By Dan Rogers, Grand Ole Opry Senior Marketing Manager. Dan says he likes a great story and a great song, but he loves a great story song.
10. Where’ve You Been (written by Jon Vezner and Don Henry and recorded by Kathy Mattea)
I’ve watched grown men cry when listening to this song sung by its writers at Nashville’s Bluebird Café. This one isn’t just a story song, it’s a true story song, inspired by Vezner’s real-life grandparents.
9. Three Wooden Crosses (written by Doug Johnson and Kim Williams and recorded by Randy Travis)
The first of two songs on my list that would have made the local traffic report. You know the story is going to be compelling when you’re introduced to its characters in the first line: “a farmer and a teacher, and hooker and a preacher…” One of my favorite word groupings on which to sing along of the past ten years: “And that preacher whispered ‘Cant’ you see the Promised Land?’ as he laid his blood-stained Bible in that hooker’s hand.”
8. A Boy Named Sue (written by Shel Silverstein and recorded by Johnny Cash)
If you tried to sell other musical genres on a tune about a son meeting his biological father and introducing himself with the line, “My name is Sue! How do you do?” you’d be shown the door. Country fans and Johnny Cash aficionados said, “bring it on.”
7. What’s Your Mamma’s Name
(written by Dallas Frazier and Earl Montgomery and recorded by Tanya Tucker)
Yes, the old man in a ragged coat did offer a little green eyed girl a question and offered her a nickel’s worth of candy if she’d tell, but only because he hoped the girl might be his long-lost daughter.
6. El Paso (written and recorded by Marty Robbins)
My dad’s favorite country song tells quite a long, winding tale, and without repeating a chorus. I’ve heard several try this one on for size on the Opry stage, but no one did it like Hall of Famer Robbins.
5. Coat of Many Colors (written and recorded by Dolly Parton)
The country music genius that is Dolly Parton tells an autobiographical tale from her childhood and shares a poignant life lesson all in less than four minutes. I’d like to take a look at Dolly’s bank account today vs. the accounts of the bullies who made fun of her homemade coat years ago. She who has the last laugh laughs hardest, Miss Dolly.
4. Ol Red (written by James “Bo” Bohman, Don Goodman, and Mark Sherrill and recorded by Blake Shelton)
A prison break, dogs in heat, and perhaps the best closing lyric in story song history, “Now there’s red haired blue ticks all in the South, love got me in here and love got me out.”
3. Ode To Billie Joe (written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry)
We might all have a better idea of what in the world drove Billie Joe McCallister to jump off the Tallahatchie bridge to his assumed death had Bobbie Gentry’s song not been cut nearly in half by record executives hoping to make its length more palatable for radio programmers. Then again, a longer “Ode to Billie Joe” might also have been a less mystical “Ode.” Still shrouded in mystery, some truths we know about the composition are that to this day Gentry swears there is nothing autobiographical about it and that the bridge in question can be said to have committed suicide, itself, having collapsed in 1972.
2. Carroll County Accident (written by Bob Ferguson and recorded by Porter Wagoner)
What a genius of an idea for a song! Since people can’t take their eyes off at an automobile accident when they drive by
one on the roadway, it stands to reason those same folks wouldn’t be able to keep from listening to this classic about
“the bloody seats, the broken glass, the tangled mess.” Add in a little adultery and a family secret told only to the listener and you have one of the most compelling stories ever set to a country beat.
1. Harper Valley, PTA (written by Tom T. Hall and recorded by Jeannie C. Riley)
If you have to debate whether or not a song is a story song, it’s not a story song. No question here, literally, as the first line of the song begins “I wanna tell you all a STORY ‘bout a Harper Valley widowed wife…” It’s the kind of story all of us who have ever wanted to tell some holier-than-thou blowhard where to go loves every single time we hear it.