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.
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.
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”
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.
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”.
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.