Songs written about true crimes have always been popular. Artists have always felt compelled to contextualize the atrocities of every day life and commit them to tape. But songs written about real murders aren’t always accurate in their depictions of terrible events. That’s why when you hear a historically accurate song about this dark subject, it really hits home. While artistic license is understandable, there's something satisfying about a song that's both artistically sound and true to life. Tracks like "The Hurricane" by Bob Dylan and "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen have been ingrained into the cultural consciousness not just for their distinct melodies, but because of the way they articulate how we feel about tragic events. Add these true crime songs to your playlist and get ready to accurately jam all night!
What The Lyrics Say: Here comes the story of the Hurricane / The man the authorities came to blame / For something that he never done / Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been / The champion of the world
What Really Happened: On June 17, 1966, two men entered a New Jersey bar and began shooting. The men killed three customers before leaving in a white Chevrolet. Later that evening, a police officer arrested famed heavyweight boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was driving with a friend in his own white Chevrolet. While the men were initially released due to lack of evidence, both men were tried for murder. They were convicted twice in the initial trial in 1967 and the second trial in 1976. However, the conviction was overturned in 1985 and Carter was released from prison.
Why was the conviction overturned? There were a variety of factors at play that cast serious doubt on Carter's guilt. The arresting officer had a personal vendetta against Carter. The officer had arrested an 11 year old Carter when Carter stabbed a man in self defense. During the officer's initial investigation, various witnesses denied Carter and his friend were the men responsible for the shooting. Witnesses would later change their stories, possibly due to pressure from the officer. While police found guns and ammo in Carter's car, the bullets used were different than the bullets found at the scene. It is widely believed Carter was falsely accused and that the police and prosecution played on the racial prejudices of the time to get a guilty verdict from the jury.
Georgia Lee by Tom Waits
What the lyrics say: Cold was the night, hard was the ground/They found her in a small grove of trees/Lonesome was the place where Georgia was found
What really happened: In August 1997 the 12-year-old body of Georgia Lee Moses was found naked near a freeway in Petaluma, Califorina. Moses had been missing for eight days but no one had reported her missing. Her murder was classified as a "suspicious death" but was never solved. Nearly a decade after her death Lia Rowley created the Santa Rosa’s The Children’s Village, a place for latchkey kids to go, but it closed down do to a lack of funding.
Waits takes a bit of a poetic license with his lyrics. There were no trees reported near the area and since the murder occurred in California it probably wasn't that cold. Still, his lyrics are fairy accurate overall.
- Date Recorded: 1999
What The Lyrics Say: Tell me why I don't like Mondays/I want to shoot the whole day down
What Really Happened: In 1979 Bob Geldof wrote "I Don't Like Mondays" after reading a news report about 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. Spencer used a .22 rifle to kill the school's principal and a janitor. She also wounded eight children. When a reporter asked why she would shoot at children she answered, "I don't like Mondays."
In a 2009 parole hearing, Spencer claimed that she was trying to commit suicide by cop and that she doesn't remember making the famous remarks. However, most official reports maintain she made the statement and other disturbing remarks, including commenting that the shooting was "just a lot of fun." Spencer claims to have been under the influence of a variety of drugs at the time, despite the fact tests showed no evidence of drugs in her system. Aside from the title, however, there weren't many facts in the Boomtown Rats song. It's mostly loosely based on the incident.
What The Lyrics Say: I saw her standin' on her front lawn just twirlin' her baton/Me and her went for a ride sir and ten innocent people died/From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed off .410 on my lap/Through to the badlands of Wyoming I killed everything in my path
What Really Happened: In 1958 Charles Starkweather went on a killing spree after going to pick up his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, at her parents house. Starkweather had previously murdered a gas station attendant on November 30, 1957 when the attendant refused to sell him a stuffed toy for Fugate. The following January, Fugate's parents refused to let him see her when he arrived to pick Fugate up from her home. Starkweather killed Fugate's parents with a shotgun before strangling their two-year-old daughter. After that he took Fugate on a statewide killing spree that saw the couple murder 11 people and two dogs.
Their murder spree ended in Wyoming on January 29, 1958. Starkweather led police on a short car chase before turning himself over to the police and taking the full blame for the couple's crimes. Starkweather would go to the electric chair for his crimes, and Fugate would get life in prison. However, she was paroled in 1976 because of good behavior.
Springsteen's lyrics barely tell the story of Charles Starkweather, but he is right about the teenage killer mowing down everyone that he met on his short killing spree.