The Ultimate Crime Playlist

We’ve had discussions here about music – whether we listen when we write, what we listen to, and, most recently from JD, the hassle of obtaining permission rights for lyrics.  But I recently thought about music from a new perspective last week when I had a group of my criminal law students to our apartment for a pizza party.  For the evening’s music, I compiled a playlist of crime-related songs.

The idea started as a joke in class.  To study accomplice liability, our class discusses State v. Ochoa, a case in which defendants are convicted as accomplices for the murder of a sheriff because they assaulted a deputy at the scene who might otherwise have come to the sheriff’s rescue.  After the first couple mentions of the man who “shot the sheriff,” I noticed a few snickers.  Better to clear the air, I figured.  “How many of you found yourself singing I Shot the Sheriff when reading this case?”*  Lots of hands.  “Bob Marley or Eric Clapton?”  More Marley than Clapton.  Good students, I thought.  “Might have to add that to the pizza party playlist.”

So I did.  And then my OCD kicked in and I couldn’t stop.  Who knew there were so many songs related to crime?  Okay, so maybe the connection’s a little loose on some of these, but whatevs.  It was a fun project.  Here’s the list.

  1. Smooth Criminal – Alien Ant Farm (Michael Jackson works too.)
  2. Gimme Shelter  – Patti Smith (ditto, Stones.  I like covers.)
  3. Rehab  – Amy Winehouse     
  4. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash  
  5. Chain Of Fools  – Aretha Franklin    
  6. Panic – The Smiths  
  7. 99 Problems – Jay-Z
  8. Psycho Killer – Talking Heads  
  9. One Way Or Another – Blondie 
  10. Wanted Dead Or Alive – Bon Jovi
  11. I Fought The Law – The Clash
  12. Human Nature – Michael Jackson  
  13. Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
  14. I Confess – The English Beat  
  15. Criminal – Fiona Apple
  16. Born to Run – Frankie Goes to Hollywood (Save your noise, Springsteen fans.  I said I like covers.)  
  17. I Shot the Sheriff – Bob Marley (Even I won’t take Clapton over Marley.)
  18. Lust For Life – Iggy Pop (a lyrical stretch, I know, but it’s Iggy.)
  19. Town Called Malice – The Jam   
  20. When You Were Young – The Killers
  21. Let’s Go Crazy – Prince   
  22. F*** the Police – NWA    
  23. I Wanna Be Sedated – The Ramones 
  24. Jailhouse – Sublime          
  25. Shoplifters Of The World Unite – The Smiths
  26. Ball And Chain- Social Distortion  
  27. 187um – Dr. Dre
  28. Burning Down The House – Talking Heads
  29. Call Me – Blondie
  30. She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult
  31. I’m Your Villain – Franz Ferdinand

So, which are your favorites?  What have I missed?  What other songs should be here based on titles, lyrics, or band names?

*Needless to say, my law school classes are not like those you may have seen in Paper Chase or Legally Blonde.

48 thoughts on “The Ultimate Crime Playlist

  1. JD Rhoades

    Well, the obvious first choice for me is Steve Earle-The Devils Right Hand. Then of course, there’s Earle’s Copperhead Road, Billy Austin, What’s a Simple Man to Do, etc.

    Some others:
    Down By The River-Neil Young
    L.A. County-Lyle Lovett
    Criminal-Eminem
    Kill You-Eminem
    Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts-Bob Dylan
    The entire Desperado album-The Eagles
    Intruder-Peter Gabriel
    Family Snapshot-Peter Gabriel
    Smoking Gun-Robert Cray
    Murder Gonna Be My Crime-Sippie Wallace
    Waitin’ For My Man-Velvet Underground
    The Road Goes On Forever-Robert Earl Keen
    Gonna Get Me a Shotgun and Kill All The Whiteys I See-Garrett Morris
    Cottonseed-Drive By Truckers
    1952 Vincent Black Lightning-Richard Thompson
    Killing Jar-Richard Thompson

    I could go on….

    Reply
  2. Catherine Shipton

    That’s a fantastic list.

    I’d like to raise my hand and wave it around a bit to draw attention to Nick Cave. He released a collection of Murder Ballads in about the mid 90s. Stand outs for me are ‘Where the wild roses grow’, ‘Henry Lee’ and ‘Stagger Lee’. I think he adapted some old folk songs…which often have dark crime ridden undertones. Also, ‘Hard hearted Hannah’ Ella Fitzgerald… I loved that song for the sheer blood minded audacity as a kid.

    ‘…To tease them and thrill ’em
    To torture and kill ’em
    Is her delight they say
    I saw her at the seashore with a great big pan
    There was Hannah pourin’ water on a drownin’ man…’

    Reply
  3. Dana King

    There’s a three CD set of Johnny Cash available, with one CD devoted entrely to murder. (The other two are Love and God.) The Murder CD has some of the darkest songs I’ve ever heard, and no one sang those kinds of songs like Johnny Cash. Makes Irish dirges sound like ABBA.

