Songs about friendship and fun are all the rage, sure, but have we considered songs about murder? There are more than you might think. Music has the ability to reach us on a lot of levels, and sometimes, we want to try to make sense of the worst of us. That’s where these creepier topics come in.
We’re giving you the 15 best songs about murder. Because this has been a hot topic since the dawn of man, they come from all different genres and time periods.
1. The Long Black Veil – Johnny Cash
This song starts off with a murder. “Ten years ago, on a cold dark night, There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light.” It doesn’t stop there, though. This is the story of the man who was wrongly accused of murder, but he refused to say where he really was that night. Johnny Cash’s cover is one of the best you’ll find of this, though Dave Matthews Band also did a pretty amazing version.
2. Janie’s Got a Gun – Aerosmith
When Aerosmith released this troubling song and video, fans were shocked. It seemed to empathize with a murderer. Upon closer inspection, we learn that the killer is a girl who has been abused and has finally found a tragic and violent way to defend herself.
3. He Was My Brother – Simon & Garfunkel
This folk-rock duo was a giant of the protest era, and this song describes the tragic martyrdom of a protester. Sung from the point of view of the deceased’s brother (either literally or figuratively), the lyrics tell the story of a man who was shot while singing on his knees.
4. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
One of the most famous Queen songs of all time has a large section told from the point of view of a man who is singing about the regret he feels after having committed murder. He sings to his mother about how he realizes he’s thrown his own life away.
5. Stan – Eminem featuring Dido
Eminem’s song about a fan who is a little too intense can be difficult to listen to. It starts out relatively benign, as we hear the fan’s letters to his idol. Then, increasingly, the fan gets frustrated as he doesn’t hear back and begins to become dangerous. The song is perfectly punctuated with a contrasting sample from Dido’s Thank You.
6. Water’s Edge – Seven Mary Three
Post-grunge band Seven Mary Three came out with this dark and disturbing account of a man who warns the listener to avoid the water’s edge. There, the listener would find a bloated corpse and, possibly, the killer. The singer insists he did not commit the crime, but he knows who did. He saw it happen, and he suffers from guilt and regret for not doing something before it was too late.
7. The Highwayman – Loreena McKennitt
Loreena McKennitt recorded this adaptation of the Alfred Noyes poem by the same name. This is a narrative poem that tells the story of Bess, the landlord’s daughter, who plans to run away with the man she loves, a highwayman—a person who robbed coaches along quiet roads during this time period. However, what Bess and her highwayman do not know is that he is being hunted by King George’s men.
This is a heartbreaking poem filled with haunting visual imagery, and McKennitt turns it into an unforgettable song.
8. Goodbye Earl – The Chicks
Dennis Linde wrote this country song about two women’s response to an abusive man who won’t stop hurting his wife. Using dark comedy in its lyrics, it tells a story that has been compared to Fried Green Tomatoes and Thelma And Louise in its tone. Despite this, the violent subject matter resulted in some reduced play time on some radio stations that were concerned about how listeners would feel.
Eventually, the song became a call for awareness about domestic violence, prompting activists to request that the track be played and access to domestic violence hotlines be made available.
9. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – The Beatles
The cheerful music in this song might be confusing once you listen closely to the lyrics. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer tells the story of a boy who goes around killing people with a hammer, going all the way up to court, where he also attacks the judge. Why this violent creature continues to have access to a hammer is anyone’s guess. In fact, Paul McCartney explained that Maxwell is actually a symbolic representation of fate, and the silver hammer attack is what it feels like when something goes wrong out of the blue.
Surprisingly, the other members of The Beatles weren’t on board with this amazing song and didn’t want to record it. The band was having interpersonal issues by this time, so perhaps, McCartney was already feeling some of the proverbial hammer on his friendships when he wrote it. They did, eventually, record it, of course. However, this is sadly considered one of the tracks that mark the beginning of the end of The Beatles.
10. Possum Kingdom – The Toadies
Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis wrote this song about a cult sacrifice that takes place in Texas Possum Kingdom State Park. He was a fan of horror, reading books and watching films from the genre. When he was working on various tracks, the idea for a dark story set in this location was mulling around in his mind, and it came out in two songs: I Burn, on Rubberneck, and Possum Kingdom.
They are actually both set in the same place, with Possum Kingdom serving as the sequel to I Burn. There’s a strong sense of the creepiness in Lewis’s fictional cult, as the singer in Possum Kingdom tries to lure someone in to be part of the dark workings.
11. Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable To Lunch Today) – Ella Fitzgerald
This slow ballad is one of Ella Fitzgerald’s best recordings, as it shows off the storytelling she could do with only a tiny trill of her voice. The lyrics begin with something relatively simple and not scary at all: “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.” Three verses in, though, we realize exactly what has happened and why Miss Otis won’t be able to make her lunch date. The great Cole Porter wrote this song in 1934. Fitzgerald often sang his best hits, and this was unquestionably one of them. She brought it to life in the most powerful possible way.
Originally, Porter intended this song to be a parody of a society woman who is coerced into a sexual relationship and then abandoned. Miss Otis never forgets her manners, even in the most terrible possible situations. However, in the hands of Fitzgerald, this song reaches its true potential as something much more powerful. With her help, Miss Otis Regrets is a sad, angry, and moving song about betrayal and consequences.
12. Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People
Many people have expressed that this song makes them feel uncomfortable because it’s obviously glorifying school shootings. However, songwriter Mark Foster explains that this was never the intention. He meant to bring awareness to mental health and gun violence issues in teens, and he never once mentions a school in his song.
People have drawn their own conclusions based on what they have seen on the news. Still, he recognizes that people are triggered by the content of this song and regrets that current events have altered what he intended the song to be.
13. Where Did You Sleep Last Night? – Nirvana
Here’s another disturbing song about jilted lovers and violent domestic reactions. Kurt Cobain performed it to great acclaim, though he did not write this one. It’s an old song that dates back to the early 1900s.
14. Tom Dooley – The Kingston Trio
Tom Dooley dates back to the 1800s and was based on a true story. Though some of the names and situations are changed to fit the song, what you hear in the lyrics is a poetic reference to an actual murder.
15. Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson
This top hit from the King of Pop features a memorable refrain: “Annie, are you okay?” That line was inspired by CPR training, where the rescuer is supposed to ask the person whether they need assistance.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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