"Gentlemens of the Jury,A song about a murder. The murder ballad has its origins in Folk Music traditions dating back centuries, but since the 20th century has bled into blues, country, rock & roll, and rap as well. A Murder Ballad can be told from the perspective of the killer, the victim, or (most often) a third party observer. This particular style is a rich target for genre satire as well, as the examples below show. Many of the Child Ballads, collected by Francis Child, are Murder Ballads. Many examples contain Lyrical Dissonance. Might overlap with Villain Song, particularly if the lyrics are from the killer's point of view. Often overlaps with Teenage Death Songs. The Other Wiki has examples.
What you think of that?
Stagolee killed Billy DeLyon
'bout a five-dollar Stetson hat.
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee"
What you think of that?
Stagolee killed Billy DeLyon
'bout a five-dollar Stetson hat.
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee"
— Mississippi John Hurt, "Stack O'Lee"
Examples with their definitive recording.
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- "I Never Told You What I Do for a Living" by My Chemical Romance is written from the perspective of a serial killer.
- In fact, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge is a Concept Album of these. I Never Told You What I Do For A Living is just the most blatant example.
- The Nick Cave album Murder Ballads consisted of nothing but, well, murder ballads. The most famous song would be "Where The Wild Roses Grow", a duet with Kylie Minogue.
- And Cave's own "Stagger Lee." Look up the lyrics, I dare you.
- Cave's Stagger Lee murders at least one person in cold blood before the Billy Delyon character even enters the story - and then forces Billy to perform fellatio on him. And then shoots Billy in the middle of it. He also mentioned beforehand that he fully intended to have sex with and/or rape him after having sex with his girlfriend (who propositioned Lee) and stated that he would "crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy's asshole".
- And the last song, an original, "O'Malley's Bar." Plenty of squick to go around.
- And Cave's own "Stagger Lee." Look up the lyrics, I dare you.
- "Woman in the Wall" by The Beautiful South is about a drunk who kills his wife/girlfriend and hides her body inside the wall, The Black Cat-style.
- Snow White's Poison Bite's "The End Of Prom Night," "Kristy Killings," and "Serial Killer Girl (Come On, Come On, Kill Me!)" are about a serial killer girl whom the singer falls in love with.
- "Murder Ballad" - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
- "Buenos Tardes Amigo" by Ween is the tale of a South of the Border shooting, sung by the brother of the victim about how he will get his revenge, but it is revealed at the end that the narrator killed his own brother, and blamed it on the person to whom he is singing.
- "Heavy In Your Arms" by Florence + the Machine.
I was a heavy heart to carry,My feet dragged across the ground.And he took me to the river,Where he slowly let me drown.
- Anything off Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight by Kristin Hersh. She refers to them in concert as "the dead girlfriend songs."
- "Slow Motion" by Third Eye Blind, although you wouldn't know it from the original album release, which didn't contain any of the verses.
- "Country Death Song" by the Violent Femmes, somewhat of a pastiche of the classic murder ballad (at least, considering the rest of their oeuvre). Deals with a father murdering his little girl.
- "Cold Black Heart" by Shawn Mullins.
- The Birthday Massacre loves making these. "Lover's End", "Happy Birthday", "Velvet"... and then there's all the other songs that deal with violent things that aren't necessarily murder, of which there are too many to list. All set to catchy, upbeat synth/dance/rock/metal/something music.
- "Lovely Girls" by Blood Cells, from the victim's point of view.
- Pretty Polly by Queen Adreena is a cover of a traditional murder ballad.
- "Water's Edge" by Seven Mary Three, about witnessing a murder.
- Evelyn Evelyn have two; the tragic "Sandy Fishnets", about the life, disappearance, and probable murder of a twelve-year-old prostitute, and the darkly humorous "You Only Want Me 'Cos You Want My Sister", in which the narrator murders her more popular sister.
- While there's no Word of God, the lyrics of "Let The Record Show" by Emilie Autumn seem to be about a prostitute ("get them off and they'll let you go") murdered by her jealous lover. Considering the frequent setting of Emilie's work, there's also a high possibility that it's about a victim of Jack the Ripper.
- Hurt's "Got Jealous", about the narrator killing a man for being with his (possibly ex-) lover.
- "Pumped Up Kicks", by Foster The People, is a song about a teenager who goes on a killing spree because his schoolmates have nicer shoes than he does. However, the lyrics only deal with him wanting to do this after finding a gun, so whether he actually ends up killing anyone is up to interpretation. Coincidentally enough, the group's bassist is first cousin to a Columbine survivor.
- "Possum Kingdom" by the Toadies is ambiguously a murder ballad; the video strongly suggests that the narrator is singing to his female victim, but some have interpreted the lyrics to imply that the narrator is a vampire and has rendered his victim undead and immortal.
- The Chills' "Pink Frost," though the killing may have been rough play that got out of hand: "Thought I was dreamin', so I didn't hear her screamin'...she won't move and I'm holding her head."
- The Jesus Lizard have a lot of songs involving violence, so it's interesting that there's only one that definitely can be said to be centered around murder: "Thumbscrews", where a disgruntled tenant plans to torture his landlord to death.
- The Offspring, "Come Out and Play," describes a recurring series of gang-related murders, all of which are swept under the rug due to juvenile sentencing laws: "By the time you hear the sirens, it's already too late / One goes to the morgue and the other to jail" is juxtaposed with "Hey, don't pay no mind / You're under eighteen, won't be doing any time."
- Beck's "Girl", from Guero, is written from the point of view of a murderer in the planning stages.
- "Erase" by They Might Be Giants. Subtle with the lyrics "Finger find the button marked erase", and then more blatant with lyrics such as "The skeletons that won't stay down / The mercy kill that can't be drowned".
- "Killer" by The Hoosiers is an upbeat tune about a serial killer stalking someone, from the POV of the killer.
- "Milk And Cookies" by Melanie Martinez is the Sequel Song to "Tag You're It". The protagonist kills the man who kidnapped her in the previous song, by poisoning his food. It's deceptively peppy.
