Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gothic Murder Ballads

This week, I've decided to squander time by compiling a list of gothic murder ballads. I'm casting the net widely, and any musical genre and subgenre counts (though I'm partial to the epic storytelling of the ballad, and to the dark mood of the gothic).

Here, in no particular order, is the list so far (with thanks to friends and family who've sent suggestions):

The Raconteurs, Carolina Drama
Ween, Buenos Tardes Amigo
Jimi Hendrix, Hey Joe
Johnny Paycheck, Pardon Me, I've Got Someone To Kill
Alice Texas, Trampis Haire
Nina Simone, Ballad of Hollis Brown (also by Rise Against and Bob Dylan)
Geto Boys, My Mind Playing Tricks On Me
Lefty Frizzell, Long Black Veil (also by Johnny Cash, Chieftains/Mick Jagger, etc.)
Nick Cave, Mercy Seat and Stagger Lee
Louvin Brothers, Knoxville Girl
Kingston Trio, Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley
John Mayall, Parchman Farm

What else to add?

New additions:
Murder ballads Wikipedia page (I'll let the link serve for all the song titles listed there, which are mainly older classics)
Violent Femmes, Country Death Song
Miss Otis Regrets (Edith Piaf version; there are multitudes of covers)
Tragically Hip, Locked in the Trunk of a Car

Yet more!
Okkervil River, Omie Wise (this one's my new favorite)
Neko Case, Deep Red Bells
Murder by Death, Three Men Hanging 
Norah Jones, Miriam
Cher or Nancy Sinatra, Bang Bang
Beautiful South, Woman in the Wall
Chad VanGaalen, Molten Light
Be Your Own Pet, Becky
Tom Waits, Romeo is Bleeding and Dead and Lovely
Rickie Lee Jones, Skeletons
also several more by Nick Cave and Johnny Cash!

(with thanks to PB, NB, JI, CC, & LK for helping me build this list!)


  1. Nick Cave's version of Stagger Lee is on his album dedicated to the genre ("Murder Ballads," 1996 on Reprise).

    As with everything now, there's a list of standards at

    Narco-corridos are another genre with a high body-count, fwiw, although with a different social history.

  2. Thanks for the link! I learned about narco-corridos from a student who wrote a great paper on them as a freshman before deciding to major in English. He recently graduated from UCLA law school.

  3. I have a friend in Austin who does a murder-ballad show every year, with many different musicians getting up and doing their favorite. She goes through the lyrics and keeps track of the"body count," etc. I should ask her for this years'songlist.

    1. Sounds fantastic; if you get the list, send it along!

  4. Also (this topic seems to have a "life" of its own?), as if on cue, here's a piece in Alternet on narco-corridos and the political economy of the genre. It's a poorly-concealed secret that some of these acts sell more than the mainstream US/corporate pop that's tracked in Billboard, etc.

  5. Really interesting article, and first I've read about the alterado movement . . . you've gotta love it when the accordion meets kevlar!