MURDER IN SONG: THE IRISH BALLAD-TOM LEHRER (1953)

What is a murder ballad? A murder ballad is just what it says it is: it is a song in which a murder occurs. Most murder ballads, but not all, follow a general rule of recounting the details of a true crime (“Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen being a good example as it details the killing spree of Charles Starkweather) or a mythic one (“Where the Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue being a good example here). A murder ballad tells us who the victim(s) are, the motive of the killer, how the victim is lured in and the act of murder itself. It may also, and usually does, include the capture and imprisonment/execution of the killer. Some are told from the point of view of the killer (“Tom Dooley“) and some from the side of the victim (“Lord Randall“). Murder ballads can be found in many different genres of music including country, folk, bluegrass, rock and even rap to name a few.

This is the first of what will, hopefully, be a new weekly post. I plan to feature a different murder ballad each week. I will try to have a video, lyrics and a brief and accurate history of the song.

The first song I want to feature is a song by Tom Lehrer entitled “The Irish Ballad“. It is the tale of a young girl who dispatches her family in various grisly ways. It is from his album Songs by Tom Lehrer and was released in 1953. I hope you enjoy hearing it and that you will come back each week to hear more.

About a maid I’ll sing a song,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
About a maid I’ll sing a song
Who didn’t have her family long.
Not only did she do them wrong,
She did ev’ryone of them in, them in,
She did ev’ryone of them in.

One morning in a fit of pique,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
One morning in a fit of pique,
She drowned her father in the creek.
The water tasted bad for a week,
And we had to make do with gin, with gin,
We had to make do with gin.

Her mother she could never stand,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
Her mother she could never stand,
And so a cyanide soup she planned.
The mother died with a spoon in her hand,
And her face in a hideous grin, a grin,
Her face in a hideous grin.

She set her sister’s hair on fire,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
She set her sister’s hair on fire,
And as the smoke and flame rose high’are,
Danced around the funeral pyre,
Playin’ a violin, -olin,
Playin’ a violin.

She weighted her brother down with stones,
Rickety-tickety-tin,
She weighted her brother down with stones,
And sent him off to davy jones.
All they ever found were some bones,
And occasional pieces of skin, of skin,
Occasional pieces of skin.

One day when she had nothing to do,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
One day when she had nothing to do,
She cut her baby brother in two,
And served him up as an irish stew,
And invited the neighbors in, -bors in,
Invited the neighbors in.

And when at last the police came by,
Sing rickety-tickety-tin,
And when at last the police came by,
Her little pranks she did not deny,
To do so she would have had to lie,
And lying, she knew, was a sin, a sin,
Lying, she knew, was a sin.

My tragic tale, I won’t prolong,
Rickety-tickety-tin,
My tragic tale I won’t prolong,
And if you do not enjoy the song,
You’ve yourselves to blame if it’s too long,
You should never have let me begin, begin,
You should never have let me begin.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “MURDER IN SONG: THE IRISH BALLAD-TOM LEHRER (1953)

  1. Ohhhh! I saw this at my inbox and just thought it was a Tom Lehrer thing, but you’re doing a series of this? I’m intrigued. I remember my husband picking up Tom Lehrer’s 10″ album super cheap at a record shop. We were so blown away with everything on it, including this song. Such a barrel of laughs. As the tale later went Lehrer was often approached during his teaching career at UCSC and got rather tired of being approached about his music there. Oh, dear. Hee hee hee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s