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Murder Songs Vol. 4

September 23rd, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Porter Wagoner – The First Mrs Jones (1967).mp3
Once upon a time Mr Jones fell in love with Betty. He married her in September, but by November she had left him. And as Mr Jones tells his story, we can sort of see why. When Betty (he prefers to call her The First Mrs Jones) left, Mr Jones went into überstalker mode. He followed her to Savannah, New Orleans and Atlanta, pestering her to return to him. Then the drinking started (though we have a hunch that Mr Jones was not averse to the occasional tipple before). “It was cold and dark one morning, just before the day was dawning, when I staggered from a tavern to a phone. When she picked up her receiver I said: ‘You’re gonna come back or either they’re gonna be calling you the Late Mrs Jones.” Clearly Betty made clear her intentions to decline the offer, but evidently saw no need to seek safe refuge. So, to cut a long story short, Mr Jones took a taxi, made a lot of noise outside her house. He doesn’t remember what happens next. Consciousness returned when he was burying her bones in the woods, touchingly putting flowers on the fresh grave.

So why is Mr Jones telling us his unlovely story? Well, he isn’t addressing us, which we know because now things are taking a sinister turn: he is talking to his new wife who evidently is entertaining crazy notions of leaving him. “Really now, don’t you wanna come go with me? After all, you are the Second…Mrs Jones.”

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Rosie Thomas – Charlotte (2002).mp3
This is a gentle song in which the narrator observes her eponymous neighbour and friend suffering the treatment of an abusive drunkard husband. “Charlotte, you used to be much happier, but it’s not you that’s to blame. Charlotte, you let him push you round, and you’re falling apart at the seams.” But the bad times won’t last forever. “One day he’ll get just what he deserves, and you can be yourself once again.” Soon there’s drama again. There’s yelling and threats and, suddenly, a shot. The narrator runs over, and sees the scumbag dead in his chair. She tells Charlotte: “I’ll tell the cops everything.” But she does not mean the truth. She concocts a cover-up, so that Charlotte can start a new life somewhere else.

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Neil Young – Down By The River (1969)
Neil Young is running a theme as old as song itself — the crime of passion; the wronged husband avenging his honour (Porter Wagoner will feature again with one of the best songs on that theme). But this being 1969, and musicians of Young’s ilk more interested in laying down guitar jams than producing lucid lyrics, we must figure out ourselves the circumstances leading to the murder, which the narrator at least admits to: “Down by the river, I shot my baby. Down by the river…Dead, oh, shot her dead.” The rest is just crazy hippie talk about rainbows. So, obviously, youngologists believe the song is about heroin.

Well, the whiny, occasional Republican clarified the meaning in 1984 at a gig in New Orleans. The narrator met his woman at the titular location. “And he told her she’d been cheatin’ on him one too many times. And he reached down in his pocket and he pulled a little revolver out. Said: ‘Honey, I hate to do this, but you pushed me too far’.” Two hours later he gets arrested at his house. Young’s full explanation can be found here. I just want to know why he didn’t say all that in the song?

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  1. Jenny
    September 23rd, 2010 at 07:04 | #1

    Neil Young’s an occasional republican? Since when?

  2. Hugh McNally
    September 23rd, 2010 at 13:48 | #2

    “Crazy hippie talk about rainbows” ROFL. But don’t go hating on Neil.

  3. James
    September 29th, 2010 at 03:36 | #3

    Jenny –

    Neil Young went through a Republican phase in the mid-80s, around the same time (coincidentally or not) he went through a straight country phase and appeared on Ralph Emery’s television show. I believe he endorsed Regan around this time. Truth be told, his musical outlook has always seemed to mix hippie utopianism with rugged individualism (and a healthy dose of skepticism).

  4. James
    September 29th, 2010 at 03:42 | #4

    Amd – I’m grateful that Neil didn’t explain all of that in the song. I like “Down By the River” as is, with allusive lyrics that explain nothing. And an explanation in 1984 could be all sorts of revisionism.

  5. HW
    October 1st, 2010 at 12:35 | #5

    Nicely put James (re your Neil comments).

  6. Garth
    November 6th, 2010 at 14:01 | #6

    I prefered Albert Hammond’s version of Down By The River. Thanks for an amazing site!!

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