The 10 Creepiest Country Murder Ballads – Rolling Stone
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Killer Songs: The 10 Creepiest Country Murder Ballads

Artists from Willie and Cash to the Dixie Chicks get away with the unspeakable

Murder Songs

Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash perform together in 1975.

Michael Ochs Archives

Thanks in part to the influence of Appalachian folk, hillbilly and Western swing, country music has always addressed some pretty dark subject matter. Sure, there are songs about cheating, fighting and stealing, but it's those even darker tunes about killin' that are the guiltiest of pleasures. They're also among the most popular — trying to count the number of times murder is alluded to in country's storied history is, like James Joyce said of eternity, akin to moving a beach one grain of sand at a time.

To be a bona fide country murder tale, the song must have a homicide (or two), a narrative and, of course, possess that distinctive country sound. Ergo, "Murder Was the Case" wouldn't qualify. Likewise, simply mentioning the capital offense does not a murder ballad make — there needs to be action. Here then are 10 country murder songs that best sum up the sub-genre.

johnny cash

Johnny Cash, “I Hung My Head”

While Johnny Cash has a lot of lyrical blood on his hands (see "Folsom Prison Blues," "Cocaine Blues," "Delia's Gone," "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," "Ballad of Annie Palmer" and covers of most songs on this list), not all his songs that mention murder are ballads. "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" may be one of the most famous lines in country music, but it's a confession, not a story. "I Hung My Head," written by Sting and recorded by Cash in 2002, is the only song on the list with a case of accidental manslaughter. To sing tenderly of violent death is a performer's great achievement, but to actually hear a snapshot of guilt in Cash's voice makes this song the cream of the murder ballad crop.

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