- "Smoke And Mirrors" by Jayn is a yandere genre influenced song about an Unlucky Childhood Friend who kidnaps the wife of her crush, threatens to kill her if he doesn't break up with her, and kills her when he refuses to.
- "Another Day" by Mountain Heart is a double Murder Ballad. An abusive husband finally shoots his wife and then tries to leave town. While he's hiding the sheriff tracks him down and lets the father kill him in what is implied to be a fairly brutal manner.
- The Steeldrivers' "If It Hadn't Been For Love" starts off sounding like a love song until it turns out that if it hadn't been for love, the singer wouldn't have held that .44... Better known as an Adele B-Side.
- Grace & Tony have "Invitation to an Autopsy", a song about 19th century killers Burke and Hare, who sold the bodies of their victims to doctors for use in anatomy classes.
- "The Murder Ballad" - Jelly Roll Morton
- Can be found in the Library of Congress archives
- "Crow Jane" - Skip James
- "Stack O'Lee" (also known as "Stagger Lee") - Mississippi John Hurt
- Tom Waits' "Murder in the Red Barn" from Bone Machine and its Spiritual Successor, "Don't Go Into That Barn" from Real Gone.
- And his spooky killer's eye account "Widow's Grove."
- Twa Sisters is old. Its first recorded appearance is on a broadside from 1656 under the name "The Miller and the King's Daughter." Everyone's done a cover of it, including Tom Waits, Clannad, Jerry Garcia, Okkervil River, Andrew Bird, Regina Spektor with Levon Vincent, Yggdrassil, and, of course, Bob Dylan. And there's a version of it in just about every European language. Notably, there are two different endings depending upon the adaptation - all versions basically involve a girl drowning her sister out of jealousy and someone else being blamed and executed, but in some versions the drowned sister's bones and hair are made into a harp or fiddle, which starts singing a song that reveals her true murderer.
- "Miss Otis Regrets" by Cole Porter (one of the few Cole Porter songs not written for a show or movie). Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues did a nice version for the Red Hot + Blue album.
- Robert Cray's bluesy "Smoking Gun".
- Little Caesar's "Goodbye Baby".
- The Rolling Stones' blues-going-on-rock song "Midnight Rambler" from Let It Bleed is a Murder Ballad from the perspective of the murderer. Although no specific murder case is mentioned, the narrator is quite clearly established as a Serial Killer and rapist.
- "In Germany Before the War" by Randy Newman is about a child killer.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic:
- Played for laughs with "The Night Santa Went Crazy."
- "I Remember Larry". "The Good Old Days" may count as well.
- Tom Lehrer:
- "The Irish Ballad" by Tom Lehrer is about an Irish girl who kills her entire (immediate) family in various gory ways. She doesn't deny her crimes to the police, though, because she knows that lying is a sin. "The Irish Ballad" is, by Tom Lehrer's own statement, a satire of the Murder Ballad.
- "I Hold Your Hand In Mine".
- Anthony and Those Other Guys' song My Brother, originally as a third party witnesses his brothers crimes and eventually a victim.
- "Now He's Gone" by Mitch Benn and the Distractions is a parody of Teenage Death Songs, based on the theory that the songs are popular because dead boyfriends are "safe" ... so in this version the singer doesn't wait around for her boyfriends to crash on their own.
- "Charles Guiteau" - Kelly Harrell
- "Delia's Gone" - Johnny Cash
- Johnny Cash has a lot of these, including "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "Cocaine Blues," "Folsom Prison Blues," etc. There is a Johnny Cash greatest hits album sorted into three themed-discs: God, Love, and Murder.
- "Goodbye Earl" - The Dixie Chicks, where an abused wife (with the help of her best friend) poison the title character as revenge for a particularly brutal beating at Earl's hands.
- "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence is a sordid tale of infidelity and murder in a small Georgia town which ultimately leads to an innocent man being hanged. The murderer turns out to be the narrator, who was punishing her brother's wife for her adultery. Unfortunately, the judge hangs her brother before she can confess the crime. Famously covered by Reba McEntire, though her version's music video was a mini-movie version which had Reba as the sister, revealing to an historian that the judge had been the man sleeping with her brother's wife and had refused to let her confession be heard so that the matter would be closed quickly and without further investigation
- "Between the River and Me" - Tim McGraw
- "Down the River" and "Long Black Highway" by Chris Knight.
- "The Snakes Crawl at Night" by Charley Pride, tells the tale about a man who sees his wife with another man, murders him, and is sentenced to die.
- "Miller's Cave", recorded by several artists including Johnny Cash, Hank Snow and Bobby Bare, involves a man who shoots his unfaithful lover and the other man, buries them in the titular cave, and finds himself hopelessly lost there himself.
- "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town," originally recorded by Johnny Darell based on a real murder-suicide he had heard about. Made famous by Kenny Rogers, and covered by everyone from Waylon Jennings to Leonard Nimoy.
- "Banks of the Ohio". The narrator's lamenting the death of his girlfriend who the narrator drowned in the Ohio because she refused him.
- Johnny Cash noticeably softened this song by having the narrator repent. The traditional version, especially as sung by Alvin Carter, version is horrifically coldblooded.
- "Psycho" by Leon Payne, later made famous by Elvis Costello, is a particularly chilling example. The narrator describes to his mother the various murders he has committed, seemingly without being aware of the nature of his deeds, until the song ends with the revelation that he has killed the mother too.
- SHeDAISY's "A Night To Remember" about a woman who discovers her husband is cheating on their anniversary and drives them both off a cliff.
- "Cold, Cold Earth" by Allison Moorer, about her parents' murder-suicide.
- Garth Brooks had at least two songs about murder:
- "Papa Loved Mama." As in many country music songs about murder, the woman turning to other men to ease deep loneliness due to her husband being frequently absent is the main driver for her cheating, as is the plot device of the man returning home early to be with his wife, finding out about the affair and then – in a fit of rage – killing the wife and possibly others. Brooks upholds this tradition here with his tale of a long-distance truck driver who murders his wife and the man she was having sex after crashing his semitrailer truck into their motel room ("The desk clerk said he saw it all real cleeeear.../He never hit the brakes and he was shifting gears").
