Thursday, October 22, 2015
Octoberfest Five: 5 Murder Ballads
A murder ballad is—well, a story told through song about killing someone. Believe it or not, it takes an effort to make a murder ballad effective, and these five are the most disturbing I’ve heard yet. These songs are best listened to on a dark night driving down a lonely road or sitting on the porch of a cabin in the woods.
1. “Where the Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave is known for a catalogue of songs about murderers, rapists, thieves and all kinds of baddies, but perhaps his most haunting is “Where the Wild Roses Grow”. This ballad is told not only from the murderer’s point of view, but the victim, as well. Kylie Minogue duets in this song from 1995, which happens to come off an album titled Murder Ballads.
2. “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes
The Violent Femmes are an offbeat rock band from Milwaukee with an unshakable dark side to their lyrics. To the beat of a bass and a banjo, “Country Death Song” is the first-hand story from a man who has committed one of the most evil crimes of all—filicide. So, gather ‘round boys for a tale of a man who took a short trip to Hell.
3. “In the Pines” by Various Artists
“In the Pines”, also known as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “Black Girl” is an Appalachian folk song dating back to the late 1800’s. It’s been sung by many different artists, but my favorite versions are those of Lead Belly, the Kossoy Sisters, and Nirvana. If you’re going for a creepy, backwoodsy kind of feel, listen to the two former, but if you want to hear it played with raw pain and emotion, listen to the Nirvana version, recorded on their Unplugged album in 1994.
4. “Down by the Water” by PJ Harvey
Just as women are outnumbered by men in most things, it is rare to hear a murder ballad sung from the point of view of a female. “Down by the Water” is a hard, unrelenting song that tells the story of a mother who drowned her daughter. It pays homage to the traditional folk song “Salty Dog Blues” in the whispered refrain, which Harvey specifically pointed out in an article in Spin magazine in reference to a claim that some critics believed her lyrics to be autobiographical.
5. “The Shankill Butchers” by the Decemberists
Though no murder actually occurs in this song, it is certainly promised to all the little boys and girls who don’t “mind their mother’s words”. This creepy, haunting lullaby is sung as a warning to children to behave, or the Shankill Butchers will come and kill them.
The song is chilling enough on its own, but the real story behind the Shankill Butchers is sure to keep you up at night. A Protestant gang in Belfast, they savagely killed over 20 Irish Catholic civilians in the 1970’s and 80’s. Reading up on the history puts an extra layer of horror on this already spooky song and is enough to keep adults and children alike home before the streetlights go out.