Nirvana To Lindsay Lohan: 10 Chilling Murder Ballads
I was first officially introduced to the eerie concept of murder ballads in college while night driving across the pitch-black back roads of rural Tennessee listening to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' album of the same name.
As the first track, "Song Of Joy," pulsed through the speakers and Cave's morose voice beckoned, "I will tell you a story of a man and his family, and I swear that it is true," it was impossible not to be drawn in … and terrified. This is the dark intrigue of a murder ballad.
In honor of the spookiest holiday of the year, longtime No Depression contributor Easy Ed took a deep dark look into the murder ballad, compiling his own list of 10 songs that capture the style best. These songs can contain equal parts narration of a crime, portrait of a victim and chilling perspective of the killer.
"One of the things that make murder ballads so interesting to me are that they show up in so many styles, including folk, bluegrass, country, pop, rock, blues, and hip-hop," said Easy Ed. "Some are old, some are new and I enjoy them all, especially on a cold, dark night."
Indeed, Easy Ed's list includes the frightening "I'm The Wolfman" by Round Robin and John Zacherle's "Dinner With Drac," along with more modern examples such as Lindsay Lohan's version of the deadly traditional song "Frankie and Johnny," and Nirvana's moving performance of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" (aka "In The Pines" and "Black Girl") to close out their 1994 appearance on MTV Unplugged.
Other highlights on the list include Wilson Pickett's soulful version of the prototypical murder ballad, "Stagger Lee," made even more violent in the aforementioned Cave's version and even more vengeful in Grateful Dead's version, and Joni Mitchell and Johnny Cash singing the ultimate dirge of adultery, murder and sorrow, "Long Black Veil."
Murder ballads are the possible predecessors to horror films, though they leave much more to the dark corners of the imagination. As "Song Of Joy" moves toward its end, and Cave's "story is nearly told," he begs, "I am upon your step, and you are a family man/Outside the vultures wheel, the wolves howl, the serpents hiss … Do you, sir, have a room?"
And if you've made it that far into the song, you'll probably be sleeping with the lights on tonight.