- "The Night Will Only Know," about two people married to other people who have a one-night stand and end up witnessing a murder. The death of a young woman is ruled a suicide and her killer gets off scot-free because the two lovers are unwilling to come forth with the evidence proving she was murdered, as it would mean exposing their affair for all to see.
- The longer version of "The Thunder Rolls" ends with the abused woman murdering her cheating, battering husband, but radio stations only played the shorter version, and television networks banned the video.
She runs back down the hallway
And closes the bedroom door
She reaches for the pistol
Kept in her dresser drawer
She tells the lady in the mirror
He won't do this again
Because tonight will be the last time
She'll wonder where he's been!
- "Furnace Room Lullaby" by Neko Case. She also covered the folk murder ballad "Poor Ellen Smith."
- "Deep Red Bells" is also by Neko Case and is generally thought to be about the Green River Killer.
- "Ol' Red" by Blake Shelton starts off as a murder ballad in which the actual murder is blatantly left out: "I caught my wife with another man, and it cost me 99/In a prison farm in Georgia close to the Florida line"; the main theme of the song is his escape from prison afterward and his diversion of the prison's titular tracking dog.
- "I'm Sorry" by Margaret Cho.
- "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" by Porter Wagoner. A top 5 country hit in 1967, the main protagonist — who had been traveling on business and is apparently frequently absent — catches his wife in the arms of another man, then brutally stabs them both. Before the grisly murders, he had been to a nearby liquor store and florist to buy wine and roses to surprise his wife, and unknowingly runs into his wife's lover there.
- "Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)" by a one-hit wonder named Leon Ashley. Although it does not specifically take place in the song, it is strongly implied in the lyrics that either a murder or a suicide is about to happen, this coming after the man confronts his wife upon discovery of an affair she had with another man. After he mentally snaps, and takes her through a tour of their house and demands she caress him as they did before. The troubled man points a gun at either Laura or himself (it's never stated in the lyrics) and demands an immediate answer to the title question.
- "Long, Black Veil": Not much detail of the murder is given, but the narrator is the prime suspect because of his resemblance to witness descriptions of the killer. Actually, he is innocent, but he deliberately allows himself to be executed because his alibi was that he was having sex with his best friend's wife at the time, and he doesn't want to harm her. Unfortunately, the woman is still left grief-stricken for him and may go insane. Originally written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin (although its archaic atmosphere is such that it's often mistaken for a genuine folk song) and performed by Lefty Frizzell, there have been covers by Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, The Band, and Bruce Springsteen, among others.
- "Blood Red and Goin' Down" by Tanya Tucker, a 1973 ballad about a young girl made by her father to help track down his unfaithful wife. Eventually, the two find them at a roadside hotel, and after the man sends his daughter back outside, he brutally slays both of them. Unknown to her father, the daughter witnessed the murder by watching through a window, remarking that as he came back outside, her father "left them both soakin' up the sawdust on the floor."
- "The Little Girl" by John Michael Montgomery. A young girl witnesses the death of her parents in a brutal murder-suicide – her father, who was highly intoxicated and had gone into a drunken rage, batters his wife brutally shooting her; he then turns the gun on himself. The dark tone is uplifted when a foster family, who was the complete opposite of her biological parents, decides to adopt her and rear her as a Christian.
- "Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)," a 1989 single by Dwight Yoakam. The song is told from the perspective of the murderer, who slays his wife as she lay sleeping in the arms of another man. In the setup, the young man tells of happier times his marriage to a stunningly beautiful young woman, with her red dresses and flowing, long, coal black hair; and the child they had together. Then, the marriage fails and she leaves him behind with their young child; only his side is told, and he claims she had chosen to seduce another young man. After bitterly praying for revenge, he tracks his wife to a hotel room, bitterly cusses the situation and summons his courage ... walking into the hotel room, placing the gun by her head and pulling the trigger. "She wore red dresses, but now she lay dead," he remarks at the song's end.
- "Radio Lover" by George Jones, originally included on his 1983 album "Jones Country" but not released as a single until 1989 (when it was included on his album "One Woman Man"). The song is about a disc jockey who is frequently gone in the evening, leaving his wife alone at home. She begins having affairs behind his back to ease her loneliness, despite her husband reassuring her (on the air) that he is always thinking well of her and that he can't wait to come home to be with her. One evening, he decides to pre-record his program – using a then-new technology called voice tracking – and come home early to surprise his wife; he was hoping to spend a romantic evening with her, listening to the program and making love. Instead ... he walks in on his wife having sex with another man, and in a fit of rage, he kills them both ... ironically, just as his pre-recorded program is at its signoff (at the point where he is saying good night and telling his wife he loves her).
- "Gunpowder And Lead" by Miranda Lambert, a song about revenge. A 20-something woman, apparently very petite, had been brutally assaulted by her much larger boyfriend, and he had been sent to prison as a result. Several years later, he is paroled, and there are rumors he plans to track down his now ex-girlfriend and kill her; however, "this little girl" has gotten wind of this and gets her shotgun, loads it, and – after lighting a cigarette to summon her courage – waits by the door. Though no murder ever specifically takes place in the song, it is implied that she plans to pull the trigger the instant he steps foot into the house.
- Kinky Friedman's "The Ballad of Charles Whitman" is a moving, introspective look at the 1966 tragedy:
There was a rumor
About a tumor
Nestled at the baaaase of his braaaaaaiiiiiinn...
- "When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back," a mournful ballad written by Steve Clark and Johnny MacRae and made most famous by Confederate Railroad. The song – itself a first-person bittersweet reflection on a life of burned bridges that can't be rebuilt – fits the trope with the third verse, when the song's main protagonist is caught romancing a married woman; the woman's husband confronts the man, who retaliates by shooting him in cold blood. (The song ends with the man about to be led to his execution, not long after he curses at a pastor who had come to comfort him and read him his last rites.) The song itself is a prime example of Confederate Railroad's adeptness at performing Christian-themed ballads and good-time southern rock.
