Though it stretches back to Georgian-era Britain, the murder ballad had its heyday in the American Wild West. However, the song form never really went away, kept alive in popular music by groups like the Kingston Trio and men in black from Johnny Cash to Nick Cave.
An unexpected keeper of the legacy is Norah Jones. One of the most talked about tracks from her latest album, Little Broken Hearts, is a murder ballad called "Miriam," which includes the lyrics:
In an interview conducted last week (here's the complete Q&A), Jones told me about the reactions to the song.
Jones was raised in Texas, and cites country music as a strong influence, and even fronted a country band, so maybe the song's dark narrative shouldn't be too much of a surprise to fans of the soft-crooning singer.
Still, to better understand the influences behind the track, we asked Jones to email her top 10 favourite murder ballads. She sent back 11.
Here they are:
1. "Knoxville Girl," traditional, sung by Louvin Brothers
2. "Delia’s Gone," traditional, sung by Johnny Cash
3. "Me and My Uncle" by John Phillips
4. "Down by the River" by Neil Young
5. Medley: "Blue Rock Montana/Red Headed Stranger" by Willie Nelson
6. "In the Pines," traditional, sung by Lead Belly
7. "I Hung My Head," by Sting (and covered by Johnny Cash)
8. "Hey Joe," traditional, sung by Jimi Hendrix
9. "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" by Bob Dylan
10. "Stagger Lee," by Lloyd Price, adapted and covered by the Clash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Beck, Grateful Dead, Nick Cave
11. "Where the Wild Roses Grow" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Kylie Minogue
Norah Jones performed a special live set on CBC's Q on Wednesday, May 16. Listen to the interview and her performance here.
Q&A: Norah Jones on fame, love and songwriting
Norah Jones plays The Hour's Holiday Special
From Bob Dylan to Miss Piggy: The best Johnny Cash collaborations of all time
on May 15, 2012