Sunday, 4 December 2011
Pop, storytelling and jukebox musicals
Apparently there was a rather lazy piece of journalism in the Observer recently where someone ran with a press release about a 'jukebox musical' based on Bowie's songs. The story's now been discredited, but Tom Ewing wrote an interesting spin-off article in Friday's Guardian Film & Music where he mused on pop and narrative.
The two, he says, don't always mix. Abba 'had a gift for suggesting stories, not necessarily telling them, and that goes for pop as a whole'.
I've always loved story songs: country music's particularly good for this, as well as some of the classic '60s Motown songwriting. But it's probably true that a lot of narrative is in the suggestion: the listener gets to fill in the gaps.
And it's even better when you get a song that has an entire novel's worth of backstory - in just the first line. But it's up to you to find the story.
Try these two: brilliant songs and brilliant openers, that demand some imagination.
I've always been impressed by the opening to Levi Stubbs' Tears by Billy Bragg: 'With the money from the accident she bought herself a mobile home'.
And, for anyone who thinks Jonathan Richman is twee, think about this - the first line of Hospital, one of his darkest early songs: 'When you get out of the hospital, will you let me back into your life?'