Better story teller than Edmund Fitzgerald?

There was a thread on A'gon about the most perfect song.  We had reasons for picking various, but for me it was Gordong Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Perhaps it featured an aspect of song writing that no one else much cared for:  A deep and detailed story in the song.

So I ask you, A'goners, what songs are as good or better at telling a story of a historical event? 


Better than Gordon Lightfoot’sTHE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD …. no …. BUT another performance equal to it is by another proud Canadian singer, John McDermott in CHRISTMAS IN THE TRENCHES. ( on CD and live on YouTube)


a ballad about a true story in WW1 .Christmas in the Trenches" is a ballad from his CD.


It tells the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce between the British and German lines on the Western Front during the Great War from the perspective of a fictional British soldier. Although Francis Tolliver is a fictional character, the event depicted in the ballad is true. The song author John McCutcheon met some of the German soldiers involved in this Christmas story when he toured in Denmark.

The ballad is a first person narrative by Francis Tolliver, a fictional British soldier from Liverpool. He is relating the events that happened two years prior, while he was a soldier in the trenches of the Great War. He and his fellow soldiers are dug into their trench, where, as Tolliver relates, "the frost so bitter hung," while their German enemies occupy the trench at the opposite end of No Man’s Land. The scene is one of quiet and cold; "the frozen fields of France were still; no songs of peace were sung." The men are reflecting on how their families back in England are toasting "their brave and glorious lads so far away", when from the German lines they suddenly hear a young German voice singing out clearly. He is soon joined by his comrades, and the sound of their carol fills the empty fields devastated by war. When they finish, some of the British soldiers from Kent sing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," after which the Germans sing "Stille Nacht". The British soldiers accompany them, singing in English, "and in two tongues one song filled up the sky."

The British troops are startled when their front line sentry cries out that a lone German figure has left their trench and is marching alone across No Man’s Land, unarmed and with a truce flag. Though all of the men aim their rifles at him, nobody fires, and soon all of the men on both sides are leaving their trenches and meeting their enemies unarmed in No Man’s Land. There, they trade chocolate and cigarettes and exchange photographs of their families back home, at which all of the men are struck by how similar their enemy is to themselves.

One of the Germans plays his violin while a British soldier plays his squeezebox, and the men launch flares to light up the field in order to play a game of football. Later, with the first signs of daylight, Tolliver relates that "France was France once more; With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war."

But,the ballladeer sings, "the question haunted every man who lived that wondrous night; ’whose family have I fixed within my sight?’" It ends with the fictional Tolliver’s lessons gleaned from the experience; that "the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame- and on each end of the rifle we’re the same."



i’ll go with Tom Petty’s ’GLORIA’ off the ’Live At The Filmore,1997".

it's deep.

it's detailed.

10 minutes of joy.

if there is a better story in a song i’ve not heard it. and i’m a big fan of "The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald".

if i need a pick me up a little ’GLORIA’ fixes it. and i smile.

“Cold Missouri Waters,” which is a telling about a real forest fire crew that got trapped by a fast moving fire is pretty good.

The story about Australian soldiers at Gallipoli in WW 1–“And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is another one I like.

THE EAGLES from their tour, singing “HOLE INTHE WORLD ” about their heartache arising from 9-11 that interrupted their recording session personally and it expresses the angst and deep wound emotionally of all Americans ( and also to we Canadians who also suffered many lives lost in the fall of the Twin Towers in NYC ) arising from that day of infamy event.


@larryi Good call on "Cold Missouri Waters." When I first heard that I was inspired to read Normal McLean's book about that disaster. Those poor guys.

Red Barchetta by RUSH  who prevision what is in our near future. This song was written by Neil Peart based off a short story in Popular Mechanics. FYI, all the dystopian novels of the future are coming true!

GORDON LIGHTFOOT: “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”

"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"
Single by Gordon Lightfoot
from the album The Way I Feel
B-side "It’s My Time"
Released 1967
Recorded 1966 (rerecorded 1975)
Genre Folk
Length 6:22 (rerecorded 7:04)
Label United Artists
Songwriter(s) Gordon Lightfoot
Gordon Lightfoot singles chronology
"The Way I Feel"
"Canadian Railroad Trilogy"
"Black Day in July"


"Canadian Railroad Trilogy" is a story song that was written, composed, and first performed in 1966 by Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, who released his original recording of it in 1967. The song was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to celebrate the Canadian Centennial in 1967. "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" describes the building of the trans-Canada Canadian Pacific Railway, the construction work on which was completed in 1886. The CPR was incorporated in 1881.


This song was commissioned from Lightfoot by the CBC for a special broadcast on January 1, 1967, to start Canada’s Centennial year. Writing and composing it took him three days.[1]

It appeared on Lightfoot’s album The Way I Feel later in the same year along with the song "Crossroads," a shorter song of similar theme.[2] The structure of the song, with a slow tempo section in the middle and faster paced sections at the beginning and end, was patterned more or less opposite to Bob Gibson’s and Hamilton Camp’s "Civil War Trilogy," famously recorded by The Limeliters on the 1963 live album Our Men In San Francisco. In the first section, the song picks up speed like a locomotive building up a head of steam.[3]

While Lightfoot’s song echoes the optimism of the railroad age, it also chronicles the cost in sweat and blood of building "an iron road runnin’ from the sea to the sea." The slow middle section of the song is especially poignant, vividly describing the efforts and sorrows of the nameless and forgotten "navvies," whose manual labour actually built the railway.




