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GUEST,Paul Slade What murder ballad is the saddest? [songs] (162* d) RE: What murder ballad is the saddest? 27 Mar 11

Death of the Lawson Family takes some beating, detailing as it does the true case of a poor farmer in 1929 North Carolina who became mentally disturbed after a head injury. He waited till Christmas Day came around, and then killed his wife and six young children before shooting himself dead in a fit of remorse.

Townes van Zandt's Marie isn't a murder ballad, but it may just be the bleakest song ever written. The narrator loses his job and his home, then starts living rough with his girfriend under a bridge. He runs out of welfare payments, his last blood relative dies, then he's viciously beaten for a handful of change and discovers his girlfriend's pregnant. She dies in despair ("She just rolled over and went to heaven / With my little boy safe inside") and all he can do for her is to drag her out to the side of the highway and leave her there in the hope someone will discover her and his unborn son before a hungry animal gets them.

I read somewhere that Cole Porter wrote Miss Otis Regrets to draw some ironic attention to the lynchings then common in the American South. If it was rich white women getting lynched instead of poor black men, he wanted to say, then maybe we'd be making more fuss about it. Porter wasn't exactly known for his social conscience, mind, so maybe that's just a myth.

I have to agree with Miskin Man about Mrs Dyer the Old Baby Farmer too. The song itself - at least in the version I know - is a fairly jolly affair, full of the crowd's good-natured regret that they weren't allowed to burn her alive, but the true story behind it is a remarkably sad and squalid affair. I spent a couple of weeks immersed in Dyer's story for the piece I wrote about her balled here , and at the end of it I felt like taking my brain out and washing it in disinfectant. You'll find my essays about Hattie Carroll and many other murder ballads on the same site.

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