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From The CNN Of The 17th Century To Country Hits, Murder Ballads Won’t Die

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(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

We’re kicking off a week-long series of features on murder ballads. Inspired by recent hits, Radio.com will look at the poem-cum-song’s evolutions in country music, its uses as a tool to raise social consciousness around race issues, as a storytelling device in rap, and the recent turning-of-the-tables to songs sung about vengeful women. Check back every day for a new dive into the dark corners of murder ballads.

An uncommon phenomenon hit the country music charts at the beginning of 2013: two platinum-selling singles — respectively from Carrie Underwood and The Band Perry — that are also murder ballads captured the public’s attention. Underwood’s “Two Black Cadillacs” reached No. 2 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, while Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” hit No. 1 on the same chart.

It’s been a while since the murder ballad was so prevalent in country music. There was a rash of hit murder ballads in the ’90s dealing with domestic violence that included Garth Brooks’ controversial “The Thunder Rolls” (1991) and the Dixie Chicks crossover career-maker “Goodbye Earl” (1999), not to mention Martina McBride’s dark hit single “Independence Day” (1994) or Reba McEntire’s cover of  first-person murder ballad “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” (1991). And while the odd song will come out from the likes of Miranda Lambert (“Gunpowder & Lead”), whose honeymoon spent hunting is common knowledge, or Toby Keith (“Beer For My Horses”), whose name is almost as synonymous with avenging the War on Terror as it is red solo cups, for the most part murder ballads stayed underground in the last 10+ years in the world of country. Until now. We explore in our latest episode of Radio.com Inside Out, below.

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