@akg_ca So true. Good storytelling in a perfectly romanticized Lightfootian way and a beautiful melody, too. 

This guy wrote quite a few story songs, but this one is probably his signature tune.


Black Day in July " from the album "Did She Mention My Name" is about the race riots in Detroit in July 1967, with the anarchy reported on TV

In 1968, Gordon Lightfoot released a controversial song entitled “Black Day In July”; it was banned by multiple US radio stations.









GORDON   LIGHTFOOT - “Ghosts of Cape Horn”


1980 "Ghosts of Cape Horn" documentary film

September 23, 2011 — Another fan was looking for this film, and when he didn't find it he sent me an email. So, of course I looked for it for him, and - surprisingly - I found the entire film online at the National Sailing Hall of Fame website.

I had never seen it before, but - like any devoted Lightfoot fan - knew that the song, "Ghosts of Cape Horn", had been written for the film, as its title song. The documentary tells the story of sailing vessels making the trip around Cape Horn, before the Panama Canal was built. Like any Lightfoot story song, the lyrics tell a complex story in just a few minutes. The film runs approximately 55 minutes, and is now available at YouTUbe, from which it is displayed on this webpage.

The song was released on the 1980 album, Dream Street Rose 


"Strange Fruit". Written by Abel Meeropol, sung by Billie Holiday.

Bob Dylan wrote a lot, among them "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll", "Oxford Town", "Hurricane", and "The Death Of Emmitt Till".

All the above are related to the lingering (to this day) racism in The United States Of America, following the end of slavery, our original sin. And all are stories about African-Americans murdered (with the exception of "Hurricane") at the hands of white Americans.

A great related movie is To Kill A Mockingbird, a film I first saw as a child. It had a profound effect on me, and remains a favorite of mine.

Rodney Crowell wrote a great song that recounts his hearing of "Ring Of Fire" on the radio while driving in the car with his pa one night. It’s entitled "I Walk The Line Revisited", revisited because Johnny Cash appears on the recording of the song, which can be found on Rodney’s astoundingly great album The Houston Kid.

The Ballad of Claude Dallas by Ian Tyson is one of the best of this type



Strange Fruit, while a very important song, is not a great story teller.

It is taken from a poem which sets up an allegorical scene and is about a general subject (horrible as it was).

To be a truly great story-telling song it has to have details, be about a specific person or event, and tell us things we might not otherwise know.

Gordon is truly a master singer / songwriter & that is one of my all time favorites. He had many great songs that tell a story. Another o e is “Circle of Steel” on Sundown. 

Harry Chaplin had two great ones also: Taxi & Cats in the Cradle. 

Interesting to note that almost all the songs mentioned are of sadness & despair. 

I wonder if we can name some of happiness & love? 

I can’t think of any. 

Seeing we are on the subject of "great Canadian stories" (so it seems), Id give a shout out to The Tragically Hips "Wheat Kings" about wrongly prisoned David Milgaard.

Also "38 Years old" about a justly prisoned Michael.

And "50 Mission Cap", and , well , "New Orleans is sinking" (more profetic telling as it was before Hurricane Katrina".

(Edit: can’t really say better than the Wreck of Edmond Fitzgerald thought, that's a perfect song).

Good post. Gret Gordon Lightfoot song. He is a great song writer and storyteller. 

Harry Chapin was pretty good too. 

It's funny how a couple of people have written Harry Chaplin instead of Chapin.

As far as funny ones go, I would add Billy the Mountain by Zappa, and The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence.

@jonwolfpell So true. "Circle of Steel" was a powerful imprint on my childhood - that feeling of desperate hope amidst despair and squalor. 

How about Kings X -- Gretchen goes to Nebraska. The entire album is a coherent story -- the ENTIRE ALBUM yo!

"And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" was written by a Scottish-born song writer who moved to Australia when he was young, so he is primarily Australian.  There are several good covers of the song.  I particularly like the one by the Pogues.

I’m not sure about historical songs but Billy Joel is a great story teller as well. 

Just been listening to "Harry Chapin" due to this thread (god I love this place at times) and came across Harry's song "30,000 Pounds Of Bananas", an actual incident in Scranton Pennsylvania. 

This was very Inspiring story growing up,many young people never even heard of ,if not allowed look it up on YouTube.

Americans by Byron Macgregor very inspiring from a great Canadien a tribute to 🇺🇸 America , God Bless America !!


Widespread Panic: "1x1." Sugarman!

I also seem to remember a touching ballad by Deep Purple about a 1971 casino fire in Montreux, Switzerland....

@docknow that whole Hell on Church Street album by the Punch Bros as was the original by Tony Rice is excellent.

@northman Love that tune as I also do Hatfield by Widespread Panic. Many of their tunes tell a solid story. The Vic Chessnut/Widespread Panic band Brute also has some great ones like Aunt Avis.

I would add pretty much any album by Darrell Scott or Guy Clark for some excellent story telling tunes.