Crimes of passion: the best country songs about women who murder their husbands
Within the beat-to-death tropes of country music – those of inflated patriotism and tear-in-my-beer heartbreak – lies a safe haven. This refuge comes in the form of the stories of women who murder abusive or unfaithful men: a strange – nonetheless welcome – trend to become so popular in any genre.
From the dawn of such stories in the 1970s to country-infused folk-pop from just last year, here are the best twangy anthems about lady killers killing lady-killers.
The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia – Reba McEntire
Though it was first performed with Vicki Lawrence’s pop-country stylings in 1973, it was Reba McEntire who brought fame to “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” on her 1991 album “For My Broken Heart.”
With classic outlaw-country instrumentation, the singer recounts the wrongful accusation of her brother for the murder of “Andy,” who had slept with his wife. The brother was hanged for the murder after an unfair trial.
“The judge said ‘guilty’ on a make-believe trial, slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile, said, ‘Supper’s waiting at home and I got to get to it,’” McEntire sings.
McEntire, through compelling vocals and a lovable twang, reveals at the end of the song that it was she who killed Andy, as well as her brother’s unfaithful wife.
“Well, they hung my brother before I could say the tracks he saw while on his way to Andy’s house and back that night were mine,” she sings. “And his cheating wife had never left town. That’s one body that’ll never be found– You see, little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun.”
Goodbye Earl – The Chicks
Few songs on this list can compare with the iconic “Goodbye Earl,” one of the Chicks’ greatest hits from their 1999 album “Fly.” The bluegrass-infused track takes on a classic narrative form to tell the story of Mary Anne and Wanda, two high school best friends who would do anything for each other.
When Wanda files for divorce against her abusive husband Earl, the abuse only worsens, landing her in an intensive care unit. When Mary Anne hears of this, she flies home immediately. The women come to the only logical solution: Earl had to die.
“Goodbye Earl!” the Chicks belt. “Those black-eyed peas– They tasted alright to me, Earl. You feelin’ weak? Why don’t you lay down and sleep, Earl. Ain’t it dark, wrapped up in that tarp, Earl?”
It soon becomes apparent that Earl was a “missing person who nobody missed at all.” Never to be bogged down by guilt for the imperative slaying of Earl, Mary Anne and Wanda open up a roadside stand to sell Tennessee ham and strawberry jam.
“They don’t lose any sleep at night, ‘cause Earl had to die,” the Chicks harmonize once again.
Though Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie McGuire certainly take a humorous approach to the story of Earl, Mary Anne and Wanda, the band set a precedent in country music by shedding light on the very real threat of domestic abuse.
Church Bells – Carrie Underwood
With a daunting banjo riff and a loveable Oklahoma drawl, Carrie Underwood tells a similar story to that of “Goodbye Earl” in 2015’s “Church Bells.”
Our central character, Jenny, catches the eye of a wealthy “oil man,” who she goes on to marry. But behind the facade of champagne, diamonds and country clubs, a different scene unfolds.
“Everyone thought they were Ken and Barbie, but Ken was always getting way too drunk,” Underwood belts out. “Saturday night, after a few too many, he came home ready to fight. And all his money could never save Jenny from the devil living in his eyes.”
Jenny first resorts to makeup, dark sunglasses and back-pew prayers with the Baptists to get through the abuse. She then takes it a step further:
“Jenny slipped something in his Tennessee whiskey no law-man was ever gonna find,” she sings. “And how he died is still a mystery, but he hit a woman for the very last time.”
Playing coy, Jenny stands at her late husband’s funeral in a black dress while church bells echo through the final chorus.
no body, no crime (ft. HAIM) – Taylor Swift
Though she departed from country music seven years ago with the release of “1989,” Taylor Swift proved that she still has an unwavering faculty for the genre in 2020 with the release of “no body, no crime (ft. HAIM)” on her album “evermore.”
Swift pairs up with pop-rock sister trio HAIM for the track to relay the tale of Este, who has recently noticed the tell-tale signs of infidelity in her husband.
“That ain’t my merlot on his mouth; that ain’t my jewelry on our joint account,” Swift chants. “No there ain’t no doubt– I think I’m gonna call him out. I think he did it, but I just can’t prove it.”
Suddenly, Este’s nowhere to be found. She missed her dinner plans with the narrator, and she hasn’t been coming into work. Over at her house, her mistress has moved in. Conveniently, Este’s husband’s truck has brand new tires.
Hinting to Este’s supposed murder by her husband, Swift again sings, “I think he did it, but I just can’t prove it … no body, no crime, but I ain’t letting up until the day I die.”
It’s a good thing, Swift tells us, that her father made her get a boating license. In a similar vein, it’s also a good thing she’s “cleaned enough houses to know how to cover up a scene.” An alibi secured with Este’s sister, the narrator has avenged her murder.
Good thing, Swift adds, that the mistress in question took out a big life insurance policy.
“They think she did it but they just can’t prove it,” she sings coyly. “She thinks I did it but she just can’t prove it; No body, no crime, I wasn’t letting up until the day he died.”
Gunpowder and Lead – Miranda Lambert
The epitome of back-door country, Miranda Lambert gives us an angsty, upbeat revenge anthem with “Gunpowder & Lead.” With a lack of the usual narrative structure in most songs of this trope, Lambert matter-of-factly states her intentions.
“I’m goin’ home, gonna load my shotgun, wait by the door and light a cigarette,” Lambert proclaims proudly. “If he wants a fight, well, now he’s got one. He ain’t seen me crazy yet. He slapped my face and shook me like a rag doll; don’t that sound like a real man?”
Lambert sings that she’s going to show her husband what she’s made of: gunpowder and lead.
Two Black Cadillacs – Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood is the only artist with the distinct honor of earning two places on the list of the best country songs written about crimes of passion. In this tale, two black Cadillacs parade through town in a man’s funeral procession: one for his wife, and another for “the woman who loved him at night.”
The women, who were both under the impression that they were this man’s one and only, made short-lived contact for a plan to ensure he didn’t get away with his failures to remain faithful.
“And the preacher said he was a good man, and his brother said he was a good friend,” Underwood sings. “But the women in the two black veils didn’t bother to cry … he’s not the only one who had a secret to hide.”