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Country Songs With Surprisingly Dark Meanings

Updated January 30, 2020 3.3k votes 743 voters 152.6k views15 items

List RulesVote up the songs you didn't realize were so sinister.

It's no secret that there are dark hidden meanings in country songs. One of the most tried and true traditions of country music isn't singing about driving around in a pickup truck or enjoying a couple of brews. It's actually the murder ballad, and it's unclear how such a dark theme became such an institution for this genre of music.  Even wholesome artists like Carrie Underwood and the Dixie Chicks have penned country songs with dark meanings.

Today, plenty of pop songs hide deceptively dark lyrics in the top 40 charts, but the tradition remains rooted in country. From Alison Krauss to Johnny Cash, here are some country songs you never realized are about some sinister deeds.

  • 1

    Knoxville Girl - The Louvin Brothers

    Video: YouTube

    "Knoxville Girl" is perhaps one of the most famous country songs on the planet, and you'd never guess from the lush harmonies that it's about a nefarious deed. The lyrics, however, depict a gruesome scene that happens during what seems like a romantic walk between two lovers. The song's second verse clearly describes the incident, but that's overcome by the upbeat and rhythmic guitar strumming in the background:

    She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
    "Oh Willy dear, don't kill me here, I'm unprepared to die"
    She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
    Until the ground around me within her blood did flow

    Never before has something so gruesome been sung in such perfect harmony.

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  • Video: YouTube

    No song that has a happy ending ever started with the sound of rolling thunder and such an ominous tone. Add in the lyrics, "He's heading back from somewhere that he never should have been" and you know something is about to go down. Over the course of the song, a wife goes from worrying about her husband making it home in the storm alive to realizing he's been out cheating: "And the lightnin' flashes in her eyes." 

    This song is apparently so dark that Brooks allegedly left out the third verse to make it more commercially viable, though he still performs it at his concerts. In this deleted verse, the woman decides to take fateful action against her husband: "'Cause tonight will be the last time she'll wonder where he's been."

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  • 3

    You Are My Sunshine - Gene Autry

    Video: YouTube

    Most of us are familiar with the refrain of Gene Autry's "You Are My Sunshine." At this point, it's a de facto nursery rhyme and mothers across the country sing the chorus to soothe their crying babies. In reality, those babies should probably keep crying because this isn't the sweet love song we all believe it to be. Instead, it's a gutting, desperate plea to a lover who has left the singer for another man, and it contains a bit of a threat if you listen to more than just the chorus:

    I'll always love you and make you happy
    If you will only say the same
    But if you leave me to love another
    You'll regret it all some day

    Just as it's been sung by many mothers as a lullaby, other artists have recorded this song, including Jimmie Davis and Johnny Cash.

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  • 4

    Delia's Gone - Johnny Cash

    Video: YouTube

    Like most of Johnny Cash's songs, "Delia's Gone" feels like a ballad about a typical heartbreak, but there's nothing typical happening here. The reason Delia can't be his wife isn't because she broke up with him and left town, it's because she was "cold and mean," so he ended her. Not only is the premise incredibly creepy, but it's also actually based on a real story, and the song gets extremely graphic about Delia's suffering with the lyrics:

    First time I shot her
    Shot her in the side
    Hard to watch her suffering
    But with the second shot she died 

    It's all pretty hard to swallow, but Cash somehow makes the scene seem casual. By the end of it, his sorrowful, deep voice has you almost feeling sympathetic toward the narrator, as if it was just your typical breakup ballad.

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