What does the Appalachian range, the Scottish Highland, the Scandinavian mountains and Nick Cave have in common? Filled of the sub genre murder ballads. A strange phenomenon we don’t hear much in songs anymore. Often a man killing his girlfriend or a mother killing her children, these bone chilling songs have lasted centuries, growing and changing according to the time and place. But one thing remains, someone is murdered.

Child Owlet

Most likely Scottish. This creepy and bloody tale of a woman’s desire turned to a crime is bone chilling when you read behind the jolly tune.

Lyric

Lady Erskine sits intae her bower, a-sowing a silken seam,
A bonny shirt for Child Owlet as he goes out and in
His face was fair, long was his hair, she’s called him to come near
“Oh, you must cuckold Lord Ronald for all his lands and gear.”

“Oh, lady, hold your tongue for shame for such should ne’er be done.
How can I cuckold Lord Ronald and me his sister’s son?”
Then she’s ta’en out a small penknife that lay beside her head
She’s pricked herself below her breast which made her body bleed.

Lord Ronald’s come into her bower where she did make her moan.
“Oh, what is all this blood,” he said, “That shines on your breast bone?”
“Young Child Owlet, your sister’s son, is new gone from my bower.
If I’d not been a good woman I’d have been Child Owlet’s whore.”

Then he has taken Child Owlet, thrown him in prison strong
And all his men a council held to judge Child Owlet’s wrong
Some said, Child Owlet he should hang, some said that he should burn,
Some said they would he Child Owlet between wild horses torn.

“Ten horses in my stable stand, can run right speedily.
It’s you must to my stable go and take out four for me.”
They tied a horse unto each foot and one unto each hand.
They’ve sent them out o’er Elkin Moor as fast as they could run.

There was no stone on Elkin Moor, no broom nor bonny whin
But’s dripping with Child Owlet’s blood and pieces of his skin.
There was no grass on Elkin Moor, no broom nor bonny rush
But’s dripping with Child Owlet’s blood and pieces of his flesh.

Down in the Willow Garden

You click on an Everly Brother’s song and expect it to be a sugar sweet song about eternal love. Little did you know you were getting a well known bloody murder-ballad about a guy murdering his girlfriend.

Lyric

Down in the Willow garden
Where me and my love did meet
As we sat a-courtin’
My love fell off to sleep
I had a bottle of Burgundy wine
My love she did not know
So I poisoned that dear little girl
On the banks below

I drew a sabre through her
It was a bloody knife
I threw her in the river
Which was a dreadful sign
My father often told me
That money would set me free
If I would murder that dear little girl
Whose name was Rose Connolly

My father sits at his cabin door
Wiping his tear-dimmed eyes
For his only son soon shall walk
To yonder scaffold high
My race is run, beneath the sun
The scaffold now waits for me
For I did murder that dear little girl
Whose name was Rose Connelly

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The Maid and the Palmer

I don’t know what the deal is with mixing happy folk tunes with the grimmest of lyrics. But it does give it an extra dimension of creepiness.

Lyric

HE maid shee went to the well to washe,
      Refrain: Lillumwham, lillumwham!
The mayd shee went to the well to washe,
      Refrain: Whatt then? what then?
The maid shee went to the well to washe,
Dew fell of her lilly white fleshe.
      Refrain: Grandam boy, grandam boy, heye!
Leg a derry, leg a merry, mett, mer, whoope, whir!
Driuance, larumben, grandam boy, heye!
While shee washte and while shee ronge,
While shee hangd o the hazle wand.
There came an old palmer by the way,
Sais, ‘God speed thee well, thou faire maid!’
‘Hast either cupp or can,
To giue an old palmer drinke therin?’
Sayes, ‘I have neither cupp nor cann,
To giue an old palmer drinke therin.’
‘But an thy lemman came from Roome,
Cupps and canns thou wold find soone.’
She sware by God & good St. John,
Lemman had shee neuer none.
Sais, ‘Peace, faire mayd, you are forsworne!
Nine children you haue borne.
‘Three were buryed vnder thy bed’s head,
Other three vnder thy brewing leade.
‘Other three on yon play greene;
Count, maid, and there be 9.’
‘But I hope you are the good old man
That all the world beleeues vpon.
‘Old palmer, I pray thee,
Pennaunce that thou wilt giue to me.’
‘Penance I can giue thee none,
But 7 yeere to be a stepping-stone.
‘Other seaven a clapper in a bell,
Other 7 to lead an ape in hell.
‘When thou hast thy penance done,
Then thoust come a mayden home.’

