An Investigation into Murder Ballads [Playlist]

August 29, 2019

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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True crime podcasts seem to be taking over lately, and there’s an abundance of quality programs to listen to. One of my favorites is Criminal, which is less about murder and gore and more about fringe cases and behavioral science. Criminal released two podcasts about Murder Ballads (links to those below) which got me thinking about the genre. According to the show’s host Phoebe Judge, murder ballads are an ancient form of communication and served as more of a warning to those listening than a form of entertainment. It makes sense when you think about the common opening line, ordering everyone to gather around and listen up. Here are a few songs that fall under the “warning” label, whether an old fashioned murder ballad or teen tragedy pop song. 

“Pearl Bryan” - Bradley Kincaid

“Down In The Willow Garden” - Everly Brothers

“Last Kiss” - Wayne Cochran (this version by J. Frank Wilson)

"Rocky Racoon" - Beatles

“Lawson Family” - Elephant Micah 

“Tom Dooley” - Kingston Trio

“Down By The River” - Neil Young

"Maxwell's Silver Hammer" - Beatles

“Henry Lee” - Nick Cave and PJ Harvey 

If you'd like more, check out Nick Cave's entire album of Murder Ballads.

Criminal Episode "Pearl Bryan"

Criminal Episode "The Portrait"