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Playlists Illustration: Juan Carlos Polo. Illustration: Juan Carlos Polo.

Playlist Noir: Crime Songs

If they exist the film noir, the French fleece, the hard-boiled, the crime novel and the neo-policial in the domains of cinema and literature, music also has, in the Anglo-Saxon sphere, a subgenre of songs called murder ballads recounting the details and consequences of crimes. But these types of stories, whether inspired by real events or fictitious creations, not only feed lyrics in English but have been sung in all languages and nourish the musical traditions of any country. 

In the following sample, due to the ignorance of this compiler, only the Anglo and the Latin universe are present. Luckily, I can give you enough diversity to taste bolero and salsa, trova, ballads, pop and rock. Unfortunately, my limitations again, and the prejudice of not valuing enough the musical universe of the new millennium, make me conclude the playlist in the final stretch of the old century, right in 1999. One last warning: this list should not be consumed by minors, individuals with heart failure and hypersensitive people.

Lola / Rafael Hernandez Marin The Jibarito 

They say that Ramón Grau San Martín, then president of Cuba, looked at his watch in the middle of a speech and exclaimed: Damn, the time Lola was killed! Since then and because of a song, three in the afternoon has had the worst fame in Cuba. Interestingly, one of the most famous "Cuban" songs of all time was created by a Puerto Rican composer in 1935, but was inspired by a crime of passion that occurred in Havana. Although it has sounded like a bolero in the voices of María Teresa Vera and Orestes Macías, here we choose the version to the rhythm of son that the pianist Javier Vazquez recorded on the album Salsa and Montuno from 1977, sung by the very Cuban and incomparable Orlando Contreras. 

Sing Sing Jail / Joseph Feliciano 

Although it was the Dominican musician Bienvenido Brens who wrote those lines: Yesterday I visited the Sing Sing jail/ And in one of its solitary cells…; If they have become embedded in memory, it is because the Puerto Rican José Feliciano, with a hurt voice and a sorrowful guitar, rescued the story of a condemned man who confesses: I had to kill a being I wanted to love / And even though she was dead, I love her / Seeing her with her lover, I killed them both / Because of that infamous man I will die. Only the golden blind man could make him feel sorry for the executioner of a bloody double murder, through the song that was included in the compilation More hits from Jose Feliciano, in 1967.

Bonnie and Clyde / Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot 

Ecoutez l'histoire de Bonnie and Clyde, recites Serge Gainsbourg, the multifaceted French artist who composed the song, and is then accompanied by the famous actress to sing in two voices the turbulent drama of a couple coupled in life and profession, who by rounds of to gas stations, shops and banks became Public Enemy No. 1, back in the 30s. They were the object of a fierce persecution throughout the United States until they were shot down together in a car, giving rise to the greatest romantic legend 20th century criminal. Also the duo Serge/Bardot lived a love affair when the ballad was recorded inside the LP Initials BB, in 1967.

Look At Your Game Girl /Charles Manson 

The inclusion in the list of this song, presumably of love, is due to the fact that its creator and interpreter is, none other than, the leader of The Manson Family, a sect that in 1969 murdered the actress Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski, and four other people in a Hollywood house. Before this event occurred and he was sentenced, first to death and later reduced to life in prison, Charles had tried unsuccessfully to make a career in music. Paradoxically, his notoriety as a criminal allowed him to bring together his old musical creations in Lie: The Love and Terror Cult (2012) and other albums. Life, as he himself would sing, is to sad sad game/ mad game… 


Riders On The Storm / The Doors 

Rain and thunder, then a piano; and behind, the hypnotic voice of Jim Morrison making rock sound more psychedelic than ever. This song from 1971, collected on the disc L.A. Woman, reveals its elusive meaning in the verse There's a killer on the road. It is an allusion to the traveling murderer, Billy Cook, who used to hitch-hiking in the 50s and killed whoever picked it up like a dog without a bone. Recently, an animation was posted on the band's Instagram in homage to the band's 50th birthday. track icon of universal music. 

psycho killer / Talking Heads 

When the album titled Talking Heads: 77, it was said that the theme was inspired by Norman Bates, the character of Psychosis, the legendary film by Alfred Hitchcock; but a version performed by the same New York band served as the soundtrack to My friend Dahmer, a 2017 film dedicated to The Butcher of Milwaukee, a real-life serial killer. Don't touch me, I'm a real live wire, it is said in this song with a deceptive (and precursory) funk rock rhythm, which sneaks into the disturbing thought of a psychopath. 

Pedro navaja / Ruben Blades & Willie Colon 

Life gives you surprises. Life gives you surprises, oh God, assures the popular song, but it is not so surprising that the album Sowing, from 1978, composed between the Panamanian Rubén Blades and the Puerto Rican Willie Colón, is today the best-selling and most praised salsa album in musical history. Next to the tasty cut looking for guava, shines the narrative quality of a piece that begins like this: I saw him pass by the corner of the old neighborhood / with the tumbao that the handsome ones have when walking; and it ends with the thug dying from a bullet in the middle of the street, received from the same woman who thought he was an easy prey and tried to rob him with a dagger in his hand. For greater derision of the "hunted hunter", the prostitute releases: I thought: today is not my day, I'm living' / But, Pedro Navaja, you're worse: you're in na'. 