    Delbert McClinton also has quite a few crime oriented songs out. "I’m Dying as Fast as I Can" is a favorite.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth

    Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC
    Breaking the Law – Judas Priest
    And Justice For All – Metallica
    Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction
    The Tower – Ice-T (1st person narrative from a guy in jail)
    Jailbreak – Thin Lizzy
    Criminal – Disturbed
    Side of a Bullet – Nickelback
    Cop Killer – Ice-T
    Band On The Run – Paul McCartney & Wings
    The Patient Mental – Mudvayne
    Jailbreak – AC/DC
    Hell Is For Children – Pat Benatar
    I Am the Law – Anthrax
    Perry Mason – Ozzy Osbourne

    Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    A couple more…

    18 And Life – Skid Row
    Hold Her Down – Toad The Wet Sprocket
    Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Warrant
    Take the Money And Run – Steve Miller Band

    Reply
  6. Louise Ure

    This is a fabulous list … getting longer by the second.

    Starting with Marty Robbins "El Paso" and adding Miranda Lambert’s "Gunpowder and Lead" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."

    Reply
  7. Jen Forbus

    Alright I have to be the oddball and put the country songs in here (Johnny Cash not withstanding):

    Goodbye Earl – The Dixie Chicks
    Before He Cheats – Carrie Underwood
    The Eleventh Commandment – Collin Raye
    Beer for my Horses – Toby Keith & Willie Nelson
    Old Red – Blake Shelton

    Reply
  8. Fran

    I’ve got a Crime Jazz CD on my iPod that I play at work. "Frankie Machine" and "Daddy Long Legs". And I love the theme for "Harry’s Game" by Enya.

    But these are great lists!

    Reply
  9. Emma

    How about Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit" (lynching) or an obscurity, "Girl Come Out" by Skin (lyrics include, "I’ll make sure I pull the trigger/Don’t tell me I ain’t got the right…")?

    Reply
  10. Alafair Burke

    Great, Melanie, now I’ve got that in my head, too: "Just me and my horsie and a quart of beer."

    Fran and Emma have classed up the list with their picks. And serious gold stars, folks, for creativity. Someone at Apple needs to follow this thread and create a Murderati playlist on Itunes.

    Reply
  11. Linsey Lanier

    Alafair, your class sounds like fun. Great list. Of course, if you include drug use as a criminal activity, you’d have to include most songs written in the 60’s, including the musical Hair, LOL.

    Reply
  12. JD Rhoades

    How could I have forgotten Tired Eyes by Neil Young:

    Well, it wasn’t
    supposed to go
    down that way.
    But they burned his brother,
    you know,
    And they left him lying
    in the driveway.
    They let him down with nothin’.
    He tried to do his best
    but he could not.

    Reply
  13. Rustyn

    Let’s see, here are but a few that come to mind…
    Criminal Mind – Lawrence Gowan (currently of Styx)
    My Sharona – The Knack (sex with a 16 year old girl is a crime in at least 39 states)
    Ball & Chain – Aldo Nova
    Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves – Cher (oh yeah, I went there)
    Blood on the Bricks – Aldo Nova
    Taxman, Mr. Thief – Cheap Trick
    I Stole Your Love – KISS
    Stolen – Dashboard Confessional
    Getting Away with Murder – Papa Roach
    Prisoner – Dokken
    Big Guns – AC/DC
    Poison – Alice Cooper
    Alibis – Sergio Mendes
    The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia – Vicki Lawrence
    and of course, Helter Skelter (choose your version)

    My favorite, Andy Warhol Was Right – Warrant (a serial killer tune,with lyrics):

    "I want to bathe in your light.
    I want to be on the news.
    If I take your life
    its nothing personal.
    Just a boy and his toy gun
    dying for attention.

    I’m sitting on the steps.
    The sun is sinking low.
    The world gets very quiet
    as the street lamps start to glow.
    I step out and I raise my gun
    time just seems to slow."

    Reply
  14. Zoë Sharp

    Great post – and didn’t Jon Jordan do a CD for Bouchercon a few years ago that had all crime-related songs on it?

    Here are some of mind, with apologies for duplicates with anybody else!

