On St. Patrick's Day 1985, serial killer Richard Ramirez (right) murdered two women in Los Angeles, beginning a killing spree that would eventually tally over 14 people and leave him with the nickname "The Night Stalker." From a young age, Ramirez was fascinated and inspired by the occult and Satanism in music, and was a huge fan of heavy metal and AC/DC.
Before you get any ideas that Rocks Off drawing comparisons between music and serial murder, we should also point out that Ramirez also suffered a severe brain injury when he was two, huffed glue, and spent time with his Special Forces uncle, who showed him pictures of Vietnamese women he claimed to have raped and murdered, and who murdered his wife two feet from Ramirez.
It's not Angus Young's fault, is what we're getting at.
Still, it is undeniable that songs have created some notorious murderers - they just tend to stay within the boundaries of their albums. In that spirit, we present five of the most notorious killers in music history.
Appears In: Several Alice Cooper works, including Welcome To My Nightmare
Body Count: 1 (possibly more)
The character of Steven remains one of Cooeprs's best-known and least-understood creations, owing mostly to the fact that he is rarely alluded to by anybody who is not insane including Steven himself. Even the album that is his signature story, Welcome to my Nightmare, never makes it totally clear if Steven is a boy dreaming of murder, or whether the subject the subject is an actual serial killer. The lyrics of the album do seem to strongly suggest that Steven was an abusive husband who ultimately murdered his wife while sleepwalking during a bad dream.
The character returns again in Cooper's 2008 album Along Came a Spider, which is about a serial killer collecting legs from eight victims. He is mentioned as sharing a cell with the killer, but it is quite possible that Steven is himself the Spider, still caught up in mental illness.
Frustrating as it is, the unreliable nature of the narrators make it impossible to determine how many Steven may have killed, though we can be certain of at least one, his wife. If The Spider is another personality of Steven's, he may be the most prolific killer on this list.
Appears In: The folk song of the same name
Body Count: 1, plus a bartender if Nick Cave is telling it
This list steers clear of songs based on real-life killers, but it is entirely possible that Lee Shelton, who shot a man in 1895 over the theft of a Stetson hat, got his nickname "Stagger Lee" from an early version on the folksong rather than the other way around. Regardless, the first published version shows up in 1910 by our own John Nova Lomax's great-grandfather, and has been recorded by everyone from Mississippi John Hurt to Bob Dylan to The Black Keys.
The story rarely changes between versions: Stagger Lee, a legendary bad man to mess with, shoots a man named Billy. In some versions, the police are too afraid of Lee to arrest him, and in another he intimidates the devil himself.
The most violent version comes from Nick Cave, who also had Lee kill a bartender and force Billy to perform oral sex on him before finishing him off.
3. MAXWELL EDISON
Appears In: The Beatles, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"
Body Count: 3
During the recording of Abbey Road, no song seemed to divide the Beatles more than Paul McCartney's "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." Macca's endless fiddling with the Moog synthesizer tried the patience of George Harrison and John Lennon, neither of whom were big fans of the tune in the first place.
In the song, Edison murders his sweetheart, his teacher, and even the judge sentencing him with the aforementioned silver hammer. Exactly what sets him off on this killing spree is unknown, but a fascinating look at the character in the context of other fictional characters from the Beatles universe can be found at Uncyclopedia.
Hell, it even credits Edison with murdering the original Paul McCartney, leading to his replacement by a double. McCartney himself believes that the character and his murders represent some kind of unexpected tragedy.
2. THE BLACK RIVER KILLER
Appears In: Blitzen Trapper, "Black River Killer"
Body Count: 3 and rising
Blitzen Trapper put out one of the best albums of the 2000s when they released Furr in 2008. Though we've always been most partial to the title track, using it as a lullaby for our two-year-old daughter, it's the unnamed and hellbent main character from their song "Black River Killer" we'll focus on today.
The character is a nomadic wandering murderer who begins his spree in Los Angeles by being arrested for killing a girl and sewing her mouth shut. Though captured, he is eventually freed after begging for salvation and a second chance.
Making his way to Texas, he kills a man and steals his horse, and is again captured. Once again, he pleads that he has found Christ and should be given a second chance. Once free, he makes it to Oregon, killing the first man he sees.
After the murder, the killer baptizes himself in the waters of the Black River, free from sin and ready to kill again.
5. THE MAN WITH THE RED RIGHT HAND
Appears In: Nick Cave, "Red Right Hand," "Song of Joy"
Body Count: 4 and rising
Nick Cave's most famous song and character is the man with the Red Right Hand from his 1994 album Let Love In. Most notably, it has been a fixture in the Scream movies and their trailers.
In the original tune, the Man is definitely sinister, but the nature of his crimes and motivations is completely ambiguous. He may be a con man, a killer, a cult leader, or just a wandering drifter. He's known by the red right hand he keeps hidden in his dusty black coat. The hand is a reference to John Milton's Paradise Lost, where it stands for God's vengeance.
It's not until the opening track of 1996's Murder Ballads, "Song of Joy," that the character comes into even more sinister focus. Here, the Man knocks on the door to a home and explains that he is warning people about the killer who brutally murdered his wife and three daughters with a kitchen knife.
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The killer, says the Man, has been active for some time, and writes quotes from Paradise Lost on the walls with his victim's blood. Though the Man claims not to have read the book himself he drops quotes from it extensively in his conversation with his host.
It is heavily implied that the narrator is the killer, and that the red right hand is the result of finger-painting his quotes after he murders.