Songs that paint a picture

I’m kind of mixing my metaphors but some songs have such vivid imagery, you can see and experience their characters and time and place. I think it adds another dimension to the song and can make a mediocre song good and a good song great. Some examples:

“Piano Man” is probably the classic example of what I m talking about. With just a few words, you can see that bar and feel like you know the people in it.

“Don’t Stop Believing” Not as complete as “Piano Man” but still pretty vivid, especially the first few verses.

“Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Folgelberg. The song that always makes you wistfully sad at Christmas time.

Any others you like?

All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow is good at setting up a scene you can visualize.

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The first two that sprang to mind are Boys of Summer, by Don Henley, and Echoes, by Pink Floyd. Although with the first song I think we’re all visualizing the same thing. The latter I’m not sure.

The Pink Floyd songs that immediately come to mind are Grantchester Meadows and San Tropez.

John Fogerty used to write very evocative lyrics for CCR, and was very good at painting a picture in your mind. That’s one reason that, when he made his big comeback in the Eighties, he was very ambivalent about music videos.

A song like “Green River” paints a vivid picture, one that would be sort of undermined if it were accompanied by a video that SHOWED a “barefoot girl dancing in the moonlight.”

Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show.”

Kenny Rogers “The Gambler” painted such a good picture it was made into a movie, and the line “know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em” is a part of our lexicon.

The screen door slams
Mary’s dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays

Springsteen’s pretty good at this.

I don’t know if Alice’s Restaurant should count, since the actual sung part of the song doesn’t really say much. But the spoken parts sure paint a picture.

  • She was just seventeen, you know what I mean - The Beatles, I Saw her Standing There

  • I guess I shoulda known by the way she parked her car sideways that it wouldn’t last - Prince, Little Red Corvette

  • She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went - Robert Palmer, Simply Irresistable

Little snippets that evoke full visuals, no doubt unique in each person…

Ode to Billie Joe

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) of course.

On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime

She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolor in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came

In the year of the cat
What do I win?

Family Snapshot by Peter Gabriel.

"Tom’s Diner, Suzanne Vega.

Run For the Roses by Dan Fogleburg.

Born in the valley and raised in the trees
Of western Kentucky on wobbly knees
With mama beside you to help you along
You’ll soon be a-growin’ up strong.
All those long lazy mornings in pastures of green
The sun on your withers, the wind in your mane
etc etc

If that doesn’t say Thoroughbred foal nothing does.

Paul Simon’s Graceland:

The Mississippi delta was shining
Like a national guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war
I’m going to Graceland

Does the song really say “western Kentucky”? That’s funny - practically all the horse farms in Kentucky surround Lexington, in the center of the state. That’s as good as “born and raised in South Detroit” from Don’t Stop Believin’.

powerful imagery of two childhood friends. One of them dying young. It’s on youtube

It’s taken on a new meaning as I and my childhood friends age. knowing we will be gone eventually too. I miss those days of running in the fields.

Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks

Goodbye to you my trusted friend
We’ve known each other since we were nine or ten
Together we’ve climb hills or trees
Learned of love and ABC’s
Skinned our hearts and skinned our knees

Goodbye my friend it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky

Misplaced Childhood by Marillion. The whole thing.