Greetings, and welcome to our second look at murder songs. Today’s highlight is the crude but effective murderous technique known as bludgeoning. Webster’s dictionary, named after popular lexicographer Noah Webster, defines bludgeoning as follows: to hit with heavy impact.
There are many types of simple instruments that fall into the category of a bludgeon.
There is the mace, the baseball bat, the slapjack, and the sally rod. Peasants wielded cudgels throughout the middle ages, and Massai warriors are adept at throwing the rungu. While these primarily wooden instruments all fall into the category of bludgeons, there are many other instruments that, if gripped in the proper hands, are capable of bludgeoning.
Our first song today tells the tale of a young medical student, who, with the help of his silver hammer, kills his girlfriend, his teacher, and finally, his trial judge.
Here is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, from the album Abbey Road, by the Beatles.
The other members of the Beatles felt that the song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” itself was something that went wrong out of the blue. Ringo said “it was the worst track we ever had to record”, George said the song “was so fruity”, and John cited the song as an example of McCartney’s “Granny-style” writing.
Another songwriter who John Lennon would both criticize and respect is Bob Dylan. While “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is not based on true events, our next song is. Though not as heavy as a hammer, a cane can be just as lethal.
This is “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll”, performed live in 1975 by Bob Dylan and his Rolling Thunder Revue.
The lonesome death of Hattie Caroll. Many murder songs describe, in detail, events following a murder.
Is the murderer apprehended, or does he escape the power of the law?
If he is incarcerated, what will his sentence be? And is it a just sentence?
Do we sympathize with the murderer, or seek vengeance?
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Caroll” comments on the racial inequities of the judicial
system circa 1963. The life of an African American maid is metered out in a 6 month sentence.
William Zanzinger, the villain in both the song and real life, would continue to demonstrate his racism in later years. In 1991, Zanzinger was found guilty of collecting and successfully suing for back rent from poor African American’s on property he no longer owned. The trial garnered national attention due to Zanzinger’s previous infamy.
What did the cane-wielding Zanzinger think of Bob Dylan? Quote:
“He’s a no-account son of a bitch, he’s just like a scum of a scum bag [sic] of the earth, I should have sued him and put him in jail.”
William Zanzinger died on Jan 3rd, 2009.
Our next song is from an album titled Murder Ballads, released by Nick Cave. The female guest vocalist is none other than pop star Kylie Minogue.
Try to enjoy: “Where the Wild Roses Grow”
Continuing on the theme of a smashed-in head and a rather unrepentant murderer, our last song is sung by none other than the Man In Black, Johnny Cash. Originally a British song about young Jack Hall, sold by his mother and forced to become a chimney sweep among other things, the song was transformed as it made its way across America. Jack Hall became Sam Hall, and the chimney sweep profession adopted a more western motif.
Here is Johnny Cash singing “Sam Hall.”