“no body, no crime”: country murder ballads from yesterday and today

The Chicks’ 1999 album cover for “Fly.” Graphic courtesy of Sony Music

The Chicks’ 1999 album cover for “Fly.” Graphic courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.

Lily Denehy, Managing Editor

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of abusive relationships, murder and the death penalty.


Macalester students are famous for their hatred of country music. Since my first year here, I have been on a mission to introduce Scots to country music they can vibe with. There are many amazing artists out there, many of whom have the same musical sounds as Phoebe Bridgers and other indie musicians. To name a few country musicians any lisenter would enjoy: Yola, Jamie Wyatt, Orville Peck, Raye Zaragoza and Stephie James.

Murder ballads often deal with gruesome death and/or crime. Historically, many murder ballads were found in English and Irish folk songs. Many of these songs have no known author and were passed down orally. Now, most murder ballads are written and sung by country singers, particularly women.

Today, I want to introduce you to some of my favorite country murder ballads I’ve known my entire life. This is music my divorced mom and I screamed in the car when I was a kid. They are songs that are powerful, angry, women-filled and man-hating country songs by some of the most iconic women in the genre.

These songs are ranked in the order of murderous intent contained in the lyrics.

“Goodbye Earl” — The Chicks

This song came out in the late 1990s, and I like to believe it reinvigorated the true crime industry. Like any good country song, it’s full of twang, 4-H references and an engaging story. Wanda, one of the characters in the song, ends up stuck in her small town after high school. Unfortunately, the only man around is the abusive Earl. Enter Marianne — her best friend from high school — who comes back home after Wanda ends up in the hospital because of Earl. Together they plan Earl’s murder. They poison him with “black eyed peas,” wrap him in a tarp and dispose of his body. The police come looking for Earl, but Earl “was a missing person who nobody missed at all.” The women buy farmland, sell ham and jam and live a peaceful life afterwards. “Goodbye Earl” is the top tier murder song.


“Two Black Cadillacs” — Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood churns out murder songs like nobody’s business, but “Two Black Cadillacs” tells a wonderful story which focuses on a conspiracy between a man’s wife and his mistress. When the man’s wife “calls the number on his phone,” she learns he’s been cheating on her. The mistress also learns of the man’s infidelity. Together they decide he has to die. They make a plan, each never meeting the other until they arrive at his funeral. Both women arrive in black Cadillacs, “share a crimson smile” and drive away. They never meet again. My favorite part of this song is the refrain about the preacher and the man’s brother calling the man “good,” when it is clear it was just a facade. For the spooky plot and gritty, low Carrie Underwood voice, “Two Black Cadillacs” comes in second.


“The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia” — Reba McEntire

Reba McEntire is a country legend. Any good country education must include her, and, of course, she has one of the top-three murder songs. In this song, a man comes home from a two week trip, stops at a bar and he learns his wife is cheating on him from his friend Andy. Andy also slept with his wife. The man goes home and grabs the “only thing Daddy had left him, and that was a gun.” He finds his friend Andy in a puddle of blood and fires a shot to flag the sheriff down. Unfortunately for this man, the sheriff thinks he killed Andy and he is sentenced to death. In a shocking plot twist, the man’s sister with the help of Andy — and, she later says, the man’s cheating wife. The sister is the narrator of the song and explains that “his cheating wife had never left town, that’s one body that’ll never be found.” This song has one of the best plots for murderous women. Absolutely top tier.


“no body, no crime” — Taylor Swift (ft. HAIM)

Some might argue that Swift is better classified as a pop musician, but her roots are in country. I would be shocked if she was not inspired by “Goodbye Earl.” In this 2020 song from her “evermore” album, Swift spins a tale about a woman named Este whose husband cheats on her, murders her and moves in with his mistress. The narrator, Este’s best friend, will not let him get away with it. She murders him and frames his mistress who “took out a big life insurance policy.” This is an incredible, recent contribution to the genre from Swift.


“Choctaw County Affair” — Carrie Underwood

A deeper Carrie Underwood cut, but a beautiful murder ballad nevertheless. For ideal country vibes, Underwood even plays the harmonica during this song at concerts (special mention to The Mac Weekly staff writer Audrey)! 

Underwood creates a story about a love triangle between the narrator, Bobby Shaver and Cassie O’Grady. O’Grady turns up murdered. The town suspects the narrator and Shaver, but the lovers will not turn on each other, even in the trial. When the D.A. from Jackson wants to “see [them] in the electric chair,” the jury foreman reassures the narrator that it’s a “Choctaw County Affair.” Like “no body, no crime” the murderous love triangle ends with no formal convictions.


“Gunpowder and Lead” — Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert is a 2000s country music institution, and I hate her ex-husband Blake Shelton. Therefore, any angry Lambert song is an automatic bop. In this song, the narrator drives home to load her shotgun and wait for her husband to come home from jail. She plans to “show him what little girls are made of”— gunpowder and lead. This song is great for angry screaming when you’re feeling done with men.


“My Big Iron Skillet” — Wanda Jackson

This is the oldest song on the list, and Jackson does not disappoint. Her career has spanned the past 50 plus years, and this song is my favorite of hers. The narrator in this song is tired of her husband’s bad behavior, verbal abuse and indifference to her. She doesn’t “know why [she] ever said ‘I do.’” The narrator, like any good murderess, grabs her skillet and plans to kill him.


There are a slew of other murder ballads by country singers. I hope you have a good idea of the archetype now, but if you’re as impatient as me I’ll give you a few more. Some songs which did not make the cut today: “Church Bells” by Carrie Underwood; “In State” by Kathleen Edwards; and “Whiskey and a Gun” by Lisa Carver. Maybe this year we will see even more released! Bring on the (fictional) murders!


[email protected]