From Minneapolis Hookers To Headless Thompson Gunners: The Best Story Songs

Songs that tell stories can knock you for six like nothing else. These are some of the best and biggest inspirations for my new record...
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Songs that tell stories can knock you for six like nothing else. These are some of the best and biggest inspirations for my new record...


In the movie Barton Fink, when the titular character is sitting with the famed writer and William Faulkner photofit W.P Mayhew, Fink harps on, as he is want to do, about how all great writing should come from great pain: that it should be born from something personal and experienced. Mayhew, soused and surly, responds with a line that is possibly my favourite ever uttered on the subject of writing: “Me, I just like making stuff up."

Music is the absolute worst for the idea that writing should be personal, or cathartic. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s great – Loudon Wainwright and Eels are both absolute Premier League when it comes to writing personal, painful songs without them sounding mawkish or trite. But y’know, it ain’t always the case. When Randy Newman came out with 'Short People', everyone branded him a bit of a bigot (“Short people got no reason to live...”), failing to grasp the frankly obvious irony of the tune.

I like songs that tell stories and songs that create characters. Songs that are as layered and structured as any novel or film, that grab you by the scruff of the neck, sit you down for a few minutes and leave you gasping for air at the end. I’m about to put out a record of story songs, called Songs About Other People, and these were the big inspirations I had when writing the album.

Warren Zevon – Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

Zevon is a terrifically underrated songwriter, one of the best there has ever been for my money. 'Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner' is a true epic – a sprawling war story about a celebrated shooter, a CIA plot to kill him, resurrection, more war, and eventually revenge and murder. Big triumphant sing-along chorus too.

Stereophonics – A Thousand Trees

I’m quite evangelical about the 'Phonics first record, not least because it reminds me of growing up in small town Wales. The whole record could be about people I know, it’s so astonishingly well observed and delivered with the kind of rawness and energy that you can only get on a debut record. 'A Thousand Trees' is a really interesting and challenging story when you listen to the words, done in spectacular fashion.

Bruce Springsteen – Matamoros Banks

Devils & Dust was my proper introduction to Bruce, and I maintain in the ‘Bruce goes acoustic’ stakes it’s a better record than the much celebrated Nebraska. The lyrics across the album are unflinching, difficult and sometimes quite brutal – the line in this song ‘The turtles eat the skin from your eyes so they lay open to the stars’ tows that beautiful / horrific line in a way that only Bruce can do.

Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker In Minneapolis

Best Christmas song ever written, bar none. I’m a sucker for guy songs from a girl’s point of view too, not sure why but a certain amount of musical gender-swapping is definitely something that should be encouraged. The line about not selling any used cars and driving a different one every day breaks my heart every time, so brilliant.

Harry's album is out today on Wild Sounds, and it's a damn fine piece of work.  Beg, steal or just buy a copy here

The album launch takes place on 28th Jan at the Green Note