- In alt-country, Bob Frank and John Murry released World Without End, an entire album of murder ballads based (more or less) on real killings, some famous (including the assassination of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons, and the story of the legendary Californian outlaw Joaquin Murieta) and some obscure.
- Another alt-country example: "Billy Prichard" by Slobberbone has a father warning his daughter to stay away from the title character, who he says murdered her brother... The twist comes when the point of view shifts to the daughter, who reveals that her father accidentally shot his own son in an attempt to kill Billy, then blamed the murder on his intended victim. And then the last few lines imply that the father is now going to kill his daughter for what she knows.
- Carrie Underwood's "Two Black Cadillacs" is about a man who's killed by both his wife and his mistress
- "Independence Day" by Martina McBride is about a murder-suicide. An abused wife burns the house down with her and her husband in it, while their daughter (the POV character) is away at the fair. Hence the Double Meaning Title; it took place on the Fourth of July, and the wife became free by dying.
- Several songs on Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs fit this trope, among them "El Paso"..
- Depeche Mode's "Stripped" is a rather dark song even for one of the pioneering groups of gothic industrial music, leaving it up to the listener to decide if its a very strange song about Auto Erotica or a Stalker with a Crush finally living out his torture fantasy in the woods after kidnapping the object of his obsession...
- "Zeven Steken" (which is Dutch for Seven Stabs)- Laïs. This Flemish group sings about a girl who is murdered by the boy who impregnated her.
- "Tom Dooley" - The Kingston Trio, who got it from Appalachian singer Frank Proffitt. Based on the murder of Laura Foster by Tom Dula in North Carolina in the 1860s.
- "You Can't Chop Your Mother Up In Massachusetts" - Chad Mitchell Trio
- "Weela Wallia" - unattributed, but famously performed by the Clancy Brothers.
- Joe Bethancourt's version of "Silver Dagger", ostensibly more violent than the 19th century American traditional.
- "The St. Steven's Day Murders" - The Chieftanis with Elvis Costello
- "Down By The River" - Neil Young
- "Hurricane" by Bob Dylan from Desire is more of a framed-for-a-murder ballad, based on the true story of Rubin Carter.
- His earlier "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol" and "The Ballad of Hollis Brown," from his album ''The Times They Are A-Changin''" are both Ripped from the Headlines examples, the first chronicling the senseless murder of a poor black maid by a white aristocrat, the second recounting the story of a man who kills his wife, children, and himself because he can't afford to feed them anymore.
- "Knoxville Girl" - An Appalachian murder ballad, the singer murders "the girl I loved so well" for no apparent reason.
- "Little Sadie", also known as "Cocaine Blues", a traditional folk song that has the same plot as "Knoxville Girl." Some versions specify suspected infidelity as the reason for the murder.
- "The Watchmaker's Apprentice" by the Clockwork Quartet is a particularly clever example of this, as the protagonist uses a murder to frame and bring ruin to his former employer.
- "Vera Flew the Coop" by Marian Call
- Also played for laughs is "Mördar-Anders" by Cornelis Vreeswijk. It's a Swedish Murder Ballad about a guy named Anders who is about to be executed for the murder of four men.
- Lily of the West is about a man who kills the lover of the girl he falls for.
- "John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man" - The Carter Family.
- "Henry Lee" has been recorded many times under a variety of names, including a version by Nick Cave on Murder Ballads, but the definitive version is probably the 1929 recording by Dick Justice.
- "Red Right Hand" from Let Love In too.
- "Down in the Willow Garden", a traditional song recorded by Charlie Munroe in 1947 and Art Garfunkel in 1973, among others. It's a Rasputinian Death ballad, about a man who poisons and stabs his girl, then throws her in the river.
- "My Old Man" by Jenny Scheinman is about a woman married to a violent man with a "cold and bitter heart." In the last verse, she reveals that she's just killed him:
My old man, he's better off deadWrapped in the sheetsOf this stained and dirty bedHold your tongueHold your horseMy old man has run his wicked course
- Voltaire's "Ex-Lover's Lover" is about a man who plots the death of his girlfriend's current lover, with various means of disposing the body suggested. It's different from most Murder Ballad examples in that the singer chickens out at the end.
- "Matty Groves" (Child #81) - Fairport Convention.
- Harry Chapin's "Sniper" is about Charles Whitman and his infamous rampage atop the Texas university tower.
- The Decemberists:
- "The Mariner's Revenge Song". An epic revenge song about a young man who goes to sea to track down the man who seduced his mother and abandoned her to her death. The band's recent "The Rake's Song" also falls into this trope. That song has the narrator recounting in glee in how he killed his three surviving children after the death of his wife and newborn daughter during childbirth.
- "Culling of the Fold"
- Many Decemberists songs have at least a hint of this.
- Adriyel's duet "Sibyl Vane" tells a further fictionalized account of the love affair between Dorian Gray and Sibyl Vane, resulting in a double case of murder-by-suicide.
- Andrew Jackson Jihad's "Bad Bad Things" in which the narrator finds a person whose family he has murdered and proceeds to recount this event to this person, who he proceeds to kill at the end of the song.
- The Tragically Hip's "Locked In The Trunk Of a Car" is sung partly from the point of view of a serial killer, and partly from the point of view of his dump site.
- Steeleye Span:
- "Little Sir Hugh" is a traditional English folk ballad about the slaying of a child. Originally a blood-libel song against the Jews, the anti-semitism was carefully left out but the blood and gore left in.
- "Long Lankin" is also about child murder, committed by a desperate Border Reiver and his accomplice. Also quite gory.
- "John of Ditchford" is about brigands killing a nobleman. And the nobleman's son beheading the last member of the gang after he'd claimed sanctuary and was on his way to banishment.
- "Sunny Came Home" by Shawn Colvin although the meaning isn't immediately clear because of how peaceful the song sounds. Word of God confirms that it is a murder ballad.
- Josh Ritter's "Folk Bloodbath", featuring Stagger Lee and a girl named Delia.
