I have long been a huge fan of storytelling or spoken word “songs”. My definition for these types of “songs” is simple: spoken lyrics plus music, but no singing. To illustrate by way of exclusion, my definition does not include any of the following:

  • “songs” that have, for example, spoken intros but then continue in sung form
  • poetry readings without music or long storytelling monologues like the ones by Spaulding Gray (but it might include, for example, Beat poetry that is accompanied by music)
  • “songs” using a vocal technique somewhere between singing and speaking, what the Germans call Sprechgesang in which pitches may be sung, but generally the articulation is rapid and loose like speech. Examples are e.g. many songs by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Gianmaria Testa, Paolo Conte, and many others.
  • as a matter of principle, anything by William Shatner
I’ve made no attempt at putting together an encyclopedic playlist of “songs” under the above definition. Hence, another limiting criterion I have applied to the working playlist below is that I have to like the “song”. I could have included many other examples but, as the case may be, I just didn’t care for the story, the voice, the music, or something else. In other words, the playlist below has been rather fickly curated with my whims and biases in mind.

For the vast majority of “songs” included in the list below I have found, and edited where needed, the corresponding lyrics. Precisely because many of the “songs” tell stories – some sad, some strange and surreal, some insanely funny, some angry, some poetic – it adds to the pleasure of listening to them when one can also read along. A PDF version of the lyrics is here – individual copyright claims apply even if not stated.

Needless to say, I am always on the look-out for new material. Please pass on the good stuff.

# Artist Song Album Time
1 Regina Spektor Whisper Soviet Kitsch 0:45
2 The Velvet Underground The Gift White Light/White Heat 8:19
3 Belle & Sebastian A Space Boy Dream The Boy With The Arab Strap 3:02
4 Looper Columbo’s Car Up A Tree 4:54
5 Moby If Things Were Perfect Play 4:19
6 Touch and Go Tango in Harlem I Find You Very Attractive 3:26
7 Ralph Acid Jazz On a Rainy Day This Is for the Night People 3:43
8 Gotan Project Feat. Juan Carlos Cáceres Notas Lunático 4:21
9 Jim Morrison & The Doors An American Prayer An American Prayer 3:04
10 Jim Morrison & The Doors Hour for Magic An American Prayer 1:18
11 Jim Morrison & The Doors A Feast of Friends An American Prayer 2:11
12 Ginger Baker Trio East Timor Going Back Home 4:42
13 Bob Dylan Three Angels New Morning 2:10
14 Belle & Sebastian A Century of Elvis Push Barman to Open Old Wounds 4:29
15 Quincy Troupe Change The United States Of Poetry 1:29
16 Tom Waits Frank’s Wild Years Swordfishtrombones 1:54
17 Federico Aubele Mona Gran Hotel Buenos Aires 1:58
18 Up, Bustle & Out Havana’s Streets Rebel Radio Master Sessions, Vol. 1 4:02
19 Kevin Johansen Volutas De Humo City Zen 2:08
20 Leo Ferre La vie d’artiste (Version Piano) Léo Ferré 3:35
21 Looper Dave The Moon Man Up A Tree 5:12
22 Jim Morrison & The Doors Lament An American Prayer 2:19
23 Gianmaria Testa Plage Du Prophète Il valzer di un giorno 1:35
24 Barry Adamson Vermillion Kisses Oedipus Schmoedipus 3:03
25 Herbie Hancock The Jungle Line (feat. Leonard Cohen) River – The Joni Letters 5:01
26 Antipop Consortium & Matthew Shipp Monstro City Antipop Vs. Matthew Shipp 3:05
27 Ruth Forman Stoplight Politics The United States Of Poetry 1:43
28 The Shangri-Las Past, Present and Future The Very Best of The Shangri-Las 2:42
29 Tom Waits Army Ants Orphans 3:26
30 Serge Gainsbourg Melody Histoire De Melody Nelson 7:32
31 Tindersticks My Sister Tindersticks (2nd Album) [Deluxe Version] 8:11
32 Slint Good Morning Captain Kids Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 7:39
33 John Cooper Clarke Beasley Street The Very Best Of 6:44
34 Talking Heads Seen and Not Seen Remain In Light 3:25
35 Jim Morrison & The Doors A Feast of Friends An American Prayer 2:11
36 Ben Watt & Estelle Pop a Cap In Yo’ Ass (Radio Edit) Buzzin’ Fly – 5 Golden Years In the Wilderness – Unmixed and Selected By Ben Watt 4:08
37 Cake Short Skirt/Long Jacket Comfort Eagle 3:24
38 Tom Waits Nirvana Orphans 2:13
39 Arab Strap New Birds Philophobia 6:28
40 William S. Burroughs A Thanksgiving Prayer Dead City Radio 2:22
41 DJ Vadim Your Revolution (feat. Sarah Jones) Ninja Tune Retrospect (No. 1) 4:12
42 James Brown King Heroin There It Is 3:58
43 Tom Waits What’s He Building In There Mule Variations 3:20
44 John Cale & Lou Reed A Dream Songs for Drella 6:33
45 Cake Mr. Mastodon Farm Motorcade of Generosity 5:28
46 The Specials & Rhoda Dakar The Boiler Stereo-Typical: A’s B’s & Rarities 5:47
47 Tindersticks Chocolate The Something Rain 9:04
48 Gil Scott-Heron The Revolution Will Not Be Televised The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 3:07
49 Van Morrison Coney Island Still On Top – The Greatest Hits (Deluxe Version) 2:04
50 Jim Morrison & The Doors The Ghost Song An American Prayer 5:16
51 Lazyboy Underwear Goes Inside the Pants Underwear Goes Inside the Pants – Single 4:54
52 Dead Kennedys Night of the Living Rednecks Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death 5:10
53 Tom Waits Missing My Son Orphans (Bastards) 3:38
54 Billy Bragg Walk Away Renee Must I Paint You a Picture?: The Essential Billy Bragg 2:24
55 The Clientele Losing Haringey Strange Geometry 4:02
56 Arab Strap The First Big Weekend The Week Never Starts Round Here 4:53
57 Maxïmo Park Acrobat A Certain Trigger 4:43
58 William S. Burroughs Words of Advice for Young People Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales 4:42
59 Linton Kwesi Johnson Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem) Reggae Greats: Linton Kwesi Johnson 3:52
60 Looper Impossible Things #2 Up A Tree 5:23
61 Gil Scott-Heron Whitey On The Moon The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 1:29
62 Benjamin Biolay Brandt rhapsodie La Superbe 4:44
63 Eminem & Dido Stan The Marshall Mathers LP 6:44
64 Leonard Cohen Democracy The United States Of Poetry 2:27
65 Serge Gainsbourg Variations sur Marilou L’homme à tête de chou 7:40
66 Saint Etienne Over the Border Words and Music By Saint Etienne 5:05
67 Indran Amirthanayagam So Beautiful The United States Of Poetry 2:34
68 Milosz, Czeslaw Gift The United States Of Poetry 1:09
69 Tom Waits Children’s Story Orphans 1:43
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