How Does A Song Tell A Story?

How Does A Song Tell A Story?

Every day, we listen to a variety of songs. An average person listens to 52 three-minute songs daily. But, why do we listen to these songs? Maybe it is for the artist. Or, maybe because of how that particular song makes us feel. Perhaps, it could be the message or story that is embedded in the lyrics?

But, how does a song tell a story?

By its lyrics? Its composition? Its mood?

Are there many ways to express a story?

This post will take a look at the various types of settings in songs. We will also look at one song that uses a story within the song: Kate Bush’s “Babooshka”.

(By the way, this post was inspired by a recent Music Moves Monday by a fellow blogger Cathy. I knew when she posted the prompt, I had to write about “Babooshka”. Thank you Cathy! Make sure to check out her post for other songs that tell a story.)

Story vs. Message

I have featured various songs over the past five years here on ai love music. There are many ways you can classify the scope of a song’s lyrics. But, there are two basic avenues: a story and a message.

Story

The art of telling a story

One way that lyrics are created is through a narrative of a story. These tales could be drawn from the songwriter’s life or from real-life events. Or, they could just be tales of fiction, made from the vivid imagination. The untold tales are limitless!

An example of fictional storytelling is Bleu Jeans Bleu’s “Mangeras​-​tu ma patate douce”. This song is not imaginative, of course, but it is simple as it tells of a nervous lover inviting his loved one to dinner. Another example is Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?”. The story could be a fictional tale or not, depending on who you ask.

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Message

Another type of song is one that that has a message. Usually, there are messages with inspirational words, proverbial wisdom, or a warning about the future. These messages are to inspire us to do better actions for ourselves, the people around us, or for the planet that we live on. These words are to help us change something for the better.

Recently, I talked about the song “Tenchi Muyo”. Even though it is geared for a Japanese anime show, the message behind the song is actually a warning: be careful about the woman that you are infatuated with. I also had a New Year’s playlist that was full of songs that inspirational words. Don’t give up! Be yourself! You can do it!

That’s Not All

Not all songs follow a story pattern or have inspirational messages. Some tunes can be just general happenings in our lives like The Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff’s “Summertime”. Some could be retrospective like The Sound Ninja’s “With Us” as it reflects on the current events of the world. And, others could have listeners ponder about the plight of our planet like Lilac Kings’ “Astral Straits”. There are endless ways to tell a story within a song.

A Story Within Kate Bush’s “Babooshka”

Kate Bush as Babooshka
Kate Bush as Babooshka

One tune that has an imaginative story is Kate Bush’s 1980 song “Babooshka”. It is actually a mispronunciation of the Russian word “Babushka”, which has a different meaning. Nevertheless, the main premise of the song is based on the desire of a wife who wants to test her husband’s loyalty. She takes on the pseudonym of “Babooshka”: a beautiful, younger version of the wife before the tears and the years that flew by. She sends her husband scented letters under the guise, which the man replies happily as he recognizes a woman like his wife when she was happy. He agrees to meet this “Babooshka” at a restaurant, which confirms the wife’s fears: he has been unfaithful. As he shouts out “I’m all yours Babooshka”, the wife goes ballistic and angrily hurls items at him. She also breaks windows, tables, and other things surrounding her.

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On the surface, the story is about a wife’s fear of her husband cheating on him, which Kate Bush has said that the man was always innocent. He never said he was unfaithful, but loved his life dearly. Bush also said that the story of the tune has a deeper meaning: “the song is about the futility and the stupidness of humans. And how — by our own thinking and swirling around in our own ideas — we come up with completely different paranoid facts”.[1]

Final Thoughts

Besides the rich story, the music video for “Babooshka” is a must-watch as it has several themes that are connected to the song. Kate Bush starts off the music video by wearing a black bodysuit and a veil, which represents the paranoid wife. The double bass beside her represents the husband. Once the song reaches the chorus, Bush transforms into “Babooshka” with a golden costume and flowing hair. The music video might be strange to watch at first but it is very entertaining and true to the song’s story.

Make sure to listen to Kate Bush’s “Babooshka” down below and let me know what you think of the song. Also, what kind of song do you prefer: one that tells a story or one that has a message.

By the way, do you notice the sound of glass smashing at the end? That was actually a sample played by the Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer. Peter Gabriel, whom Kate Bush worked with during the 80s, did in fact break glass to create the sample, which then Bush used different pitches of the sample in her song. You can watch the process of how Gabriel created these early samples here.

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How Does A Song Tell A Story? with Kate Bush's "Babooshka"

Reference

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syDT1MHmvOI

This Post Has 40 Comments

  1. Story telling songs are some of my favorite. Especially when it really feels like the song story matches my own.

  2. Amy,

    It’s great having you on the dance floor. Great content and interesting song choice for this week’s theme. Have a boogietastic week, my dear!

