Top Ten Songs About Crime

Top Ten Songs About Crime

Top Ten Songs About Crime

In my debut novel, The Big Rewind, a mix tape leads my hipster detective, Jett Bennett, on a quest to solve her friend KitKat’s murder. I’ve always collected pop music, from vinyl to mix tapes to mp3s, and songs about crime make up a considerable portion of my playlist. Here are my top ten:

1) “Kid Charlemagne” — Steely Dan. Steely Dan songs can be rated on a scale from “merely great” to “Kid Charlemagne.” From the first heavenly tap of that high-hat, this tale of psychedelic bravado gone horribly wrong (loosely based on famed LSD chemist Owsley Stanley) is not only a crime song at the top of the genre, but one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded. Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car. (The Royal Scam)

2) “Sex and Dying in High Society” — X. What do you get for someone who has it all? Curling iron burns and empty sex, for starts. X’s punk-rock tale of excess and loneliness sounds a little like one of Terry Lennox’s long complaints to Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye. (Los Angeles)

3) “One More Murder” — Better Than Ezra. A surprisingly dark number from the band that wrote the summer-groove tunes “Good” and “Extraordinary.” The long-sigh, “another day, another crime” nature of this song always makes me think of Detective Dutch Wagenbach on FX’s seminal crime show The Shield. (How Does Your Garden Grow)

4) “Romeo is Bleeding” — Tom Waits. Cool to the point of almost being ice-cold, Waits’s narration about a posturing gangster quietly dying is perhaps the single finest showcase of the singer’s hiss-and-gravel vocal stylings. The sax solo in the middle does a little to warm things up, but alas, there’s no saving our poor Romeo. (Blue Valentine)

5) “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” — Warren Zevon. On an hour-long drive from Binghamton to Syracuse, my friend Jason and I got into a semantics discussion about Zevon’s use of “too” in this song’s first verse. Did he mean “she was with the Russians too” in a romantic sense, as she was with him? Was he with the Russians and surprised to find out that she was also with them? Is she a double agent masquerading as a cocktail waitress? We didn’t come to a conclusion, but it gave us an excuse to play a great song a couple times in a row. (Excitable Boy)

6) “Gimme The Goods” — Boz Scaggs. Rain-slicked, double-crossed, and bleeding out, the bad news has gone down before this song even starts. In this post-WWII narrative about a couple of dope smugglers, their last job turns deadly when a dame gets involved. Much like “Kid Charlemagne,” the lesson here : don’t run drugs, kids. It never ends well. (Two Down Then Left)

7) “Sucker For Mystery” — Danny Elfman. Don’t be fooled by the slick ’80s production values of this Oingo Boingo album, released as a solo effort to circumvent a record deal, this song is as dark as they come. But the ominous lyrics—child pimps, creepy keyholes, and men with knives—are made that much more tragic by Elfman’s beautiful vibrato. A departure from new-wave October staples like “Dead Man’s Party,” it’s an early look into the spoken word and socio-political messages that would mark their turn from ska to alternative sounds in the early ’90s. (So-Lo).

8) “Your Parents’ Cocaine” — The Coup (featuring Justin Sane). The crime here isn’t just the drugs and underage partying; it’s the privileged excess of the 1 percent. With a narrator who boasts “You could murder someone and be out on bail,” Boots Reilly has written a political rallying cry you can dance to. (Sorry To Bother You)

9) “Friday the 13th” — Royal Crown Revue. Stocked with all the gaudy patter of a B-movie, this spoken-word track from one of the earliest bands in the neo-swing revival starts with our hung-over protagonist waiting for his friend Joey A to return his car on an already bad-luck day. A few hours later, he’s ducking the cops, about to take the rap for a whole litany of Joey A’s crimes, all taking place in his Lincoln while he was sleeping it off. (The Contender)

10) “Waitin’ Around To Die” — The Be Good Tanyas. A desolate poem of Americana, our poor narrator never stood a chance. Abused and abandoned by her family, then rolled by a girlfriend, she ends up robbing a man and fleeing the law. Two years in the clink and all she’s got waiting for her on the outside is a painkiller addiction. (Chinatown)

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.