Skip to main content

Top 10 Songs About Murder

Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.

Johnny Cash definitely knew his way around a murder ballad.

Johnny Cash definitely knew his way around a murder ballad.

Love might be the most popular theme in music history. But you'll find plenty of songs that discuss humanity's darker and more macabre side if you go looking.

The tracks on this list vary from country ballads to thrash metal explosions, tongue-in-cheek pop hits, and everything in between. Some tell fictional and semi-fictional tales, while others recall actual events. But all tell stories of murder.

Ten Songs to Die For

10. "Suffer Little Children" by The Smiths
9. "Cassie" by Flyleaf
8. "I Don't Like Mondays" by The Boomtown Rats
7. "The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)" by Rod Stewart
6. "Goodbye Earl" by The (Dixie) Chicks
5. "Hey Joe" by Jimi Hendrix
4. "Delilah" by Tom Jones
3. "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen
2. "Delia's Gone" by Johnny Cash
1. "Angel of Death" by Slayer

10. "Suffer Little Children" by The Smiths

Few things left a more horrific legacy over Britain than the Moors murders by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. But wherever there's a terrible event, morbid artistic curiosity is sure to follow in the form of films, music, and tv shows.

In this case, that would include the first song ever written by Morrissey and Johnny Marr as the Smiths, the eerily titled "Suffer Little Children."

The song itself is about what you expect from The Smiths, just with exceptionally dark material. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the track triggered a tabloid uproar and divided opinion. Morrissey himself would form a friendship with one of the victim's mothers, while a grandfather of another victim condemned it.

9. "Cassie" by Flyleaf

Flyleaf achieved some success in the mid-to-late 2000s with their alternative metal sound. And though not a Christian rock band per se, religious subtexts often underlined the lyrical content of their songs.

Nowhere is this more evident than the tragedy-tinged "Cassie" from their 2005 self-titled debut. The song tells the story of Cassie Bernall, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings, who is believed to have died after telling her killers that she believed in God.

8. "I Don't Like Mondays" by Boomtown Rats

Bob Geldolf is now best known for his philanthropic efforts, being one of the lead figures behind the Live Aid and Live8 concerts. But before that, his main claim to fame was as the frontman for Irish rock band The Boomtown Rats, whose biggest hit, "I Don't Like Mondays," was more concerned with humanity's potential for evil.

The song was inspired by a school shooting carried out by Brenda Spencer, a 16-year-old San Diego girl who opened fire on an elementary school across the street from her house. When asked why she did it, she replied: "I just did it for the fun of it. I don't like Mondays". Geldolf heard about this in a news report and promptly penned the song.

7. "The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)" by Rod Stewart

This tragic tune, which first appeared on Rod Stewart's 1976 album, A Night on the Town, tells the story of a gay man being attacked and killed. The song was ahead of its time, one of the first to portray a gay person in a non-exotic, empathetic light.

Although Stewart admits to embellishments, the song is based on a true story. The track has since been recognized as an important moment in music history, later becoming a focus of an LGBT exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

6. "Goodbye Earl" by The (Dixie) Chicks

This country-pop bop from the Dixie Chicks' Grammy-award-winning album Fly (1999) was a darkly comedic take on domestic violence.

The song was written by Dennis Linde and it tells the story of two women who poison an abusive husband to death. It includes such cheerful lyrics as "Those black-eyed peas, they tasted alright to me, Earl. You're feelin' weak? Why don't you lay down and sleep, Earl?"

The song is more tongue-in-cheek than anything, but some took offense, claiming it promoted murder as a viable solution to abuse. Meanwhile, others, including the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, praised the tune for raising awareness regarding the issue.

5. "Hey Joe" by Jimi Hendrix

"Hey Joe" is best known as the song that propelled legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix to stardom. And although Jimi's version is the most famous, the history of "Hey Joe" goes much further back, and new variations continue to be recorded to this day.

Some credit the song to American folk musician Billy Roberts, while others claim singer-songwriter Dino Valenti penned the song. Others simply refer to it as a traditional folk song.

Roberts filed for copyright, but even if he was the writer, a number of earlier songs likely had an influence:

  • "Baby Please Don't Go To Town" by Neila Horn
  • "Hey Joe," a 1953 song with the same name written by Boudleaux Bryant
  • "Little Sadie," a traditional country/folk ballad recorded by Clarence Ashley, Doc Watson, and the late Mark Lanegan

In any case, the song, groovy as it is, concerns a macabre subject matter. A man shoots his unfaithful wife before heading to Mexico, as told through the eyes of a questioning onlooker.

4. "Delilah" by Tom Jones

Welsh-born singer Tom Jones made a name for himself on the back of many feel-good hits. But one of his signature songs, "Delilah," has a much darker side. And such becomes apparent when you pay close attention to Barry Mason's lyrics.

The song begins with a man discovering his lover's unfaithfulness, explaining, "I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind."

Later, the man reacts to the discovery in the most gruesome way possible, murdering her in a jealous rage with a knife. Something to think about next time you sing along with that big ballady chorus.

3. "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen

Death rears its ugly head frequently throughout Bruce Springsteen's 1982 album Nebraska. But it's the title and lead track that truly sets the tone. Springsteen tells a story through the eyes of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather, juxtaposing his warm and smooth country-folksinger drawl with the evil depicted in the lyrics.

"From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska, with a sawed-off .410 on my lap, through to the badlands of Wyoming, I killed everything in my path," Springsteen cooly recites, resulting in a track that is equally chilling as it is soothing.

2. "Delia's Gone" by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash might be the king of the country murder ballad, and "Delia's Gone" might be the most haunting track he ever recorded.

The song tells the real-life story of a 1900 murder of a 14-year-old girl named Delia Green on Christmas Day when her teenage lover shot her dead following an argument. The tune is particularly unsettling because it's told from the killer's perspective, who shows little remorse for his actions, claiming,

"If your woman's devilish, you can let her run
Or you can bring her down and do her
Like Delia got done"

Johnny Cash clearly loved the song because he recorded it twice. "Delia's Gone" was initially featured on Cash's 1962 album, The Sound of Johnny Cash. Then, decades later, Cash re-recorded the song for 1994's American Recordings.

While both versions are pretty similar, the original is almost oddly cheerful, while Cash gave the track a darker tone the second time around.

1. "Angel of Death" by Slayer

While all the songs on this list may deal with death, none are as macabre or controversial as Slayer's "Angel of Death."

The opening track on Slayer's 1986 album, Reign in Blood, "Angel of Death' deals with infamous Nazi physician Josef Mengele, who conducted medical experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp. These experiments were inhumane, torturous, and often resulted in death.

When the execs at Columbia Records heard "Angel of Death," they foresaw the potential outcry and chose to wash their hands of the band and their album. In fairness, they weren't necessarily wrong in believing it might not be worth their while, as many critics accused Slayer of being pro-Nazi upon the song's release. The band vehemently denied this, claiming it was about learning from history.

"I know why people misinterpret it," guitarist and songwriter Jeff Hanneman said to KNAC.com in 2004. "It's because they get this knee-jerk reaction to it. … There's nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily [Mengele] was a bad man, because to me—well, isn't that obvious? I shouldn't have to tell you that."

© 2022 Mike Grindle