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"Read this story, my friend, And you'll find at the end That a suitable moral lies there."
—Pierre: A Cautionary Tale
A song that tells a story and An Aesop
; often this is a cautionary tale. These ballads can be preachy parables, snarky yarns, tragic tear-jerkers, or anything in between.
Contrast with Murder Ballad
, compare with Protest Song
and Let Me Tell You a Story
. Teenage Death Songs
are frequently examples.
- W. S. Gilbert seems to have enjoyed making light of the preachy variety:
- The poems "Gentle Jane" and "Teasing Tom" in Patience belong to the Victorian genre of morality poems for children. They're not much even as parodies, but they serve to poke fun at the lovesick maidens' aesthetic tastes.
- Sir Joseph's song "When I was a lad" in H.M.S. Pinafore. It ends with a Spoof Aesop:
"Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you may all be rulers of the Queen's Navee!"
- Maurice Sendak's picture book Pierre, adapted from Herman Melville's source, as quoted above. This was set to music in Really Rosie and later covered by the Dresden Dolls.
- In the musical Lady In The Dark, Liza Elliott is on trial before a circus (such things can happen in a Dream Sequence) for being unable to Make Up Her Mind about which of two men she wants to marry. For her defense, she offers "The Saga Of Jenny", which points a moral with which they cannot quarrel.
- "The Farmer On The Dole" by P.D.Q. Bach.
- The Oompa Loompa songs from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator.
- The vast majority of Harry Chapin's songs are Morality Ballads of one degree or another, including "Cat's In The Cradle.", "The Rock" and "Flowers Are Red".
- "One Tin Soldier" by Coven definitely applies.
- "In the Ghetto" performed by Elvis Presley.
- Of course, the 60's were full of Morality Ballads, and Bob Dylan made a career off of them. Among others, there's 'Like a Rolling Stone'.
- And it even predates Bob Dylan. Both Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger made a career out of straddling the line between Morality Ballad and Protest Song.
- The Chad Mitchell Trio has both straight and parody examples of Morality Ballads. Their 'Mighty Day on Campus' album includes the darkly comic Lizzie Borden ("You can't chop your papa up in Massachussets. Massachussets is a far cry from New York"), but also includes 'Johnny' (based on 'Johnny I hardly knew ye', about a soldier who returns home from the war crippled).
- "The Ballad of Guiteau" in Stephen Sondheim's Assassins starts with "Come all ye Christians and learn from a sinner: Charley Guiteau." It switches between the narrator singing about Guiteau, Guiteau singing about the importance of working hard and trusting God, and Guiteau singing a song - by the actual Guiteau - about how glad he is to be going to the Lordy.
- "The Bells of Notre Dame" from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
- Alice in Wonderland contains numerous parodies of nursery rhymes meant to teach children good behavior, almost all since long-forgotten.
- "Silas Stingy", a song John Entwistle wrote for The Who, tells the story of a Scrooge who's obsession with securing his fortune leads to some ironic karma.
- Many Christian Rock tunes that are not "praise songs" fall under this category.
- "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" by The Flaming Lips, about the abuse of power.
- "Boombox" by The Lonely Island. It ends by saying it's a cautionary tale: the Boombox is not a toy.
- "The Snake", by Al Wilson.
- The song "Cocaine Blues" (written by "Red" Arnall, originally recorded by W. A. Nichol's Western Ace, and is best known from the version by Johnny Cash) seems to be a parody: it revels in rebellion and substance abuse before admonishing listeners not to touch alcohol and cocaine in the very last line.
- Hilariously parodied in the W.C. Fields short The Fatal Glass of Beer. Accompanied only by his zither (while wearing his mittens), Fields sings a lugubrious ballad about the evils of alcohol in which a young man who drinks a single glass of beer staggers out in the street and breaks a Salvation Army girl's tambourine. He gets his just desserts by getting kicked in the head by the girl in "a move she learned before she got saved".
- "Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild Wild Women", originally by the Sons of the Pioneers, is another parody example.
- The verses of "Simple Joys" from Pippin.
- "Return to Innocence" by Enigma.
- Not technically a ballad: Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid" is a Hair Metal song about avoiding the pitfalls of the rock 'n roll lifestyle.
- "Another Day In Paradise" by Phil Collins focuses on the plight of the homeless.
- "Runaway Love" by Ludacris, about the lives of various runaways and the circumstances leading to them running away.
- "Brenda's Got a Baby" by Tupac Shakur, which details how a 12-year-old girl became pregnant (then driven to prostitution and killed by one of her johns) because her family and her society were not looking out for her.
- Steve Taylor didn't write very many of these considering he's a Christian artist, but "Jenny" is unequivocally an example.
- Jimmie Dodd would usually sing one at the end of The Mickey Mouse Club.
- Another example so perfect as to border on parody is The Kinks' "Alcohol", which even opens with the line "Here's a story about a sinner..."
- "Meeskite" from Cabaret:
Yes, indeed, the story has a moral, moral,
Though you're not a beauty, it is nevertheless quite true
There may be beautiful things in you.
- Steve Martin's parodic "Grandmother's Song" starts as a straight example, but turns into Word Salad Lyrics starting at the end of the second verse:
Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike
Be witty and happy and wise
Be honest and love all your neighbors
Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant...