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Musical ‘long-distance’ runs: coloring books, pirate ships, ghost riders and even some ‘Pie’

Some songs’ lyrics are good at the “short sprint,” offering a single great line (or two). But others excel at the long-distance run, managing to carry an evocative theme through an entire song. Here are a few of my favorites.

Some songs are good at the “short sprint,” offering a single line (or two) that really resonates with listeners, and writers of many of the best of them can convey nearly an entire back story in one compact thought.

Check out two of my favorites:

• A wonderful contrast of words, time and images:

 “Too many moonlight kisses seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.” 
                                     — From “When I Fall in Love,” written by
                                     Edward Heyman and Victor Young

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• A 15-word soap opera:

“In the kiss that I gave was the love I had saved for a lifetime.”
                                     — From “Al Di La,” written by Carlo Donida,
                                     Giulio Rapetti and Ervin Drake

But there are other lyrics that excel at the long-distance run, managing to carry an evocative theme — or vivid set of images — throughout an entire song.

Here are a few songs that stand out for me, each successfully offering an extended metaphor that, together, cover a wide range of topics. Feel free to add examples of your own favorites in the Comment section below.

The starting point
When it comes to writing in multiple images, Don McLean’s takes the cake — actually, a different pastry — with “American Pie,” a 1971-72 song filled with so many layers of extended meaning that folks today are still debating the meaning of all of his references.

So, here’s a sampler of some other well-executed extended-metaphor songs, first by topic and then my favorite three:

Rocky relationships
• Sandy Stewart’s melancholic “My Coloring Book,” written by Fred Ebb and John Kander. A run through the crayon box shows the many shades of her post-breakup feelings.

• Diane Ray’s “Snowman” (I was disappointed that I couldn’t even find a lyricist for this clever but obscure piece of pop). The singer deals with her heartache by creating a substitute “faithful” boyfriend.

• Don Gibson’s “Sea of Heartbreak,” written by Hal David and Paul Hampton. Here’s a guy adrift on the choppy waters of life.

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• Guy Mitchell’s “The Roving Kind,” written by Rex Allen. This song offers a handy lovers’ guide to distinguishing between those fancy “clipper ships” and heart-breaking “pirate ships.”

Promising relationships
• Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On I’m a Radio,” which she wrote, channels her efforts to connect and sends out her signals loud and clear.

Linda Ronstadt’s version of the standard “You Go to My Head,” composed by J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, is as intoxicating as they come.

Life lessons
Here are two songs with a gambling theme that can help folks cope with whatever life deals out:

• Bob Seeger’s “Still the Same,” his composition about life’s “players.”

• Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” written by Don Schlitz. You never know where you’ll find a philosopher.

Dealing with temptation
• Joe Valino’s “Garden of Eden,” written by Dennise Haas Norwood, updates the Book of Genesis and Original Sin.

“You Are Woman, I Am Man,” from the musical “Funny Girl” by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. A mealtime seduction with Barbra Streisand as the main course.

My top three
Perry Como’s “Wanted,” written by Jack Fulton and Lois Steele. You’re sentenced to a romantic law-and-order theme.

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2. Jane Morgan’s “The Day the Rains Came,” with original words and music by Pierre Delanoe and Gilbert Becaud and English lyrics by Carl Sigman. The beautiful images compare the blossoming of new love to the end of a drought.

1. Vaughn Monroe’s version of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend),”  with lyrics by Stan Jones. An Everyman’s reflection on salvation and redemption.

Last week’s contest winner
Honors for the most elaborate (and creative) musical Frankenstein’s monster go to Fiona Quick for her 25-song creation (plus her suggested 26th — gender-specific — song to create a Bride of Frankenstein mate). Quite the laboratory creation! Check out her list in Comment No. 4 here.