    Smash ‘n’ Grab – AC/DC
    Green Hornet – Al Hirt
    Mr Policeman – Brad Paisley
    Shoot The Messenger, or Mulder & Scully, or Road Rage, or I Am The Mob – Catatonia
    Patricia The Stripper – Chris De Burgh
    A View To A Kill – Duran Duran
    The Trumpton Riots – Half Man Half Biscuit
    Mexican Standoff – Elbow
    She Bleeds – EMF
    Drug Ballad, Criminal or Under The Influence – Eminem
    I Love you … I’ll Kill You – Enigma
    Sex Crime – Eurythmics
    Bad, Bad Leroy Brown or Mack The Knife – Frank Sinatra
    Licence To Kill – Gladys Knight
    Prostitute – Guns N’ Roses
    Babooshka – Kate Bush
    If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next – Manic Street Preachers
    V.F.D. – Michelle Shocked
    Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) Nancy Sinatra
    Put The Law On You – Natalie Mercant
    Outlaw Blues – Pat Benetar
    Back On The Chain Gang – The Pretenders
    Hazard – Richard Marx
    Billy Rose – Joan Baez
    Killer – Seal
    Free Man – Sheryl Crow
    .Execute and Gematria (The Killing Name), Psychosocial, Dead Memories, Snuff, ‘Til We Die, Gehenna, (OK, more or less the whole All Hope is Gone album) – Slipknot
    You Stole My Money Honey, Getaway, Bartender And The Thief – Stereophonics
    Suffer The Children, Watch Me Bleed, The Prisoner – Tears For Fears
    Fast Car, Across The Lines, Behind The Wall, For My Lover – Tracy Chapman (all about lives touched by crime)
    Joker & The Thief – Wolfmother

    Reply
  15. Rustyn

    Hmmm- Didn’t even see the part about just band names:

    Stealin Horses (props to anyone who knows this band)
    Five Finger Death Punch
    Warrant
    W.A.S.P. (We Are Sexual Perverts)
    L.A. Guns
    Guns n Roses
    Bullet Boys
    Contraband
    Jailhouse
    Poison
    Molly Hatchett
    The Killers
    Slaughter
    Lizzy Borden
    Murder C
    Cattle Decapitation (I kid you not)
    Black Dahlia Murder
    It Dies Today
    Killswitch Engage
    Suffocation
    Slayer

    and

    Milli Vanilli (everything about them is a crime)

    Reply
  16. Catherine Shipton

    Late addition of a truly gruesome tune…

    ‘Lotion’ – Greenskeepers.

    Someone writing those lyrics spent a lot of time either watching or reading the ‘Silence of the Lambs’.

    Reply
  17. Doug Riddle

    Just a few bands off the top of my head…..

    Steve Earle
    Dashboard Saviors
    Go To Blazes
    Alabama 3
    Dave Alvin
    Drive-By Truckers
    Dropkick Murphys
    Todd Snider
    Joe Ely
    Tom Russell
    Mike Ness
    Robert Earl Keen

    Reply
  18. Naomi Johnson

    Renegade (Styx)
    Do It Again (Steely Dan)
    I’m Just Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail (Everly Brothers)
    Mama Tried (Merle Haggard)
    Mr. Bojangles (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
    Indiana Wants Me (R. Dean Taylor)
    Frankie and Johnny (Sam Cooke’s version is my favorite)
    Pancho and Lefty (Emmylou Harris)
    Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This (Waylon Jennings)

    The all-time noir song has to be Billie Holiday’s "Strange Fruit"

    Reply
  19. Catherine Shipton

    By lyrics there are so many out there…

    Murder by Numbers( The Sting)
    Dire Wolf ( Grateful Dead)
    Murder Incorporated (Bruce Springsteen)
    Gangland ( Iron Maiden)
    Murder 101( The Wallflowers)
    The Inc & Murder Reigns ( Ja Rule)
    Gimme Shelter(The Rolling Stones)
    Someone got murdered (The Clash)
    Wild Boys (Duran Duran)

    The point where I find Adam Ant and Culture Club getting murderous is where I need to stop.

    Razor Keen (Adam Ant)
    Crime Time (Culture Club)

    Reply
  20. Alafair Burke

    Catherine, I can’t believe I compiled a playlist without Adam Ant, Duran Duran, or Culture Club. They should take away my I-Love-the-80’s membership card, good for discounts at Benneton, the Limited, and Morrisey concerts.

    Reply
  21. Kagey

    Here’s what I thought of that isn’t duplicated:
    Every Breath You Take (Police) (Come on, it’s about stalking, isn’t it?)

    Papa Loved Mama (Garth Brooks — "Mama’s in the graveyard, Papa’s in the pen…")
    The Thunder Rolls (Garth Brooks — murder/spouse abuse)
    The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia (Reba McIntire)

    Riot in Cell Block #9 (I like the Blues Brothers cover — maybe they have other "crime songs"?)

    Reply
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  27. Boey

    Happen to come across this article looking for songs to teach my class about crime featured in songs.
    I'm an oldies kind of listener, but certainly Boney M had some songs that talked about (fictional?) criminals and their crimes, eg 'Rasputin' and 'Ma Baker'.
    A newer song off the top of my head is "Independence day" by Martina Mcbride.
    Thanks for your song ideas!

    Reply

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