The Ten Bleakest Songs In Country Music History
Country music isn't all high-tech rednecks and honky tonk badonkadonks. Country artists have a tendency to, every now and then, sing about some dark, disturbing stuff. Sometimes scary, sometimes violent, and sometimes just weird, here are some country songs that rival the blackest of metal jams for their dark subject matter.
10. Johnny Cash, "Delia's Gone"
Never has there been a murder ballad that seemed to take more pleasure in the long, drawn-out execution of a cheatin' woman than this song by Johnny Cash. In exhaustive detail, he describes tying her to a chair, shooting her in the side to watch her suffer, and then finishing her off with another shot.
The song even ends by encouraging you to do the same if your woman is as low-down and trifling as Delia was. Is that even legal?
TicketsFri., Dec. 9, 8:00pm
TicketsTue., Dec. 13, 8:00pm
Kelsea Ballerini - The First Time Tour
TicketsWed., Dec. 14, 7:00pm
MIX 96.5 Not So Silent Night with Train and Fitz & the Tantrums
TicketsThu., Dec. 15, 8:00pm
Flosstradamus - Hi Def Youth Tour 2016
TicketsFri., Dec. 16, 8:00pm
9. Lefty Frizzell, "The Long Black Veil"
The protagonist in "The Long Black Veil" is suspected of murder - people saw a man who looked like him running from the scene. He's innocent of that particular crime, but he can't give an alibi because at the time of the murder, he was fooling around with his best friend's wife. Whoops. He goes to the gallows, and every now and then she visits his grave in a long black veil and cries like some kind of licentious La Llorona.
A lot of good that does him as he's rotting in the ground.
8. Johnny Paycheck, "Pardon Me, I've Got Someone to Kill"
It's not all that surprising that the man who so convincingly rendered David Allan Coe's "Take This Job and Shove It" could do the same on a murder ballad. This time, he plays a man confessing what he's about to do to a bartender. What he's about to do, of course, is take off and kill his cheatin' wife, the guy she's cheatin' with and himself.
Yeah, this song takes an even darker turn than usual because the protagonist is clearly determined to make this thing a murder-suicide. This is pretty much country music's definition of "couples therapy."
7. Okkervil River, "Westfall"
The protagonist in Okkervil River's twisted epic "Westfall" - look for the live version, it's actually better than the one they recorded in the studio - begins his tale by painting a picture: he's holed up somewhere with multiple law enforcement officers surrounding him, waiting to take him to prison. He then recounts why: He and his friend Colin Kincaid took a couple of girls visiting from out of town out into the woods and killed them. Why, he doesn't say, implying that there didn't even need to be a "why."
The singer gets nabbed by the cops, and in an eerie sequence reflecting so many modern news stories, he mocks the cameras pointing at him, singing "Looking for evil, they're thinking they can trace it, but get this/ Evil don't look like anything." The song explodes as he repeats the mantra "Evil don't look like anything," and if that doesn't send chills down your spine, nothing will.
6. Jamey Johnson, "The High Cost of Living"
A stark, grim portrait of the artist's past drug addiction, "High Cost of Living" goes into vivid detail, describing days-long benders, numbed-out eightball sessions, and getting arrested in a motel with a prostitute. "The high cost of living / ain't nothing like the cost of living high" Johnson intones, and his weary voice and personal lyrics tell us he knows of what he speaks.
As YouTube commenter hybanks2000 puts it, "This song is powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline."
5. George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today"
Any time a country song starts off with a couple breaking up, one or both parties involved will be dead by the end. The only question is how it will happen. In this George Jones tune, the man promises to love her until he dies, but the woman assures him he'll forget as time goes by. She's most likely saying this as she leaves him, because we next hear about how he keeps her picture on his wall and can't stop pining for her.
Finally he gets over her, but unfortunately he does this by dying. Of course, she turns up one last time to see him at his funeral, but he'll never know. "This time he's over her for good," laments the singer.
4. Garth Brooks, "The Thunder Rolls"
Garth Brooks tends to be a likeably goofy bastard in person, so you might forget that every once in a while he'll write something extremely sad or morbid. "The Thunder Rolls" was about a woman waiting for her man to drive home in a raging storm, praying he'll be okay. When he finally arrives, she smells another woman's perfume on him.
The radio single ends there, but the original version of the song, and the version Brooks plays live, has an extra verse that describes her running inside to fetch a gun, vowing to herself that this is the last time he'll pull this bullshit. The music video's overtones of domestic violence caused it to be banned from TNN and CMT for a time, before an underground campaign with the approval of battered women nationwide helped it win the Country Music Association's Video of the Year award.
3. Reba McEntire, "The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia"
This one's so convoluted, you might have to listen to it a couple of times before you realize what's going on, or else watch the video that spells it all out pretty plainly. Basically, Raymond's new bride is screwing everyone in town but Raymond, including the judge and his best friend Andy. Raymond goes over to Andy's house only to find his little sister is there, standing over the dead bodies of Andy and Raymond's wife.
Raymond takes the blame for the murders, and incredibly, his little sister allows him to be hanged, only confessing her crimes 40 years later. Originally recorded by Vicki Lawrence, "Lights" feels more like a soap opera than a traditional murder ballad.
2. Tammy Wynette, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"
One of the first songs to openly address the reality of divorce, Tammy Wynette's No. 1 hit reflected her own tumultuous love life (she was married five times). Sung with tender-hearted sincerity that keeps it from being camp, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" is the tragic tale of a mother who spells out the words she doesn't want her little boy to hear. It used to be fun words like "toy" or "surprise," but now she's spelling out "divorce" and "custody" and trying not to break down in front of her little man.
It wasn't fashionable to admit that sometimes marriages crumbled in 1968, when this song was released, so Wynette's addressing of the issue was that much braver.
1. Johnny Cash, "Thirteen"
It was hard to keep this list to even two Johnny Cash songs, but these were the two we absolutely could not leave out. "Thirteen" was penned for Cash by Glenn Danzig, so of course right off the bat you know it's not going to be sweetness and light. The song's protagonist was assigned a number instead of a name when he was born, hinting at some kind of dystopian society which is never described in detail, or else a very fertile and uncaring mother.
His number? Thirteen, of course, and fittingly, bad luck has followed him around his entire life. "The list of lives I've broken/ Reach from here to Hell," he laments. Thirteen is unable to decide whether he wants to confess his sins to a preacher or play blackjack with the Devil.
Well, if it's a choice between the two, blackjack has better dividends.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.