s a salsa-inflected rollicking good time. Yes, salsa AND Bruce. Who knew? Now, you do! Give it a whirl. I dare you NOT to dance!

4. PUFF THE MAGIG DRAGON (Peter, Paul, & Mary from the album Moving, 1963 — written by Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton; adapted from a poem by Leonard Lipton)

No “Songs That Tell a Story” post would be complete without the inclusion of this song. I was introduced to this beauty at a tender and impressionable age. Certainly this song is, at least in part, responsible for leading me down the wayward path travelled by the many folk music-loving freaks that I fell in with during my youth. It set me up for a future that would be filled with the likes of Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Harry Chapin, Harry Nilsson, Bruce Springsteen, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman, Don McLean, Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, and a slew of others far too numerous to mention.

While this song likely needs neither introduction nor explanation, I’ll just say this — its appeal defies age, race, and gender. Its themes are universal. In that bittersweet moment when we realize that Jackie Paper must put “Puff” aside to “make way for bigger things”, we realize that while “a dragon lives forever, but not so little boys” that youth may be fleeting, but that friendship is forever.

I like to think that every so often, Jackie still thinks about his old friend, Puff and that some day little Jackie Paper will find his way back to Honalee.


5. THE LEADER OF THE BAND (Dan Fogelberg, from the album The Innocent Age, 1981. Written by Dan Fogelberg)

Perhaps this is less of a “story” song than it is a tribute — to the singer/songwriters father. Like many of Mr. Fogelberg’s other songs — songs like Run for the Roses and Same Old Lang Syne, for example, it, too, tells a story. This one is about how a son’s love of music was born. When I saw Mr. Holland’s Opus, I couldn’t help but think that the screenwriters had heard this song at least once.

Dan Fogelberg managed in many of his songs to conjure images through the use of spare and simple lyrics. This song is no exception. In only a few short stanzas we learn more about his father and their relationship than one would ever think possible. In the end, it is the love and the respect that he had for his father that shines through.

The younger Mr. Fogelberg was, himself, taken from us too soon. I often imagine that they — both Mr. Fogelbergs — are somewhere up there, reunited, and composing one hell of an opus — words by Dan, music by Lawrence.

Special thanks to my friend, Lois Alter Mark, of Midlife at the Oasis for turning me on to this blog hop!

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17 thoughts on “Mixed Tape Tuesdays: SONGS THAT TELL A STORY

  1. […] Mixed Tape Tuesdays: SONGS THAT TELL A STORY (javaj240.wordpress.com) […]


  2. […] world — that I am not, indeed, a sociopath? Not so much. The days that I participated in the mixed tape blog hop over at My Skewed View increased my readership and it did so not only for that piece. It seems folks […]


  3. Jen says:

    I don’t know why Leader of the Band always makes me think of my father, well that’s a silly thing to say, I know it’s about his father… ok forget I said that, I just love that song.
    Also 10,000 maniacs? Genius. Also Puff the Magic Dragon. Epic absolutely.
    Thank you so much for participating in this! I really love new blood, wah ha ha ha ha!
    I am sorry for the late comment, it was a LONG list this week! Hope you play again! (today 🙂 or tomorrow)


  4. […] Mixed Tape Tuesdays: SONGS THAT TELL A STORY (javaj240.wordpress.com) […]


  5. I love these posts! Just this morning a friend posted something about Wham on her page, and I was instantly transported back in time to a moment and a bunch of us (at work) singing “Careless Whisper.” Ahhh songs and memory so closely linked.


    • javaj240 says:

      LOL! WHAM! We used to break my sister’s chops about them “back in the day” — my husband would constantly tease her, telling her that he heard they were getting back together. It’s still their “running joke”!

      Thanks so much for reading and for following!


  6. Fun activity and story. I love Puff The Magic Dragon!


  7. loisaltermark says:

    I love every one of these, and am so happy you’re doing this with me now! I’m a huge 10,000 Maniacs fan — I think Natalie Merchant is amazing. And Puff the Magic Dragon still makes me cry. Has there ever been a sadder lyric — “a dragon lives forever but not so little boys …” Wah! P.S. I think introducing you to this should be reason enough to throw out the voodoo doll now.


  8. I love your choices and listen to the same songs. They ARE the soundtrack of my life!


  9. ksbeth says:

    wonderful, i always love to know the stories behind the songs )


  10. Great songs! I used to have a “Music Monday” series which quickly died down because, like you, I just couldn’t be boxed in like that.

    We’re such commitment phobes…


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