But of course, we need to consider a compilation of country murder songs. Really, what would life be without a little murder and mayhem down on the farm?
Let’s start with a true story told by one of the survivors. Reaching into the way back machine with the Doc Watson Family, “The Triplett Tragedy” involves crazy drunken honor murders within a family, recounted a cappella by one of the widows. This is pure creepy freakiness.
You might balk at calling the Violent Femmes “country,” but it’s in the very title of the “Country Death Song.” Plus, it’s an appropriately bleak story about a father throwing his young daughter down the well. Grim scene, baby.
Obviously you’ve got to have Johnny Cash up in this. Heck, they even put together a whole CD compilation of Johnny Cash called Murder. “Folsom Prison Blues” obviously needs to be here. Note that his expressions of regret did not extend to giving a damn about the dead guy, but only that he knew he could never be free again. I personally get a lot more out of “Delia’s Gone.” That’s the psycho stuff where he’s hearing the patter of Delia’s feet in his jail cell- and still apparently not regretting it.
The real king of country psycho killers, though, is actually Porter Wagoner. All the cool people know about “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.” That’s a beautiful scene with him driving around and around the house, drinking what was supposed to be their celebratory homecoming booze as he works up his courage to walk in with that knife.
Ah, but even better psycho Porter comes out in “The First Mrs Jones” in which the reasonable and quiet spoken Mr Jones explains the fate of the late Betty Jones- to the second Mrs Jones.
Now, Loretta Lynn only got worked up to murder late in life, with the 2004 recording “Woman’s Prison.” Killed that cheating SOB. He had it coming, but there she is in the death chamber hearing her mother’s voice singing gospel as they’re strapping her in. Top that off with some tasty Jack White blues guitar, and you’ve got a winner.
For all her comedienne schtick, June Carter Cash could get all up in that dark stuff. One of her best original compositions was the murder/suicide tale “Tall Lover Man.” She recorded it on two of her only three original full fledged albums. The later Press On version is definitely preferred.
Completing the grrrl power trilogy here, the thing that makes the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” fun is the complete and utter lack of remorse. Killing an abusive husband becomes not a tragic necessity, but a cute joke. Hardy, har, har!
On the other hand, Lyle Lovett’s issues with women reach their peak with “LA County.” He’s having such a driving, beautiful vision of the lights of LA county- as he’s cruising into the chapel to murder his ex and her fiance at the altar.
“Amos Moses” has a fairly light emotional tone, indeed it’s quite giddy. But what’s the linchpin of Amos’ coolness? Jerry Reed’s narrator is chuckling about how easy it is for a sherif to get lost in that Louisiana bayou. Ha, ha, ha!
Usually you couldn’t describe Elvis Costello as “country,” even when he’s playing stuff in that range. He’s too British and educated to be real down home American country. He managed to step right out of that self-consciousness however with his B-side cover of an extremely obscure country song called “Psycho.” There’s some peculiar mental space that Porter Wagoner in particular gets to that makes crazy stuff like the “Rubber Room” seem emotionally real. Elvis gets to that place with this serial killer.
Tom T Hall generally wasn’t writing about extreme or violent personalities, but he sure had fun with “Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On.” One of T’s most rockin’ tunes tells the story of a draft dodger who went on a killing spree anyway. By the end, he’s looking forward with relish to being electrocuted. It’s emotionally similar to the manic expressions of the Babyface Nelson character at the end of O Brother Where Art Thou? when he’s looking forward to going off like a Roman candle!
Charley Pride did really well with the dark drama of “The Snakes Crawl at Night.” It’s a shame he didn’t do more emotionally heavy stuff like this, but “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” was a ten times bigger hit.
Of course, you’ve got your classic murdering preacher Willie Nelson, the Red Headed Stranger who killed not only his cheating wife but some poor random chick later who made the wrong dumb move. But after all, you can’t hang a man for shooting a woman who was trying to steal his horse.
You might argue that it’s pushing the point to put Fairport Convention in a country music list. However, the 1969 recording “Matty Groves” really sounds right and makes strong emotional sense slotted in here. It’s an English country murder ballad- with the very finest, Earth shaking picking on this list, largely courtesy of a young Richard Thompson.
Let’s end this with some classic Peter Case. “Small Town Spree” tells the tale of an eventually deadly rampage from the point of view of his friend reading in the paper of the death of his old pal’s soul. It’s quite literary, in the best non-straining sense of the word.
Here then for your Halloween creepy consideration:
COUNTRY MURDER MIX CD
“The Triplett Tragedy” – Doc Watson Family
“Country Death Song” – Violent Femmes
“Time of the Preacher” – Willie Nelson
“Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
“Psycho” – Elvis Costello
“Amos Moses” – Jerry Reed
“Miller’s Cave” – Bobby Bare
“Billy Austin” – Steve Earle
“Woman’s Prison” – Loretta Lynn
“Tall Lover Man” – June Carter Cash
“Goodbye Earl” – Dixie Chicks
“LA County” – Lyle Lovett
“The Snakes Crawl at Night” – Charley Pride
“White House Blues” – Bill Monroe
“A Country Boy Can Survive” – Hank Williams Jr
“Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On” – Tom T Hall
“T for Texas” – Grandpa Jones
“Frankie and Johnny” – Jimmie Rodgers
“Knoxville Girl” – Louvin Brothers
“99 Years” – Bill Anderson
“Matty Groves” – Fairport Convention
“Small Town Spree” – Peter Case