- "You All I Need" by Mötley Crüe.
- "Janie's Got A Gun" by Aerosmith, about a girl who shoots her father for molesting her.
- "Around the Bend" by Pearl Jam was designed to work both as a lullaby, and as a discussion between a serial killer and his most recent victim.
- "Burden In My Hand" by Soundgarden, about a guy who takes his woman to the desert to kill her and is eventually struck by remorse (guitarist Kim Thayil even compared it to "Hey Joe").
- "Iowa" by Slipknot is a 15 minute long song about a man killing a woman implied to be his girlfriend with lyrics like "Relax its over, you can never leave, I fill your mouth with dirt"
- Blue Öyster Cult:
- "Transmaniacon MC" tells the story of Altamont - from the point of view of the Hell's Angels whose actions made it so memorable.
- Harvester of Eyes tells the story of a serial killer who takes his victims' eyes as souvenirs of a good night out.
- Career of Evil, co-written with Patti Smith, is about somebody going out and doing bad things For the Evulz.
- Morning Final is about a drugs dealer who is murdered in the subway.
- "18 And Life" by Skid Row is about a couple bored kids who go out drinking when one of them turns eighteen. They find a gun, and one shoots the other on a dare. The killer's so dulled from the world around him that he doesn't even register the trial until his sentencing.
- Led Zeppelin's "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" from Led Zeppelin III. This example might fit better under Folk Rock, despite Zeppelin being known as a hard rock band.
- "Ronnie". The song is about the titular Cloud Cuckoo Lander who snaps.
- "Harvester of Sorrow," which is about a bitter drunk who murders his wife and unborn child.
- "Good Mourning / Black Friday". In the first part, the protagonist either snaps or is possessed. The latter part is about his resulting rampage.
- Also, "Sleepwalker", which isn't about actual murders, but some of the crazy/murderous things Dave does in his dreams.
- "The Awakening" by Alice Cooper deals with a man waking up from a nightmare and realizing that he has killed his wife. The song is part of Cooper's concept album Welcome To My Nightmare.
- Several of the songs by the band Macabre follow this trope, although still played with electric guitars. Nothing quite like "She'll be Coming Round the Mountain" being used to sing about Jeffrey Dahmer.
- Iron Maiden:
- "Xero Tolerance" by Type O Negative, along with most of the other songs from Slow, Deep and Hard. Most of it was written at the tail end of one of Peter Steele's messier break-ups.
- 'Momma's Gonna Die Tonight' from ''Body Count, by Body Count. About young man who bludgeons, burns and dismembers his mother.
- "...and Heavens Cried Blood" by Swallow the Sun is about a man who murdered his wife.
- "My Name Is Mud" About a man who murders his friend, then buries the body.
- A Pale Horse Named Death, founded by Sal Abruscato of Type O Negative fame, has a lot of these, namely "Shallow Grave", "Killer by Night", and "Serial Killer".
- Ozzy Osbourne's "Bloodbath in Paradise" is about Charles Manson and his infamous 'Family'.
- "Die Die My Darling" by Misfits
- "Now I Lay Thee Down" by Machine Head
- A Pale Horse Named Death have a few examples: "Shallow Grave", "Killer by Night" and "Serial Killer".
- The narrator of "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace" by The Mountain Goats tortures a man to death.
- "See-Through Dress" by Red Jezebel
- One Eyed Doll is fond of these:
- "Cinderblock" is about a ten-year-old girl who kills her father with the title brick after getting fed up with his abuse.
- "Be My Friend" is a rather quirky song about a serial killer who wonders why she can't make any friends.
- "See Jane Run" is about a woman who kills someone who "hurt" her, is caught by the police and executed by electric chair.
- "Nudie Bar" has its narrator taking incendiary revenge upon the title boyfriend-stealing establishment.
- The eponymously-titled "Murder Ballad."
- "Gas And Matches" by Headphones, where the narrator is tied up along with their friends and burned to death with the implements mentioned in the title - apparently the killer was someone they pretended to befriend for the sake of a prank, who is now getting revenge.
- Jenny Lewis has "Jack Killed Mom" (off Acid Tongue). Jack didn't mean to kill his mother, but...
- "Klavier", "Mein Teil," and "Stein um Stein" by Rammstein.
- Also, "Spring": The narrator is goading someone into killing himself by jumping, but when that fails he kicks him down himself.
- More detail, the guy was just up there to see the view when a crowd assembles to watch him to jump when the narrator kicks him.
- Also, "Spring": The narrator is goading someone into killing himself by jumping, but when that fails he kicks him down himself.
- Subway to Sally has the album Mitgift, which only contains Murder Ballads.
- Ella Fitzgerald sang:
He's stone cold dead in the market
I killed nobody but me husband
- Also famously recorded by Ella, "Miss Otis Regrets." The title character guns down a man in cold blood after being seduced and dumped; she is arrested and then lynched for the murder. Her final words, "Miss Otis regrets she's unable to lunch today," form an Ironic Echo.
- Also My Ms. Fitzgerald: To Keep My Love Alive, about a black widow.
- "San Francisco Fan", performed by Cab Calloway and also by other jazz and blues singers. It's a story about a female performer named Fan who saves her gambling boyfriend's life after he is caught cheating at a game and is about to be shot, by Taking the Bullet for him, stopping 'a dozen slugs'. Everyone at the club she was performing at mourns her, and the song goes on to judge her boyfriend harshly, saying she gave her life for "A man who wasn't worth a shovel full of earth from the grave of San Francisco Fan."
- "Butcher Pete" by Roy Brown. Double Entendre or no, on the literal level it's still a murder ballad.
- The only time, at least in the first half which is more well known, that Butcher Pete is specifically said to 'chop' a person, is clearly meant as a joke... But because many people were recently exposed to Butcher Pete because of Fallout 3, a fiction where acts of murder and/or cannibalism outnumber acts of sexuality by at least 100:1, it's easy to misinterpret in that context. Chop, chop, chop that meat.
- "The Ballad of Booth", "The Ballad of Guiteau" and "The Ballad of Czolgosz" from the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins.
