I got to thinking recently about songs about baddies and crime.  There are some absolute gems out there.

What got me started on this train of thought was listening to Johnny Cash singing The Beast In Me:

From childhood I absolutely loved Lorne Greene's Ringo:

Nick Drake seems to have built his career on them!  Possibly my favorite is a duet with P J Harvey, Henry Lee:

I know that this is only the tip of a very large iceberg!

I would love to hear about other peoples favorites

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slick topic! 

one song that comes immediately to mind is Steve Earle's great saga  "Tom Ames Prayer"

this is also covered very well by Robert Earl Keen 

And, as i'm typing this, another of Steve Earle's tunes comes to mind ... "Billy Austin"

For a modern day Bonnie and Clyde song, check out Fred Eaglesmith's 

" Pontiac" ... a damn fine song! 

Catherine Britt has  a fine murder ballad on her new album "Always Never Enough" called "Sally Bones".

Catherine Britt deserves at least the same recognition that her contemporary and buddy Kasey Chambers has achieved.

Do yourself a favour and check her out : www.catherinebritt.com

Eddie White

The Cosmic Cowboy Cafe

2RRR Sydney, Australia

...Not sure how in the hell I have never heard of Catherine before having read your post but I'm sure glad you brought her to my attention and I thank you.

I really like her sound and its easy to see how she and Kasey would be friends.

Sally Bones is one vengeful  chick, and with good cause!  

once again, thanks for the heads up and I am on the case of adding all of her available material to my library.

since your link was "chopped" in your post, here is a link directly to Catherine singing "Sally Bones"

http://www.blinkx.com/watch-video/catherine-britt/ceRO0TRaNwR6AGj5d... 

note and an aside: that fact that the character, Sally Bones, is from Alice Springs put me in mind of a good Australian film " Alice to Nowhere" , a good flick set in a most desolate area , if anyone is interested in watching it.

Great clip, thanks WEB

woops, trying to leave a reply for Eddie, but for some reason it keeps linking to your post!

Long Black Veil by Marijohn Wilken. "I spoke not a word, though it meant my life, for I had been in the arms of my best friends wife."

Are we talking true crimes or fictional crimes?

One of my favorite true crime songs would be "Don't Take My Guns Away" by the Elvis Brothers, about Bernhard Goetz.

For fictional crime, I'll have to go with Steve Earle's "Billy and Bonnie."

I'm sure there are a lot more I just can't think of right now.

Hadn't really separated fictional and non fictional, sometimes hard to know.  I hadn't heard the Elvis Brothers track, a great song, thanks

"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."

Everyone knows this song, but how many really notice that line? For all we know the character didn't shoot the guy because he was sleeping with his wife, or the guy cheated in cards, or that he screwed him in some deal gone bad. He just shot him.

I think many think of that song more as an uptempo train song.

There are some great tunes listed here!

Tip of a large Iceberg?  Outside of love songs, this might be the most popular topic for songwriters.  Here are a few of my faves off the top of my head.   


El Paso - Marty Robbins

Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin

32-20 Blues - Robert Johnson

Claudine - The Rolling Stones

Hurricane - Bob Dylan

Lorca's Novena - the Pogues

Killing an Arab - The Cure

I'm Waiting for the Man - The Velvet Underground

Down in the Tube Station at Midnight - The Jam

Crime & Punishment: Bloody Ballads, Prison Monas & Chain Gang Blues.

Kris Needs of ZigZag has just put together a CD compilation on exactly this theme. The 50 tracks include Frank Hutchison’s Stackalee, Mississippi John Hurt’s Frankie, The Louvin Brothers’ Knoxville Girl and The New Lost City Ramblers’ Tom Dooley. Not to mention The Murder of the Lawson Family by The Carolina Buddies, Duncan & Brady by Dave Van Ronk and Down on the Banks of the Ohio by The Blue Sky Boys.

Win a free copy here: http://www.planetslade.com/contact2.html. Competition closes August 31.

Thanks Paul, just spent a fascinating hour or so on your website!  Really enjoying your writing on all manner of topics, and love the depth you go into on the murder ballads.

Thank you

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.