On this day in 1974, “I Shot the Sherrif” hits no. 1 on the music charts. While the song had been written by reggae prophet Bob Marley the previous year, it was Eric Clapton’s version that ascended to the top of the charts.
Crime and murder have been the subject of popular recorded music since the invention of the phonograph. “Stagolee”, also known and performed as “Stagger Lee”, was one of the 20th century’s first hits. The lyrics were based on an actual murder that occurred in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1894 or 1895.
Another early hit was “White House Blues”, which recounted the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. The Louvin Brothers had a huge hit in the 1950s with “Knoxville Girl”, a story-song in which the protagonist cannot help but kill his girlfriend, and Johnny Cash sang of killing a man “just to watch him die” in “Folsom Prison Blues”.
Over time, this type of grotesque narrative songs became its own genre: Murder Ballads.
“Cocaine Blues” is one of the early Murder Ballads composition, written by Roy Hogsed, released in 1944. “Cocaine Blues” is the tale of a man, Willy Lee, who murders his unfaithful girlfriend while under the influence of whiskey and cocaine.
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” is also known as “In The Pines”. It is about a man who finds out his wife has been cheating on him. He goes out into the cold night and is killed, either in an accident or by murder.
The video on the very top via ScottishTeeVee/YouTube, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds performing “Stagger Lee” live in London, February 1996. The song is included in their 1996’s album, the band’s biggest commercial success to date, Murder Ballads.
Below, some comprehensive playlists to give you a better understanding about Murder Ballads. I like the Tidal version better, by the way.
• Read also MACGOWAN & FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK.
Sources: History, Wikipedia, GQ, Songfacts.