- "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago, where female inmates sing about (and dance with) the men they've killed.
- The revue New Faces of 1952 turned the legend of Lizzie Borden and what she did to her father and mother into a very cheerful hoedown number, with the refrain: "You can't chop your poppa up in Massachusetts."
- "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" from the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street details the disservices the eponymous demon barber performed for his unfortunate customers. "My Friends", "Epiphany", and "A Little Priest" from the same musical also qualify.
- "Mack the Knife" - Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, et al. A pop standard, but written for the excellent The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper), to introduce its Villain Protagonist.
- The original German lyrics to "Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer" are rather nastier, darker and more violent than in most English-language versions. Nick Cave's version of the song translates far more faithfully, what with him being Nick Cave and all.
- Kurt Weill seems to have had some affinity for Murder Ballads, because there were two in later shows he composed: the Ballad of Caesar's Death from Der Silbersee, and "Dr. Crippen" from One Touch of Venus.
- Many, many songs by The Tiger Lillies fit the criteria for murder ballads: Dreaful Domesticity, Maria, Neighbour, Violet... yes, many. They have also recorded a reworking of The Threepenny Opera, and covered several of the murder ballad standards listed here.
- The title song from MURDER BALLAD is about these sorts of songs, as one could guess, trailing off into one (the rest of the musical, presumably) at the end.
- The German cabaret act Die Nachrichter (banned by Those Wacky Nazis in 1935 as "subversive and destructive") sang Die Ballade von Heinrich dem Achten ("The Ballad of Henry VIII") as a parody murder ballad, mentioning that Henry "holds the amateur record in legitimate conjugal murder". The refrain goes "Herr Heinerich der Achte,/ Der wusste, was er machte,/ Er lachte nur/ Und dachte nur:/ Man lernt doch niemals aus!/ Nach jeder neuen Leiche/ Blieb Heinerich der gleiche,/ Denn Heinerich der Achte,/ Der machte sich nichts draus." ("Lord Henry the Eighth, he knew what he did, he only laughed and only thought: You learn something new every day. After each new corpse Henry stayed the same, for Henry the Eighth just didn't care.")
- Frank Wedekind (author of Spring Awakening and Lulu) also worked in cabaret as part of the troupe Die elf Scharfrichter ("The elven executioners") from 1901 to 1902. One of his best known songs from that period is Der Tantenmörder ("The Aunt-Murderer"), in which the titular character tells the court how he murdered his aunt for her money and ends with a plea: "I butchered my aunt, my aunt was old and weak, but you judges are after my blooming youth!"
- "Our Love is God" from Heathers begins as a love song, but morphs into this as JD shoots Kurt and Ram. The dinosaurs will turn to dust/They'll die because we say they must.../Our love is God.
- "Run, Joey Run" by David Geddes. A family man snaps upon learning that the title character had impregnated his daughter, Julie, and unable to be reasoned with (the girl begs, "It wasn't his fault/He means so much to me/Daddy please don't/We're gonna get married/Just you wait and see"), grabs a gun and hunts down Joey. Julie warns Joey that he can expect a visit from her angry father, prompting Joey to drive to Julie's house. There, the father sneaks up from behind to try to shoot Joey ... only for Julie to stand in the way at the last second and take the bullet. Julie dies in Joey's arms; the father's fate is unknown, whether he is arrested for manslaughter, turns the gun on himself or does something else.
- "I Can't Decide" by the Scissor Sisters, of Doctor Who fame.
- "Delilah" - Tom Jones
- Michael Jackson, "Smooth Criminal" from Bad.
- "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" by Julie Brown. A 1984 novelty song parodying 1950s teen tragedy songs that would probably never get airplay in these post-Columbine days.
- "Natalie" by Bruno Mars has the narrator planning the murder of a woman who ran off with all his money. It never technically says he's going to kill her, but the "digging a ditch" line and gunshot sound don't leave room for any doubt.
- The Maroon Five song "Wake Up Call" describes the narrator finding his girlfriend's lover in her bed and "shoot[ing] him dead". The lyrics imply the girlfriend is pretty upset about this, but at the start of the video she's already over it.
- According to Urban Legend, "In The Air Tonight" is a murder ballad. Phil Collins has said it's about how he felt about the break-up of his first marriage.
- "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" by The Beatles from Abbey Road.
- "Copacabana" by Barry Manilow.
- "Hazard" by Richard Marx. The protagonist is being fingered for killing his girlfriend, but claims innocence, however he may be an Unreliable Narrator. The song had three different music videos showing different perspectives and clues about the murder, but the mystery is intentionally left unsolved.
- "Murder by Numbers," from Synchronicity by The Police.
- "Every Heart Broken" by the Sugababes describes the murders of six different lovers.
- "Miriam" by Norah Jones is from a the point of view of a woman telling her man's lover why she's about to die.
- Cher's "Dark Lady" will never turn a card up anymore.
- "Kill My Boyfriend" by Natalia Kills is a very cutesy sounding song about a woman planning to kill her boyfriend so she can elope with another.
- "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" by (appropriately enough) The Killers, who have also released a cover of the above-mentioned "Ruby." Along with "Midnight Show" and "Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf", it forms a trilogy of songs about the murder of a girl named Jennifer.
- It may be worth noting the proper order of the Murder Trilogy is "Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf", "Midnight Show", then "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine". The first is motive, the second is the murder itself, and the third is the police interrogation afterwards.
- Murder is popular subject for The Blood Brothers. "USA Nails" features a woman being arrested for a post-natal abortion (of a child THAT WASN'T EVEN HERS), "My First Kiss at the Public Execution" is exactly what it sounds like (only worse), "Giant Swan" involves its protagonist getting killed by a robber with a machete, "Every Breath is a Bomb" is a case a la Terry Schaivo, a woman gets eaten alive by hotel rats in "Rats and Rats and Rats for Candy", and "Wolf Party" tells the tale of a protagonist who has just murdered a pedophilic priest. There are countless other examples.
- "Poptones" from Metal Box by Public Image Ltd., an account of a random murder from the victim's point of view.
