A list that seemed to grow every time I even thought about it, this one – songs about crime. Perhaps I wasn’t specific enough in my initial criteria, but hell, I’ve got so many I’m going to be covering more than ten this week.
Songs about crimes go a long, long, long way back in music, and I’d suspect there is a song about just about any crime you can think of. The only question now is where to start.
Breaking The Law
So, let’s start with the oh-so-slightly-cheesy rock thrills of this legendary track, which has possibly one of the cheapest and tackiest videos ever (robbing banks with guitars, etc). What laws are they breaking? This is never made especially clear, except in the video.
911 Is A Joke
Fear of a Black Planet
The first of a number of rap tracks in this list, and isn’t strictly about a crime – it’s more about the issues in reporting one. New York’s Public Enemy detail here the problems of getting the cops to respond to a 911 call:
911 is a joke we don’t want ’em / I call a cab ’cause a cab will come quicker
And while the point is serious, Flavor Flav’s wordplay and delivery make this an amusing, upbeat track to listen to. This also spawned probably one of the most inappropriate and worst cover versions ever – Duran Duran’s cover of it on Thank You.
See also: KRS-One | Sound of da Police
See also: Cop Shoot Cop | Lullaby
So what about individual crimes? Remarkably, it’s amazing the stuff that is written about. Feel free to add more to the list, particularly if they cover a different crime to these!
Caught By The Fuzz
I Should Coco
An early Britpop single, this bloody marvellous two-minute pop rush details the (true-to-life) problems of being arrested by the police for possession of marajuana while a teenager – and then the difficulties of dealing with the family in the aftermath. Never mind just being a fantastic track, it’s also a picture-perfect image of those awkward moments when in trouble. We’ve all had them, right?
Been Caught Stealing
Ritual de lo Habitual
Two chords, the sound of some (very large) dogs barking, and we’re off doing a runner with Perry Farrell, stealing as much he and his loved ones can. Why? “When we want something / and we don’t wanna pay for it“. Fair enough, then, I guess. Either way, it’s an alt.rock classic that has endured for nigh-on twenty years, remarkably.
The turbocharged punk-metal of this track – where the late Lynn Strait pulls out his gun, his booze and his anger on other drivers getting in his way, the kiss-off of the track being that he crashes his car at the end. It was almost a prophetic track, too, as Lynn Strait was eventually killed in a car accident not long after this album was released…
See also: Offspring | Bad Habit
Sublime’s sun-drenched, languid reggae-tinged punk rock frequently hid much darker themes under their usually sunny demeanour – and indeed singer Bradley Nowell died of a heroin overdose before this album, which turned out to be a massive hit – was released. It probably didn’t get much darker than this – the tale of a girl being date-raped and the consequences that follow – that sees the rapist get chucked in jail and then “violated” himself in prison…
Hey Man Nice Shot
Onto public figures, and an infamous event, too. Filter’s first single, going back many years now, was a slow-burning, grinding industrial rock track about the very public (live on local TV) suicide of Pennsylvania politician Budd Dwyer following his being found guilty of involvement in receiving kickbacks from state Government contractors.
King of New York
Come Find Yourself
The second mention of FLC within a few weeks – and there could have been other songs mentioned here, too – this gets in due to it’s tales of organised criminals, and in particular crime lord John Gotti. It could justifiably said, perhaps, that this song does glamorise organised crime somewhat…
Fuck The Police
Straight Outta Compton
I did say there was more rap in this list – and this raging, lengthy track, one of the first and most furious “gansta rap” tracks ever, details allegations of brutality and racism in the LAPD, in the inventive form of a mock court case where the testimonies come from the members of the group, and Dr Dre presides over proceedings as the “Judge”. It should also be noted that it pre-dates the LA riots by some years…
See also: Body Count | Cop Killer
See also: Combichrist | Joy To The World
I could hardly let this list go with including something from this album – and probably one of the best known tracks from it is this adaptation of the much-covered/changed folk standard Stack O’ Lee, and here the titular character kills a number of people and wreaks havoc in a small town, a story made all the more thrilling by Cave’s dramatic delivery and the soaring, thunderous musical backing the Bad Seeds give him.
See also: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds | O’Malley’s Bar [and just about anything else off Murder Ballads]
See also: Pearl Jam | Once
More rather darker corners of the criminal world are dealt with here, and it is instructive, perhaps, to know what Nyctophobia is: a fear of the dark. In this case, however, it’s a fear of what the dark may bring – this is, needless to say, a song about child abuse whose song is as dark as the lyrics and subject. It is very, very long, though, and some of the remixes do shorten and improve things a little.
See also: Stabbing Westward | Sleep
See also: KoRn | Daddy
Folsom Prison Blues
With His Hot and Blue Guitar or At Folsom Prison
Finally, of course, we end in the appropriate place for all these crimes – prison. And, of course, with the definitive song about prison, from Johnny Cash, where the protagonist laments his criminal life and wishes for freedom – and what he’ll do when he’s free…