Crime Month: A Chron "… and Punishment" Playlist
Songs answering the musical question, "Does crime pay?" No.
By M. Brianna Stallings,
3:50PM, Wed. Jul. 17, 2019
Seeing as how July is Crime Month at the Chronicle, it only seems appropriate that it comes with its own soundtrack – or rather, two. The first covers "Crime." The second, “… and Punishment,” feels like maneuvering through a field full of repercussions as hazardous as land mines. Enter at your own risk!
"Scarecrows on a Killer Slant," Liars
Relentless verses full of hard questions (“Why'd you shoot the man with the gun?/Cos he bothered you!”) and terrifying solutions from 2010’s critically acclaimed Sisterworld.
“Westfall,” Okkervil River
An everyday tale about an everyday murderer who kills a classmate, then repeatedly reminds spectators who question his actions after his arrest that “evil don’t look like anything.”
“Goodbye Earl,” Dixie Chicks
Depending on who you ask, this murder revenge anthem about a battered wife, her best friend, and a bad batch of black-eyed peas is either annoying as hell or a contemporary country classic. My vote falls squarely in the latter camp.
“Henry Lee,” Nick Cave and PJ Harvey
A memento of the singers' passionate but short-lived mid-Nineties romance.
“Furnace Room Lullaby,”
Neko Case & Her Boyfriends
A Southern Gothic take on “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
“Miss Otis Regrets,” Ella Fitzgerald
A vocalist with perfect pitch sings Cole Porter’s tune about a perfectly mannered lady who politely declines a lunch invitation today because she murdered her philandering lover last night.
“Rocky Raccoon,” The Beatles
Not even the Gideon Bible in his room could save this foolhardy cuckold from Daniel’s hot bullets in this ballad from 1968’s White Album.
“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” Jim Croce
As a child listening to this on my mom’s Seventies-era cabinet stereo console, I thought the titular Brown sounded like a fun guy, what with his fancy clothes and diamond rings — that is of course, until Croce got to the part about a “.32 gun in his pocket for fun” and “a razor in his shoe.”
“Stack-o-Lee,” Samuel L. Jackson
A sweaty juke joint version of one of the most violent blues songs ever, sung from the perspective of the rampage killer himself? Pretty good. That song performed by the actor who should make “Motherfucker” his middle name? Terrific.
“The Devil's Right Hand,” Steve Earle
Don’t blame the crime on the shooter; blame it on the gun, described by the song’s narrator as “The Devil’s Right Hand.” The "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" of country rock.
“Small Change (Got Rained on With His Own .38),” Tom Waits
Music's Hubert Selby, Jr. with a voice like gargling a glass of razor blades & whiskey gives us a story about a poor sucker done in by his own gun.
“Murder was the Case,” Snoop Dogg
The gang life is all fun and games until you’re laid up in the ICU recovering from a near fatal drive-by and have to make a deal with Satan to stay alive.
“State Trooper,” Bruce Springsteen
A plea for escape from someone who desperately wants not to hurt anyone else as he runs from the crimes he’s already committed, or a feisty, simmering warning. When it’s Nebraska, take your pick.
“Somewhere They Can’t Find Me,” Simon & Garfunkel
This Sixties folk rock duo tells the tale of a man writing a letter to his blissfully ignorant girlfriend after he "held up and robbed a liquor store," then went on the lam.
When the caught criminal must face down his inevitable demise at the hands of the hangman.
The least appropriate song to cover should you choose to do your own Live at Folsom Prison gig.
“38 Years Old,” The Tragically Hip
A fictional account of the real-life escape of more than a dozen inmates from Millhaven Institution near Kingston, Ontario.
“I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” The Bee Gees
Our narrator’s walk to his execution proves that at least one of the Bee Gees’ protagonists is not *ahem* “Stayin’ Alive.”
“Governor Pat Neff,” Leadbelly
Huddie Ledbetter addressed this blues plea for his own release from prison directly to the then-governor of Texas. It worked.
“Life in Prison,”
Merle Haggard & the Strangers
The outlaw country legend sings about a convict who’d rather check out altogether than have to live with what he’s done.
“Hang the Bastard,” Cannibal! The Musical (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Before The Book of Mormon, before Team America, before even South Park, there was Cannibal! The Musical and this jaunty ensemble number about the impending execution of accused 19th-century cannibal Alferd Packer.
“Botched Execution,” Shovels and Rope
Sometimes the noose don’t snap the neck – and sometimes the condemned don’t stay put.
“Claimin’ I’m a Criminal,” Brand Nubian
The gaze: how we see, how we’re seen by others, and what happens as a result. In this hip hop song, a young black man rails against a police system that only wants to see him as a threat.
“This is America,” Childish Gambino
The melding of Afrobeat and trap that knocked the wind out of the world in 2018, “This is America” is a response to gun violence, mass shootings, and racial discrimination against black people. The video, riddled with machine gun fire, feels as harrowing as stepping out of your front door.
“I Fought the Law,” The Dead Kennedys
Count on Jello Biafra and his band to put a nihilistic spin on the Bobby Fuller Four’s 1966 Top Ten hit about the law winning out over a bandit. DK’s modified version tackles the 1978 assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, cynically concluding with “I AM the law, so I won!”