- "Rum to Whiskey" by the Murder City Devils. The lyrics, like many Murder City Devils lyrics, are open to interpretation, but the general idea is that some guy kills his girlfriend to save her from this horrible sinful world.
- Looking Thru Gary Gilmore's Eyes - the Adverts. Who note that convicted murderer Gary Gilmore gave permission for useful bodily organs to be harvested and used for transplant after his execution. And speculating on who got the corneas and other useful eye-parts of a convicted murderer. And what would they see through a killer's eyes.
- "Beheaded" - The Offspring
- "Hammerhead" after the School Shooting reveal.
- In "Frankie Teardrop" by Suicide, the title character is in a similar situation to the protagonist of Woyzeck, working long hours in a mindless factory job. He goes home and kills his baby, his wife, and then himself, and finally goes to hell.
- "Shhh..." - The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. The killer apologises to his wife and bids her keep silent, while he goes to cover up the murder. It looks like she didn't agree...
- Parodied in the Dropkick Murphys song "The Spicy Mc Haggis Jig," which initially implies he's crushed to death during sex. He accidentally impregnates a woman on a one-night stand. The only "murder" that takes place is his social life.
- "53rd and 3rd" from Ramones by The Ramones in which a male prostitute kills one of his clients.
- "Die Die My Darling" - Misfits
- "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" and "With a Gun", both by Steely Dan. "Don't Take Me Alive", about Suicide by Cop, also probably qualifies.
- The rather straightforward "I've Committed Murder" by Macy Gray, in which she kills her boyfriend's corrupt boss, then they fly away to Jamaica with the boss's money and get hitched.
- "Murder Ave", by the Geto Boys. "This song was inspired by Jeffery Dahmer."
- "Kim". Made even more disturbing by the fact that it's about his wife... who he was actually married to at the time of the song's writing. No, really.
- "Stan", about an obsessed fan who kills his girlfriend and himself because Slim Shady won't answer his letters, also counts.
- Em's first Murder Ballad was "'97 Bonnie & Clyde", of which "Kim" is a prequel. (The "Bonnie" in question is Em's then-toddler daughter. Over the course of the song he explains to her why he did what he did and had her help him toss the bodies of Mommy, her boyfriend, and their lovechild [that part was bleeped out in "Kim"] into Lake Michigan.
- "Quitter" which was a response to rapper Whitey Ford for insulting Eminem's 12-year-old daughter. "If you talk about my little girl in a song again, I'm gonna kill you." Not sure if it counts exactly. Also, underground, is "Go To Sleep" about another beef he had.
- Though in real life he isn't all that violent and makes fun of blaming the media for violence in songs like "Murder, Murder" or "Bad Guys Always Die."
- Strangely Eminem even did a song about the horrors of rap battles and violence called "Like Toy Soldiers," in which he calls for peace among his enemies to prevent more killing.
- Oddly justified since a large percentage of murdered rappers are the popular ones with lots of talent, although Anyone Can Die in the rap game. But at very least, he doesn't want himself to end up like this, as well as other popular rappers.
- Another noteworthy example from Eminem is "Kill You." While is mostly played for laughs, does feature lyrics about attempting to decapitate someone, and the chorus starts with him saying, "Bitch Imma Kill You!"
- Eminem's album "Relapse" has a lot of songs in which he impersonates a serial killer. "Insane", "Stay Wide Awake", "Same Song And Dance", "Buffalo Bill" from the LP Refil and "3 A.M". which even have a videoclip.
- Semi-example: 50 Cent's "A Baltimore Love Song"'is sung from the perspective of heroin to the person it's killing with addiction.
- Yelawolf's "Pop the Trunk" is about a dispute between a couple of kids that results in one of them taking a load of rock salt from a shotgun to the chest and subsequently bleeding to death as he tries to go and get help.
- The Pharcyde's "On The DL" contains verses about several different subjects. One of the verses is about how the narrator killed someone.
- Immortal Technique's Dancing With The Devil is a particularly tragic example.
- Similar to 50 Cent's aforementioned semi-example, Papoose's "Cure" (featuring Erykah Badu on the hook) is rapped from the POV of cancer and later AIDS, specifically to the ones being killed and that peoples' loved ones as well.
- Tyler, the Creator's "Sarah", in which Tyler kidnaps, shoots, cannibalizes, and rapes a girl just because she turned down his prom proposal. And yes, there's sound.
- "Hey Joe" - Written by either Dino Valente or Billy Roberts, originally recorded by Garage Rock band the Leaves, made famous to the rock generation by Jimi Hendrix on his album Are You Experienced, and also covered by The Byrds and Love, among many others.
- "Used To Love Her" - Guns N' Roses
- The first section of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" from A Night at the Opera. "Mama, just killed a man/put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead..." This can also be interpreted figuratively, as inflicting himself with a fatal disease and expressing remorse over it.
- Warren Zevon:
- "Excitable Boy" takes a very matter-of-fact "no big deal" tone when discussing a severely disturbed young man.
- There's also "A Bullet For Ramona," which tells about how the narrator killed the title character for cheating on him.
- "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads from Talking Heads: 77 is, despite the name, not an example; it's about a serial killer, but the character in question doesn't kill anyone during the song.
- Sting's "I Hung my Head" qualifies, though technically it's a manslaughter ballad. It was later covered by Johnny Cash.
- Richard Thompson's "Shane and Dixie" is a seriously lyrically dissonant murder-suicide ballad about a pair of Outlaw Couple bank robbers though technically, it's an attempted murder-suicide ballad, since Dixie (the 'bonnie' of the pair) survives Shane's ('Clyde's') attempt to kill her
- Comes up in a few Deftones songs, but most creepily in "Digital Bath"; about a man who electrocutes his lover in the bath.
- What makes "Digital Bath" all the more amazing, is that up until that exact line, the lyrics made it seem like an Intercourse with You song. The sound itself is more seductive than anything.
- "A Little Piece of Heaven" by Avenged Sevenfold is about marriage proposal Gone Horribly Wrong. He doesn't take rejection well, but they eventually do work things out.