  3. I loev a good story telling song. They really stay with us.

  4. I listen to all different types of music with every level of storytelling and messages. What I listen to depends greatly on my mood and what I am doing. When I am trying to write or concentrate, it has to be instrumental so the lyrics don’t interrupt my thoughts. But when I am cleaning or cooking it has to be fun, upbeat, lyrical songs that I can sing/dance to. I listen to a lot of country music which is all about storytelling.

  5. I always pay attention to the lyrics because as you rightfully mentioned, stories add a whole new dimension to songs. Amazing post.

  6. I like songs that have stories behind them. I didn’t know about Babooshka’s story though. I remember this song from the radio, I didn’t hear it in ages though.

  7. I can’t recall who said that his songs were really his poetry. It is clear music and lyrics are really a story being told. I am part of a writer’s group, and your post is the type of material she is always interested in. Sharing with her. . .

  8. 52 songs a day? That sounds like a lot but it also sounds right. Lol. I’m all about songs that tell a story. There the ones that stay with me the longest.

  9. I love this article!! My mum is a massive Kate Bush fan, so love songs that tell a story x

  10. Five years?! That’s incredible! Way to go, girl! Your posts are definitely unique and it’s always fun to find new songs/artists, along with a good mix of classics 🙂

  11. I listen to all kinds of music. If the story, message or beat is good I’m listening.

  12. I just love the stories within a song! This is such a great post to make me think about all the songs I have loved over the years for the stories I have felt so deep.

  13. I prefer songs that tell a story. I think it’s important when that’s the case coz the song then has a purpose.

  14. I was never aware of this beautiful concept of story telling through songs. Thanks for this, it was a great insight for me.

  15. Really awesome distinction between a message and a story through the medium of song – I had never contemplated that! Many thanks for a great read!

  16. Its really interesting when songs sway your mind with a story. You can feel the connection and enjoy it. I love the concept.

  17. I prefer songs that tell stories (preferable true ones) – but there is room for all kinds of stories and messages in the story telling universe. I have to admit, the Babooska video left me more puzzled than anything else; I’m glad you gave me a peek into what the song was all about.

  18. Very interesting! I love a song that tells a good story! Even if it’s sad.

  19. What an interesting song! I believe every song has a story!

  20. Songs seem to always say what I cant say.

  21. Songs are the melodies of the heart, I believe. Even if the song doesn’t have melodies, I guess the tune itself says a lot.

  22. As a musician it’s wonderful to learn the messages in others music. It helps make the art more “real”

  23. I like when songs tell a story. It helps get you into the song and be able to relate to the singer

  24. I love musicians who tell stories with their songs! Tori Amos is my favorite and she does this so well.

  25. I always feel that musician is trying to express their feelings, thoughts and share their stories through their songs. They are definitely more powerful that way

  26. I love music that has a story to it oppose to one that does not make sense just has a good beat.

  27. Amazing. Well written article. I learned something from reading it. Thank you for sharing.

  28. I have never considered whether a song has a message or a story. I will pay more attention when I listen to songs. This was a great read.

  29. Im the guy who practically knows the exact lyrics of a song. Thus the meaning of the song is very important for me

  30. To me, every song tells a story and everyone can find a song that tells their story.

  31. So true, every song tells a story. Sometimes we are able to relate to the story and sometimes we don’t. which is why some songs speak to us more than others. I absolutely love music.

  32. I’m always looking for the stories in songs. The lyrics make me wonder what the songwriter was going through when they wrote the song.

  33. I love conceptual and story telling songs and albums. One of my absolute favorite albums is Metropolis pt.2: scenes from a memory by Dream Theatre. The entire album is just one big murder mystery and I love it. My kids even love the story. So for me lyrics and story telling are very important in music.

  34. I love songs and cd’s telling stories! It’s the best kind of song that means something I think!

  35. Lyrics definitely hold precedence over the music for me. As in – if the music is great but the lyrics are not appropriate (profanities, objectification of woman, etc), I get turned off right away. So I agree – the story holds a LOT of value in every song.

  36. Most of the times, I listen to songs because of their lyrics! So storytelling songs are my favourite.

  37. Great post – I think lyrics are a way to connect to our innermost emotions and subconcious, so important!

  38. Wow. Interesting read. Most songs do have a story behind them and these songs make the most senses.
    A song influenced by a story is always my choice.

  39. There’s lots of Storytelling songs in Spanish some of them have a secret meaning some of them are explicit. I love English songs but Spanish songs are more fascinating to me. Ricardo Arjona is one of the best storytelling song writers. He wrote a song called “Mesías” wish in English means Messiah that song practically predicted the 911 attacks. It was publish by the end of the year 2000. It was something so accurate that he was investigated by the FBI. You can look that up

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