I will dance on your grave / Total sinister 

This satirical song offers the most extravagant catalog of ways to kill: I'll kill you with my tap shoes / I'll suffocate you with my ballet leotard (...) I'll slit your throat with a sharp record / From the Rolling Stones or the Shadows (...) I'll skin you with my cymbals / I'll trepan you with my Hammond organ... until ending with the macabre promise announced in its title. Considered a true anthem of punk-rock made in Spain, it is part of the homonymous album from 1985, recorded by the Galician band that was formed in 1981, in the city of Vigo.

One, two, ultraviolent! / The Rapists 

Taken up by the popular YouTube channel I'll summarize it like this to accompany the scenes of movies with extreme violence, this Argentine song came out on the album And now what happens, huh? (1985) and was the first super success of punk-rock in Latin America. Parody to the extreme, it begins with a riff of guitar that plagiarizes the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven and then introduces words in Nadsat, the youth slang invented by Anthony Burgess in his novel clockwork orange from 1962. Inspired by that book and the film of the same name by Stanley Kubrick, it describes a gang of thugs harassing girls in the street and, behind its apparent humor, it is the acid portrait of an atmosphere of social alienation. 

Smooth Criminal /Michael Jackson 

Although the accusation of pedophilia has ended up sinking the memory of the former Jackson Five, it is not possible to ignore that he carried the crown of the pop genre for a couple of decades and left an unavoidable legacy in music, dance and video clip. Among the essentials, belonging to the album Bad from 1987, there is the one that tells of Annie and how she is attacked inside her apartment by a stealthy assailant. movie centerpiece Moonwalker (1988), Smooth Criminal received a visual treatment that is a splendid homage to the American tradition of gangster cinema.

jack the ripper / Morrissey 

It remains a mystery to this day what the true identity of the most notorious serial killer of all time, the one who dismembered prostitutes in the gloomy London of 1880. For this reason, in this murky rock ballad included in the Beethoven Was Deaf, from 1993, in the middle of the dialogue that he establishes with one of his victims, Jack clarifies through the voice of Steven Morrisey: Nobody knows me / Nobody knows me. The Briton who had been the leader of the band The Smiths in the 80s, was already developing a fertile career as a soloist at that time, although he received the help of guitarist Boz Boorer for this composition. 

I Just Shot John Lennon / The Cranberries 

Although this theme is less known, recorded on the disc To The Faithful Departed (1996), within the trajectory of the Irish alternative rock band, singer Dolores O'Riordan is no less sublime when she sings What a sad and sorry and sickening night, to describe the crime committed in New York on December 8, 1980. That phrase works as a contrast to the cold words that give the song its title, and that were those pronounced by the murderer Mark David Chapman when he was questioned by the police. Among so many tributes composed to remember the genius of The Beatles, few are as emotional as this one, which concludes with six shots being heard at the end.

Where The Wild Roses Grow / Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds feat. Minogue Kylie 

The Australian Nick Cave, with his group The Bad Seeds, is the monarch of the Murder Ballads and, in fact, that is the title of his 1996 album. Among the tracks Of that album, the one sung as a duet with Kylie Minogue stands out, which received two ARIA Awards and had great repercussion, in addition, for the beautiful video clip broadcast on MTV. The soft and melancholy tone of the song disguises the sick passion of a man who believes that all beauty must die, takes the murdered lover to the river bank, kisses her goodbye and planted a rose 'tween her teeth…

Tony Presidio / Vico C.

Luis Armando Lozada Cruz, of Puerto Rican origin and born in New York in 1971, won under the artistic alias Vico C and with the one who had died, the Billboard Latin Music Award in 1998, becoming the first rapper to obtain this recognition. With its characteristic streak of social criticism, this album, his fourth, had among its songs one dedicated to the boy Antonio Pérez, raised humbly, whose ambition leads him to be king of the underworld and then to jail. After a time in New York, he returns to his island, eager to redeem himself, but a revenge from the past shatters his life. That's the story of Ton, Ton, Ton, Ton, Tony Presidio...

Mickey and Mallory / Santiago Feliu 

Even the Cuban Nueva Trova has received criminal encouragement and it could not be other than with Santi, the possessed and free, who pays homage to Saints Mickey and Mallory. The movie characters Natural Born Killers (1994), by Oliver Stone, represent for the prodigious left-hander a fable of inseparable love and death, with a strong message of social criticism and intergenerational conflict. It was not only the fault of the parents, / The living hell released them to the streetssays in his song on the album the immediate future (1999) and also points the finger at television, the police, politicians, social restrictions, materialism and lack of love, as reasons to explain why those Two wolves went out together to kill.

Raphael Cricket Unrepentant music lover. Most of the time I spend between El Caimán Barbudo, where I am its 21st century editor, disseminating Cuban literature on my Isliada website, and convincing students to do something called narrative journalism. I am a fan of Queen, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes and sometimes I publish books with titles like Isla en negro and More posts

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  1. Rafael Grillo says:

    As always, all my support and respect for the work of AM:PM. Thanks for posting this whimsical list. Hugs

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