- Note that after you murder your girlfriend, eat her heart, fuck her corpse, get killed by her possessed corpse, then get married in Hell and possess your old bodies, going on a mass murder spree is about as happy as you can get.
- You could dance. Or adopt a puppy.
- Note that after you murder your girlfriend, eat her heart, fuck her corpse, get killed by her possessed corpse, then get married in Hell and possess your old bodies, going on a mass murder spree is about as happy as you can get.
- Don't forget "I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats. Well, more of a School Shooting Ballad, really.
- "Nebraska" and "Johnny 99" by Bruce Springsteen, from Nebraska
- "Rocky Raccoon", by The Beatles from The White Album.
- The controversial Falco Power Ballad "Jeanny", sung from the POV of a Stalker with a Crush who abducts and possibly murders the title character.
- "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Warrant. The narrator and his friends saw a body being dumped into a well when they were kids, and never told anyone.
- "Oh Woman, Oh Why" by Paul McCartney, sung from the point of view of the murderee, a man who wronged the eponymous woman. His death is only implied, but the gunshots and labored breathing get the point across.
- "Hand of Fate", by The Rolling Stones from their album Black and Blue.
- "Get Rid of that Girl" by The Donnas, where the singer fantasizes about beating up and axe murdering her crush's girlfriend. As the song ends, the chorus just keeps chanting "kill kill kill kill". It's a pretty snappy, upbeat number, though.
- "You're All I Need" by Mötley Crüe. The music video was banned from MTV because it featured the footage of a real-life murder. Not something you want to see on TV during the prime-time. Another version of the music video was less horrible and actually got some airplay, but since it still featured the crime scene with the dead girl, it wasn't particularly successful... And the fact that Nikki Sixx slept with the programmer's girlfriend only made sure the song got even less airplay on MTV...
- "Whiskey in the Jar" is sung by a highwayman who robs and later kills an army captain.
- In many versions, he never kills the captain (or colonel), not for lack of trying. But Jenny (Molly, in the famous Thin Lizzie version, or Ginny) steals his rapier and fills his guns with water or sand, so when he rides to meet Captain Farrell (or Colonel Pepper), he can't fight and is taken prisoner.
- The song might not be about highway robbery at all; it can be interpreted as a subversive Irish Republican ballad in which Captain Farrell symbolises British rule and oppression, the highwayman symbolises Irish rebellion against the British, and Molly/Jenny is symbolic of betrayal and collusion with the hated Brit that has so oft been blamed for rebellions failing.
- The song has been passed down in many versions with different locales, names of protagonists, and outcomes. An earlier form, "The Sporting Hero, or Whiskey in the Bar" was published as a broadsheet in the 1850s, but some folklorists see the song going back as far as the 17th century.
- "Frankie and Johnny" Traditional; recorded numerous times.
- "Never Let The Devil Get The Upper Hand Of You" is a chilling song about a man who is raised well, finds a good job, meets a girl who he loves, plans to get married, and then beats her to death for no reason.
- "John Barleycorn" is an odd one. It can be, and often is, sung as a murder ballad but the song is really supposed to be about harvesting (and distilling) well ... barleycorn.
- Lucy Wan is a Scottish ballad about a man who impregnated and then murdered his sister.
- Bonnie Banks o'Fordi is a Child Ballad, about an outlaw who meets three sisters, and kills two of them for refusing to marry him. The third says her brother will avenge her, and tells the man her brother's name. Realizing that it is him, the bandit kills himself.
- The German "kitchen song" Sabinchen war ein Frauenzimmer ("Little Sabina was a female person") is a 19th-century parody of the "Moritat" genre of ballad performed at fairgrounds, featuring lame-footed verse, forced rhymes, accents on the wrong syllables and what have you. It tells the story of housemaid Sabine who is seduced by a "wild" shoemaker from Treuenbrietzen into stealing silver spoons from her employers, who then sack her; she then reproaches her seducer, who cuts her throat and kills her. Caught "standing around her", he is put in prison, where he confesses to his crime. The moral of course is: "never trust a shoemaker".
- "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Alice in Wonderland, more or less—it's about the titular duo luring in a group of oysters to be mercilessly eaten.
- "Slaughter of the Crew of the Rusty Chain" from Redwall.
- "The Rains of Castamere", which in A Song of Ice and Fire is not only a murder ballad, but a ballad hinting that another murder is quite likely to occur.
- "Amber and Jasper" in the Discworld novel Moving Pictures is the troll version of "Frankie and Johnny". "He was her troll, but he done her wrong".
- "The Hanging Tree", an Appalachian murder ballad in Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay.
- Felix Castor, having the power to control the dead through music, tends to play this sort of song. For example, the ghosts of three young victims of a serial killer are summoned using "Henry Martin".
- The Twilight Zone episode "Come Wander With Me" is based on a fictional Murder Ballad.
- In the CSI episode "Snakes", Nick investigates the murder of a reporter who had been investigating a band known for writing and performing Murder Ballads. The circumstances of the murder closely mimic one of the band's ballads.
- The Shield did an episode where Vic Mackey and his supervisor, Captain Acaveda, end up investigating a Mexican musician whose murder ballads were based on real life unsolved murders. In the end, it turned out that the singer was simply trying to claim credit for murders committed by Mexican drug cartel members, with his songs based off of gossip he heard in the clubs he performed in.
- Alan Wake's "The Poet and the Muse," a folky Power Ballad by Heavy Mithril Fake Band Old Gods of Asgard, which tells a rather simplified version of the tale of in-universe characters Tom the Poet and his Muse. Tom used the magical properties of the lake he lived by to resurrect the Muse by Rewriting Reality when she drowned in its waters. When Tom discovered she Came Back Wrong,
He took her in without a word for he saw his grave mistake
And vowed them both to silence deep beneath the lake
Now, if it's real or just a dream one mystery remains
For it is said, on moonless nights they may still haunt this place
- Metalocalypse: "Murmaidur" by Dethklok is, as its title implies, about mermaids. And murder.