Wednesday, October 10, 2012


One of the more curious forms of popular song is the murder ballad (and with Halloween just a couple of weeks away, it's apropos for the season). In these songs, obviously, a murder is committed, and the rest of the song details what happened (or didn't happen) to the murderer. These songs are as old as the hills, and the first instances of the publication of these ballads take place in the late 1500s! Over the years, innumerable examples have made it to the public consciousness, from the sublime ("Down In The Willow Garden", "Tom Dooley", "Frankie And Johnny", "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", "Stagger Lee") to the ridiculous (Tom Lehrer's hilarious "I Hold Your Hand In Mine" and "The Irish Ballad", not to mention Guns 'N Roses' "I Used To Love Her").

Here's one you never hear about - mainly because it was released as a B-side to a country tune by Link Wray and his brothers on the tiny Infinity label in 1963. "Ninety Nine Years To Go" is a murder ballad with the sound of a chain-gang song. In fact, the record starts with the sound of a pick-axe hitting rocks. From there, one of the Wray Brothers (it's probably not Link, it's more likely Vernon Wray on lead) sings his tale of woe; he's serving 99 years for shooting his girl because he caught her with his best friend. No big deal here, but what brings this record over the top is the boyish earnestness of the vocal; he might as well be singing about bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly.

The best part (besides the ragged backing vocals) is when the singer's girlfriend, after being shot, says with her last breath, "Jimmy, I'm not mad at you!" Hmmmm. I see, she cheated on HIM, with his BEST FRIEND, but she decides to take the high road AFTER he shoots her, saying she's not mad at him. I think the point, honey, is that he's MAD at YOU.....

By the way, if you want to hear the other side of this record (a sprightly number called "You're Sweeter Than Sugar"), check it out here.

The Wray Brothers - Ninety Nine Years To Go (Infinity 033) - 1963

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