Music is a diverse form of expression that takes in many styles. It's a popular field that can only be briefly sampled in a short article.
Everybody loves a ghost story. Nonetheless, there are captivating paranormal encounters that set you on the edge of your seat, and then there are the other tales that seem to leave you wondering when will this ever end.
The following are a few ghostly stories set to music, usually in the form of a ballad or folk song. Despite the musical framework, these tall tales all show a deep understanding of the storyteller's art of how to spin a good yarn.
10 Ghost Story Songs
- "A Ghost Not in This House" by Jamey Johnson
- "The Ghost of Tom Joad"
- "Cadillac in the Swamp" by SmokeHouse
- "The Long, Black Veil" by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell
- "Blackbeard's Ghost" by Jesse Rice
- "The Ride" by David Allan Coe
- "Little Ghost" by White Stripes
- "The Ghost of John"
- "The Ghost of Ann Boleyn" by Amberlyn
- "Ghost Riders in the Sky" by Burl Ives
1. "A Ghost Not in This House" by Jamey Johnson
On several occasions, Alison Krauss, along with her wonderful backup band Union Station, have performed at the White House. To my knowledge, she has never performed one of her most haunting hits, "A Ghost in This House," when visiting 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, even though her rendering of this sad ballad is.....oh so eerie.
Here she is (not at the White House) performing "A Ghost in This House" live.
2. "The Ghost of Tom Joad"
Tom Joad is one of the main characters from The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck's epic dust bowl novel about migrant workers, who travel from the Okie territory to California in search of work and a decent wage. "The Ghost of Tom Joad," which was written and first performed by Bruce Springsteen in the mid-nineties, when the economic reality, though much better than it was in the thirties, did not reach everybody.
Reportedly, Springsteen read the novel, watched the John Ford movie and listened to Woody Guthrie's Ballad of Tom Joad before penning this updated version of the Tom Joad story.
3. "Cadillac in the Swamp" by SmokeHouse
SmokeHouse is a Central Florida blues-rock band than can conjure up more than its fair share of haunted nights in the cypress bottoms. The swampy atmosphere that oozes out of Cadillac in the Swamp is so real, you can almost feel the moisture. Few modern songs have captured the darkness of the Southern bog better than this one.
4. "The Long, Black Veil" by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell
The Johnny Cash Show did not last too long on network TV, but during its short two-year run, the hour-long variety show featured some of the biggest names in popular music. Some of the more notable guests included Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, and Tammy Wynette. In this video, Johnny Cash performs The Long, Black Veil with Joni Mitchell.
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Originally, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin in 1959, The Long, Black Veil has been covered many times by such musical luminaries as Dave Mathews, The Band, and Joan Baez. Like A Ghost in This House, this ghost story is told in the first person.
5. "Blackbeard's Ghost" by Jesse Rice
Unless you are really into Pirate Bands or Trop Rock, then you probably haven't heard of Jesse Rice and Pirate Sessions, as they sing about the notorious Tarheel pirate.
Though originally born in England, Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, spent his last days on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at a place called Ocracoke Island.
The fateful battle that ended Blackbeard's life took place in November 1718, when Captain Maynard of the Virginia colony sailed south and engaged Blackbeard in a fierce battle on the lee side of Ocracoke Island in Pamlico Sound.
6. "The Ride" by David Allan Coe
On a more upbeat and humorous note, there is David Alan Coe's supernatural tale of encountering the spirit of Hank Williams on a dark night near Montgomery, Alabama. In this song, Coe skillfully combines a stirring musical composition with an invigorating story.
7. "Little Ghost" by White Stripes
"Little Ghost" by the White Stripes is another fun ghost story put to music. The song tells the supernatural love story between a mere mortal and a female ghost.
8. "The Ghost of John"
Every year, "The Ghost of John" gets sung by school children all around the USA. In a way it's a kind of morbid nursery rhyme, but it's not so gruesome that it can't be sung with a lot of spirit and gusto.
9. "The Ghost of Ann Boleyn" by Amberlyn
This poppy little tune was first released in the 30s, though the morbid tale of King Henry VIII and the beheading of his second wife Anne Boleyn dates back to the early 1500s when King Henry ruthlessly ruled England. Even though The Ghost of Ann Boleyn is a 20th-century song, the catchy tune still manages to poke fun at the cruelty of English royalty.
By the way, "The Ghost of Ann Boleyn" is also seen in a grade C British movie called The Other Boleyn.
10. "Ghost Riders in the Sky" by Burl Ives
"Ghost Riders in the Sky" is a story and song that is difficult to categorize because it features so many ghostly apparitions, both animal and human. On the surface, the song seems like a critique of Western Cowboy culture that was written back in 1948 by Stan Jones, a forest ranger, who wrote Western songs on the side.
However, there may be a deeper story here, for Stan Jones claims that he heard the original yarn from an old cowpoke, who knew the old cowboys and cattle trails quite well. Other old-timers talk about a place in West Texas called Stampede Mesa, which may be the original site of this story. For a glimpse into the real story behind the song, check out the blog of Fairweather Lewis and read the legend of Stampede Mesa. You'll discover Western storytelling at its best.
Ghost Riders in the Sky went on to become one of the most recorded Western songs in C&W history.From the long of noteworthy singers, nobody handles the the grisly tale, better than Burl Ives, the first person to record this western ballad.
Bonus Track: An Eerie Ghost Story from the Canadian Woods
Slaid Cleaves has been around for a while as a talented folksinger. His deep, mournful voice and slow, deliberate picking style makes him a natural for telling a good ghost story. In this case, the falls and the supernatural yarn are real, as Cleaves visited the place in Ontario many years ago with some friends. The songwriter also credits a poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee," by Robert Service as a major influence in this musical number.
Please note that since in release back in 2000, "Breakfast in Hell" has gained much notoriety as a popular ballad to be sung around the campfire.
Breakfast in Hell
© 2018 Harry Nielsen
CaribTales on February 25, 2018:
Listened to the Little Ghost sung by the White Stripes. One can really do more and get away with putting a tune to something as ghostly as this.