In this artist-curated playlist, Jay Moussa-Mann picks her top five songs that tell a story, delving into a selection of favourites from her early childhood right up to her current life as a songwriter.
The Chicks – ‘Travelin’ Soldier’
The storytelling in this song is just so good. I have always loved country and this track has all the best parts of country. It’s about a young American soldier who asks a high school waitress if he can write her letters as he joins the army during the Vietnam War era. She agrees and a heartbreaking tale ensues. For me it’s very much about two lonely characters who find solace in each other for a time when they need it before it’s ripped away. Ironically, I was once asked by a guy to let him send me letters as he went to the army to do his national service… and I said no! (This is real life guys, not a song!)
Mandy Moore & Jonathan Foreman – ‘Someday We’ll Know’
‘Someday We’ll Know’ was the credits song from the 2002 film A Walk To Remember. I remember it being a very popular film when I was a teenager, the story of a wayward boy who starts to fall for an innocent reverend’s daughter. At the time I had no idea who New Radicals (the original writers of the song) were, but I found out years later.
I love this song because it asks all the big questions in life while suggesting that we will know the answers to why it all happened the way it did. I had no idea that Gregg Alexander’s songwriting would meet me again over 15 years later—in yet another romantic film (stay tuned!)
Eric Clapton – ‘Tears in Heaven’
When my mum and dad realised I was starting to take a real interest in music, they bought me Eric Clapton’s MTV Unplugged concert on VHS. They told me later my mum was a bit disappointed because I didn’t watch it for 2 weeks and dad told her, “Just wait. She takes time but she’ll love it.” He was right. When I did finally watch it, I became obsessed.
I overheard my mum say that the song ‘Tears in Heaven’ was about Eric Clapton’s son who tragically died at the age of 4 after falling from the 53rd-floor window of a New York City apartment. Once I knew that, the words, “Would you know my name if I saw in you heaven”, became really powerful. I imagined Clapton writing the song somewhere between earth and another realm, singing to his little boy, knowing he wouldn’t be allowed to stay there with him. It taught me the power of songwriting and its strange relationship to sorrow.
Gerry Rafferty – ‘City to City’
We lived in Turkey when I was growing up. It was hard to get British films or music so when we went back for short trips my mum would always come back with films, books and albums. ‘City to City’ was one of the albums she picked up and we both loved it.
I’d never heard musical arrangements like it and the style of songwriting was completely new to me. It was all so cleverly intricate and heartfelt but with this lightheartedness running through it. There was a clear story thread through the whole album but you could also just dance around to the music. My mum’s a really talented artist and I have such happy memories of her painting and me drawing next to her with ‘City to City’ choo choo-ing away in the background.
Keira Knightley – ‘Lost Stars’
And we are back to Gregg Alexander from New Radicals! The version of ‘Lost Stars’ sung by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine is possibly the most well-known, although I personally adore the Keira Knightley version. ‘Lost Stars’ is a song in John Carney’s film Begin Again, about a young songwriter who, after having her heart broken while visiting New York, meets a down and out music producer who encourages her to record an album. It’s a compelling story and a very feelgood film.
We first hear ‘Lost Stars’ when Keira Knightley’s character, Gretta, watches a keepsake video of her singing it to her ex-boyfriend for the first time. The song is beautifully raw and simple. The lyrics are pure poetry to me, once again reaching into something out there, beyond us, asking hard questions: God, tell us the reason youth is wasted on the young. It’s hunting season and this lamb is on the run, searching for meaning.
‘Tell Me’, the latest single from Jay Moussa-Mann is available now on all the usual streaming platforms. You can check out the accompanying stop-motion video, created by Jay Moussa-Mann herself, below.