Top Ten Songs Based on Real Life Criminals

Songs about crimes and criminals are in abundance but these entries here are based on stories and people that we hope were fictional.
The Top Ten
1 Frank and Jesse James - Warren Zevon

As the title suggests, the song describes the lives of two outlaw brothers from a small town in Missouri, named Frank and Jesse James. They happened to fight on the side of CSA during the civil war. Before that they were part of the Quantrill gang who were involved with several massacres at that time. After the war, they performed various rebellious acts against the government that includes robbing banks among the others. Jesse James was later shot and killed by Robert Ford, Frank James turned himself in shortly after. This incident was so popular that there was also a film titled 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' featuring notable actors like Brad Pitt & Casey Affleck.

2 Suffer Little Children - The Smiths

The Smiths' amazing closing track from their eponymous debut album is based on the gruesome Moors murder by the killers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady Myra Hindley & Ian Brady who murdered five children between 1963 to 1965. This incident occurred in Morrissey's hometown at the time when he himself was a child close to the victims' ages. Even though Morrissey meant this song as a tribute, many found this song as offending upon it's release. The lyrics were meant as a message to the killers' conscience, with words like,
"You might sleep


3 Polly - Nirvana

It's a story about a teenage girl who was abducted and abused after accepting a ride from Gerard Friend, a suspect in the Green River Killer Case while returning from a concert in 1987.
This popular song from the band's most famous album Nevermind uses a made-up name as the title. The lyrics are depicted from the criminal's point of view. The lyrics are pretty graphic if you know about the story behind them. Some fans think that this song is also linked with their another famous song 'Rape Me'.

4 Jenny Was a Friend of Mine - The Killers

Brandon Flowers wrote this song basing it on Robert Chambers' murder of 18-year-old Jennifer Levin in New York City in 1986. He was supposedly a friend of Jenny, later fell in love with her and after not being able to handle their break-up, ends up murdering her. The lyrics are the words of the murderer trying to justify himself after being apprehended by the police.
This song is part of The Killer's 'Murder Triology'. Brandon Flowers was seemingly inspired by Morrissey to write songs on this particular topic...

5 John Wayne Gacy, Jr. - Sufjan Stevens

This haunting track from the artist's milestone album Illinois is a bit different from the other entries on this list. Throughout the song, the lyrics focused mostly on the life of the infamous serial killer and rapist John Wayne, starting from his childhood to the time he spent working as a clown. Sufjan didn't fail to add why he turned out like that and how well-liked he was among his friends and neighbors. All the while, mentioning the skeletons in his closet.

"Look underneath the house there, find the few living things rotting fast in their sleep of the dead."

What makes this song stand out from the rest of the bunch are these lyrics Sufjan Stevens ended the song with.

"And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid"

6 Death Valley '69 - Sonic Youth & Lydia Lunch

One of the many songs about the infamous Charles Manson, this one easily distinguishes itself among them with its eerie vibe paired with the influential music video. Lydia Launch's vocals adds another layer to the overall haunting atmosphere. Charles Manson & his followers reportedly murdered over 10 people during the late 60's and the early 70's. The song also refers Susan "Sexy Sadie" Atkins, member of the Manson Family who participated in the Sharon Tate murders (among several others).

7 Have You Seen Bruce Richard Reynolds? - Alabama 3

This song is on a whole different level than the other ones since it features guest vocals by the criminal himself! He was the criminal mastermind of Britain's largest train robbery of that time. It was originally a song by Nigel Denver but Alabama 3's version turned out to be much more popular mostly because of the controversial appearance of Bruce.

8 Nebraska - Bruce Springsteen

The title track from the 1982 album depicts the story of Charles Starkweather, a 19- year-old who, along with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, went on a killing spree in Nebraska and Wyoming in the late 1950s. The lyrics mostly focus on the cold and atrocious mentality of the murderers.

I ranked it lower since Bruce Springsteen added various elements from the '73 film 'Badlands' which was also based on the same crime.

9 Wrong 'Em Boyo - The Clash

The song is roughly based on the legend of Stagger Lee. The story is retold in many songs over the times with different takes. In The Clash version, we see Stagger Lee and Billy in a card game. The gambling went wrong because of a cheating which eventually turned into a big fight. In the end Billy was shot and killed by Stagger Lee.

This incident also appeared in songs by popular artists such as Nick Cave & Dr. John, each amazing in their own right.

10 I Don't Like Mondays - The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats track is mostly based on the incident of a 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer opening fire on a group of children on the playground of Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California. When a reporter asked why she would shoot at children the drug-influenced Brenda answered, "I don't like Mondays." Apart from the title, the song is loosely based on this tragedy.

The Contenders
11 122 Hours of Fear - The Screamers

Song about the hijacking of Lufthansa flight 181 that took place on October 13 1977.

12 Same Song & Dance - Eminem
13 Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson
14 Entrance of the Conflagration - Trivium
15 Unrepentant - Trivium
16 Inmate 4859 - Sabaton
17 Rise of Evil - Sabaton
18 Breaking the Law - Judas Priest
19 Mein Teil - Rammstein
20 Nebraska - Nicole Dollanganger
21 Secrets of Wysteria - Steampianist
22 In the Land - Nicole Dollanganger
23 ATWA - System of a Down
24 Gary Heidnik - SKYND
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