The sixties and seventies were great for many reasons–one of them being, it was seemingly totally acceptable to write a song about murdering your girlfriend if she cheated on you. No, the singer wasn’t presented as a psychopath nor was his murderous threat depicted as anything out of the ordinary. It seemed to simply be understood: you cheat, you die.
There was no talking these guys down. It wasn’t as if they were having second thoughts about the irrationality of killing someone in cold blood. It wasn’t like, “Hey, Tom Jones, I know she fucked up, but killing’s probably not the answer, you know?” Nope—in these songs, it was totally normal to murder your girlfriend for being slutty. They might as well have been singing about getting an oil change.
Back then, women were preoccupied with gender equality in the workplace, when they probably should’ve been a bit more concerned about the right to not get shot in the face over a moral transgression. At any rate, we’ve compiled a list of the Top 5 “murder ballads,” as they’re sometimes called. But let’s be realistic. These are the Top 5 songs where the guy kills his girlfriend for slutting it up with another dude.
Tom Jones—’Delilah’ (1968)
Despite the subject of it being first-degree murder, this song reached #2 on the British charts in 1968. It was also #15 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. In the song, the singer passes by the house of his lover, sees the shadows of her fucking some other guy, and then goes berserk. It’s like ‘Silhouettes on the Shade,’ but with an ending gone terribly wrong:
“I cross the street to her house and she opened the door.
She stood there laughing.
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more.”
And yes, Tom Jones sings it with the energetic, danceable vigor he’s known for. And if you didn’t already think Tom Jones was the ultimate ladies’ man, check out the video.He’s got chicks dancing to this murder song like it was ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ Tom Jones can make women’s panties drop even if he’s singing about killing one of them.
(Popularized by) Johnny Cash—Cocaine Blues (1968)
This song has a history that goes all the way back to the 1920s, but Johnny Cash popularized it when he sang it at his famous Folsom Prison concert in 1968. It was a good pick for an audience of convicted murderers. In the song, Cash croons:
“Early one mornin’ while makin’ the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and shot my woman down
I went right home and I went to bed
I stuck that lovin’ forty-four beneath my head.”
See how it’s sung so matter-of-factly? There’s thought process, no remorse—just an eight ball, a gun and a dead wife.
As the song goes on, we find out that the woman was having sex with like, five other guys. So it makes sense that the guy was a little peeved.
The Beatles—’Run For Your Life’ (1965)
Yes, even our beloved Beatles sung about murdering over infidelity:
“I’d rather see you dead little girl, than to be with another man.”
Pretty straightforward, right? And they do say communication is important in relationships!
But wait. There’s more.
“You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl.”
The future is not looking too bright for this gal. She basically has two choices: die, or stay in a relationship with a raving lunatic.
The song was recorded for Rubber Soul, and John Lennon later said it was his “least favorite Beatles song.” It’s pretty extreme, that’s for sure—but worse than ‘Birthday’? Come on, John.
On the other hand, George Harrison said it was his favorite song on the album, the crazy bastard (may he rest in peace).
Jimi Hendrix/The Leaves/ Billy Roberts —’Hey Joe’ (1966/1965/1962)
In this rock ‘n roll hit, at least the killer isn’t in first person.
‘Hey Joe’ tells the tale of a man who finds his wife “messin’ ’round with another man,” and then heads to Mexico after shooting her. The singer isn’t exactly judgmental about it, though:
“Shoot her one more time again baby!
Oh dig it
Woo! Dig it! Makes me want to dance! Except for the fact that, you know, someone was brutally murdered. That’s kind of a buzz kill.
Willie Nelson—’Blue Rock Montana’ (1975)
This song comes from one of the most heralded Willie Nelson albums of all time: Red Headed Stranger. The entire album tells the story of a scorned husband who, during the track ‘Blue Rock Montana,’ kills his cheating wife, along with her lover:
“An’ they smiled at each other when he walked through the door.
An’ they died with their smiles on their faces.”
Well, at least they were happy.
And that’s not even enough murder for the guy—he then kills another woman. Did she cheat on him, too? Naw, she tried to steal his horse. And when you’re an American Outlaw, that’s just as bad. The album ends with The Stranger finding love again, years later—hanging out with his grand-kids and his new wife. So it’s a happy ending (unless you’re one of the three people who got killed).
So, there you have it. Five songs from the 60s and 70s where the theme is: women getting killed over infidelity. Now let’s compare the topic of infidelity in songs from later eras and see how they’ve evolved.
Bell Biv Devoe—’B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)’ (1990)
In this song, the singer complains about a girl whose favorite past-time is what he euphemistically refers to as “cruising guys.”
“I thought it was me who makes the girl this way
I came to find out she’s like that every day
I thought it was me that makes that girl so wild
I found out she’s like that with all the guys.”
She sounds like a slut for sure, but oddly enough, at no point in the song does she ever get killed. Not even a little bit. It’s 1990, fifteen years after ‘Blue Rock Montana,’ and it appears, the times, they have a-changed.
Geto Boys—’Let a Ho Be a Ho’ (1990)
Hell, even the ultra-violent, women-hating Geto Boys don’t resort to murder over infidelity. And these guys loved a good murder! How much do they love murder, you ask? Well, here are some lyrics from other Geto Boys songs:
“I’ll watch him bleeding, pour his blood in a saucepan”
“My father was a priest, cold blooded he’s dead.
Hypocrite, I caught him basin, so I shot him in the head.”
I have no idea what “basin” means in this context, but you get it—these guys are killers. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The Geto Boys loved singing about killing! They killed over everything. Except infidelity.
In ‘Let a Ho Be a Ho,’ Willie D sings a refreshing theme of “live and let live” that, as you can tell from the aforementioned lyrics, was a huge deviation from the philosophies for which the Geto Boys are known.
“You gotta let a ho be a ho,” D croons. “Crazy motherfuckers fighting over hoes. Stealing for their asses and jumping out of windows.”
His solution to dealing with a promiscuous young lady?
“If a ho wants out, I let her stinky ass go. ‘Cause I’m gonna let a ho be a ho.”
As you can see, Willie D takes the high road in this relationship by not resorting to murder. It’s safe to say, The Geto Boys were better boyfriends than The Beatles.
Justin Timberlake—’Cry Me a River’ (2002)
Inspired by his failed prepubescent relationship with Britney Spears, Timberlake helped write this song about infidelity and heartache:
“You don’t have to say, what you did,
I already know, I found out from him
Now there’s just no chance, for you and me, there’ll never be.”
So the slut cheated on him–oh no–this is the part where she dies, right? Wrong. Somehow, Justin manages to cope without sticking a blade in her back. Here’s what he does:
“So I guess I be leaving.”
See? Leaving. Just leaving. Not quite as exciting as murder, but probably a lot less stressful.
As you can see, over the years, the theme of killing your cheating girlfriend seems to have waned from mainstream music. Ah, women’s rights. We’ve come so far.
Here’s a fun fact: In the early 90s, apparently, a radio station in Ottawa banned ‘Run For Your Life’ from being broadcast. When they found out it was inspired by Elvis Presley ‘Baby, Let’s Play House,’ they chose to ban that song, too. Not really sure what this has to do with anything, but I read it on Wikipedia and thought you should know.
Who knows what it was about the 60s and 70s that seemed to bring out these rock ballads of infidelity and murder, but they sure were amusing. Misogynistic, yes, but amusing nonetheless.