given my propensity to get distracted for lengths of time by great top-20 hits like your love is my drug, i thought it would be prudent to temper my love for ke$ha with my love for murder ballads.
murder ballads originate from the old countries of england, scotland and scandinavia. typical themes are jealousy, adultery or evil-plain-and-pure. they are written/sung in the traditional ballad form, telling a sympathetic story of either a murtherer or the murther'd. the murder is often true, but sometimes mythic - although i choose to believe they are all true because legitimate musicians [and all other artists] are soothsayers and they tell cogent stories about all things real and honest and true.
in the old world versions, supernatural retribution often occurs in the form of hauntings or animals. an example of this would be "the bonny swans"[here performed by loreena mckennitt, who is awesome], where the murthering sister is brought to justice by a harp that is fashioned from the drowned sister's hair and bone [a miller mistook the drowned woman for a swan]. the harp - haunted by the spirit of the drowned sister - sings the song of her unfortunate dispatch for all to hear and thusly gives up the ghost to her jealous sister. another version of this would be "the twa sisters" [this version done by the always illustrious tom waits]. every version is so haunting and desperately sad.
the murder ballad often ends with a moral or a plea to not follow in the footsteps of said murderer or unwitting victim. although this is not a murder ballad, the house of the rising sun is an american folk song and exemplifies the moralistic code at the end of the song that most murder ballads possess: "oh mother tell your children / not to do what i have done / spend your lives in sin and misery / in the house of the rising sun" [also, eric burdon, lead singer for the animals, is a phenomenal and i love him].
the rocket reminded me today that there are new murder ballads being written. for example, there is a breathtaking murder balled entitled "molten light" by a remarkably gifted canadian musician/artist chad vangaalen. written and animated by vangaalen himself, this song tells the chilling tale of a woman who returns from neverwhere to avenge her murder, committed by two bastard brothers [they ripped out her heart and ate it by candlelight]. there is some serious supernatural retribution going on here. it's really important to watch this video for full effect. both the song and the animation feel reminiscent of scandinavian mythology, but i have nothing to back that up other than my own projections.
so, here are some murder ballads to get you started, my little tenders.
lead belly's version of "where did you sleep last night?" is one of my personal favourites.
nick cave and pj harvey do a remarkable arrangement of "henry lee". this is also one of the sexiest videos i've ever seen. so very libidinous. provocative.
the carter family [i love maybelle] always wins my heart here with "john hardy was a desperate little man".
molly o'day does a great "poor ellen smith". i love an old-timey hillbilly tune.