I have split my this playlist into three parts. The playlist is ordered chronologically, with this post covering the years 1922 to 1980. I hope you all enjoy this collection of songs. If there is a song missing that you think should be on this list please post a link in the comment section!
- Traditional – Little Sadie/Cocain Blues
- Bert Brecht and Kurt Weill – Die Zuhälterballade (1928)
- Bob Dylan – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)
- Bobby Fuller Four – I fought the Law (and the law won) (1966)
- Johnny Cash – Boy named Sue (1969)
- The Beatles – Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (1969)
- The Last Poets – When the Revolution Comes (1970)
- Towns Van Zandt – Pancho and Lefty (1972)
- The Sex Pistols – No One is Innocent (1978)
- Franz Josef Degenhardt – Bumser Paco (1980)
The first written version of ‘Little Sadie’ is dated 1922. In its long history the song has been recorded Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthry, and many others.
Brecht and Weill’s Dreigroschenoper features many crime-themed songs. More importantly it offers a Marxist’ critique of conventional norms and morality, as in this highly romanticized duet of a prostitute and her pimp.
Dylan wrote this song at the age of 22, after reading about the killing of Hattie Carroll in a newspaper. In 1963, on the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. held his ‘I have a dream’ speech, the white tobacco farmer William Zantzinger had been sentenced to six months in prison and a 500 $ fine for manslaughter after killing Carroll, a black barmaid, in a drunken rage. Dylan turned the case into a powerful metaphor for race and class in America that transcends time and space.
This song deserves a special mention in this playlist. It made it on this Blog not so much because it is about crime but because it is made by a criminal. To be precise, the Sex Pistols (or rather what was left of them by 1978) teamed up with Ronald Biggs, a participant in the Great Train Robbery of 1963. Biggs had left Britain and had fled to Brazil where he was safe from extradition. Together they wrote and recorded this piece of good natured amorality.
Next week I will post the second part of my series. If you think there are songs that should make the list, please send me a link!