‘SEVEN years ye shall be a stone,
      Refrain: . . . . .
For many a poor palmer to rest him upon.
      Refrain: And you the fair maiden of Gowden-gane
‘Seven years ye’ll be porter of hell,
And then I’ll take you to mysell.’
* * * * *
‘Weel may I be a’ the other three,
But porter of hell I never will be.’

Long Lankin

I mean. If you can listen to the Wainwright sister’s version of this murder ballad, I don’t know what will affect you.

Lyric

Said the Lord unto his Lady as he rode over the moss
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives amongst the gorse
Beware the moss, beware the moor, beware of Long Lankin
Be sure the doors are bolted well
Lest Lankin should creep in”
Said the Lord unto his Lady as he rode away
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives amongst the hay
Beware the moss, beware the moor, beware of Long Lankin
Be sure the doors are bolted well
Lest Lankin should creep in”
“Where’s the master of the house?”, says Long Lankin
“He’s ‘way to London”, says the nurse to him
“Where’s the lady of the house?”, says Long Lankin
“She’s up in her chamber”, says the nurse to him
“Where’s the baby of the house?”, says Long Lankin
“He’s asleep in the cradle”, says the nurse to him
“We will pinch him, we will prick him
We will stab him with a pin
And the nurse shall hold the basin
For the blood all to run in”So they pinched him and they pricked him
Then they stabbed him with a pin
And the false nurse held the basin
For the blood all to run in”Lady, come down the stairs, ” says Long Lankin
“How can I see in the dark?”, she says unto him
“You have silver mantles”, says Long Lankin
“Lady, come down the stairs by the light of them”
Down the stairs the lady came, thinking no harm
Lankin, he stood ready to catch her in his arms
There was blood all in the kitchen
There was blood all in the hall
There was blood all in the parlor
Where my lady she did fall
Now Long Lankin shall be hanged
From the gallows, oh, so high
And the false nurse shall be burned
In the fire close by
Said the Lord unto his Lady as he rode over the moss
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives amongst the gorse
Beware the moss, beware the moor, beware of Long Lankin
Make sure the doors are bolted well
Lest Lankin should creep in”

Where the Wild Roses Grow

Most of the songs on this list is older ballads. But murder ballads is not a died out genre. The king of creepy songs, Nick Cave, wrote Where the wild roses grows in 1996. He said in an interview: “Where The Wild Roses Grow” was written very much with Kylie in mind. I’d wanted to write a song for Kylie for many years. I had a quiet obsession with her for about six years. I wrote several songs for her, none of which I felt was appropriate to give her. It was only when I wrote this song, which is a dialogue between a killer and his victim, that I thought finally I’d written the right song for Kylie to sing. I sent the song to her and she replied the next day.”

They call me The Wild Rose
But my name was Elisa Day
Why they call me it, I do not know
For my name was Elisa Day

From the first day I saw her, I knew she was the one
She stared in my eyes and smiled
For her lips were the colour of the roses
That grew down the river, all bloody and wild

When he knocked on my door and entered the room
My trembling subsided in his sure embrace
He would be my first man, and with a careful hand
He wiped at the tears that ran down my face

They call me The Wild Rose
But my name was Elisa Day
Why they call me it, I do not know
For my name was Elisa Day

On the second day, I brought her a flower
She was more beautiful than any woman I’ve seen
I said, “Do you know where the wild roses grow
So sweet and scarlet and free?”

On the second day, he came with a single red rose
He said, “Give me your loss and your sorrow”
I nodded my head as I lay on the bed
If I show you the roses, will you follow?

They call me The Wild Rose
But my name was Elisa Day
Why they call me it, I do not know
For my name was Elisa Day

On the third day, he took me to the river
He showed me the roses and we kissed
And the last thing I heard was a muttered word
As he knelt above me with a rock in his fist

On the last day I took her where the wild roses grow
She lay on the bank, the wind light as a thief
And I kissed her goodbye, said, “All beauty must die”
And lent down and planted a rose between her teeth

They call me The Wild Rose
But my name was Elisa Day
Why they call me it, I do not know
For my name was Elisa Day
My name was Elisa Day
For my name was Elisa Day

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