1. THRILLER by Michael Jackson (which qualifies on name alone, of course, since the video itself and the song’s story was strictly horror, not crime).





Highlight: Vincent Price saying, “The funk of forty thousand years”.

Lowlight: The werewolf mask in the ‘movie-within-the-movie’, before it goes all zombiegeddon. Particularly galling, as we all know that the director John Landis, can do this kind of thing in his sleep.


2. JAILBREAK by Thin Lizzy






Highlight: use of dual lead guitar harmony.

Lowlight: The inanity of the lyric “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak. Somewhere in this town”, to which the only sensible response, surely, is, “Could that ‘somewhere’ possibly be the jail itself?”


3. I SHOT THE SHERIFF by Bob Marley






Highlight: The amount of great covers and tributes the excellent original inspired, including Eric Clapton’s, Warren G’s and that of Mary J Blige, who”shot the sheriff AND the motherf**kin’ deputy” too.

Lowlight: Not the greatest defence ever mounted – admitting to shooting the Sheriff, but not his deputy.







Highlight: You can still by the whole album – on tape! – for only £3.74 here.

Lowlight: Eddy’s ‘Electric Avenue’ red shorts are sadly no longer in stock.


5. NEBRASKA by Bruce Springsteen





Highlight: feels as eerie and otherworldly as the real life killers who inspired it, namely Charles Starkweather and his14 year old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, who in turn have inspired films such as Badlands (which Springsteen watched prior to penning this), Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers.

Lowlight: if time travel had been around, it would have been great for Springsteen to go back and write the whole Badlands score.


6. THE MERCY SEAT by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds





Highlight: Nick Cave’s dark love affair with the crime genre shows no sign of lightening up any time soon, as witnessed by his superb script for The Proposition.

Lowlight: I live in the same town as Mr Cave, but have yet to see him play live (although I did once watch him ride along the seafront on a fine, old-fashioned bike).







Highlight: possibly the best ‘criminal’ couplet ever: “I shot a man in Reno / just to watch him die”.

Lowlight: The song sounds like a train coming to get you (not necessarily an association anyone in prison wants to dwell on for too long).


8. KING OF NEW YORK by Fun Lovin’ Criminals





Highlight: any song about John Gotti, Jr, the boss of the Gambino crime family of New York City that contains the following lyric is clearly not to be sniffed at: “He got a clipper from a stripper, he met at a club, two sticks of dynamite and a .38 Snub.”

Lowlight: this band are not nearly as loved in their native US as they still are in the UK. Shame on y’all.


9. WE ARE DETECTIVE by Thompson Twins





Highlight: the band’s hair-do’s (or, ‘hair-don’ts’, depending on your viewpoint).

Lowlight: the band’s dance ‘moves’, so criminal that they’re probably prosecutable offenses in themselves, as you can see in this 1983 Top of the Pops recording.


10. WOMAN IN THE WALL by The Beautiful South





Highlight: the imagery: “I hear her cry all day, all night/I hear her voice from deep within the wall/Made a cross from knitting needles/Made a grave from hoover bags/Especially for the woman in the wall”

Lowlight: the fact The Housemartins had to break up for this band (and Fat Boy Slim) to emerge.



Exhibit A Bonus Track!!!

PANCHO AND LEFTY by Townes Van Zandt

I had to include this, because it gets played more here in the Exhibit A office than just about any other track. Townes Van Zandt (when not injecting himself with Coke and rum) was an awesome songwriter, who even Bob Dylan admired. No mean lyricist either:

“Pancho was a bandit boy,
His horse was fast as polished steel
He wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel.
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words,
Ah but that’s the way it goes.”

Looking forward to hearing your own Top Crime Tunes, either here on the site, or over on Twitter @ExhibitABooks

Over and out for now.


11 Responses to “Top Ten Crime Songs”

  1. No place for Back on the Chain Gang? No space in the top ten for Hurricane, I Fought the Law or Watching the Detectives?

    I’ll forgive the omission of Sham 69’s Borstal Breakout though.

  2. How about Night Prowler by AC/DC?

    Highlight: Its blues rhythm and Bon Scott’s gutsy little demon vocals.

    Lowlight: The fact that it inspired Richard Ramirez during his spate of serial slayings in 1985.

  3. Check out ‘Narrow Escape’ by Ray Lamontagne and ‘Decoration Day’ by the Drive-By Truckers (as well as ‘Cottonseed’ and ‘Sink Hole’, same culprits. And on the subject of Nick Cave, there’s his entire ‘Murder Ballads’ album (clue’s in the name…)

  4. Of course there’s also Rolling Stones’ Midnight Rambler (about a serial killer) and Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix

    • Emlyn
      As no-one hear appear to be in the mood to do any writing/working, can I suggest a subset of this list? It’s for serial killer songs…I can add these charmers to the ones already suggested:

      Talking Heads – Psycho Killer
      Leon Payne – Psycho – great version by EC
      Luke Haines – Leeds United

  5. What about the Cell Block Tango form Chicago? *Lots* of criminals in that one!

  6. Surely “Robbery, Assault & Battery” by Genesis is a contender?

  7. Love The Mercy Seat. But let’s not forget the dulcet vocals of one Mr Jack Palance with “The Meanest Guy That Ever Lived”…

Leave a Reply