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Lecture 5

MUS 365 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Murder Ballads, Blue Yodel, Word Association

Course Code
MUS 365
Benjamin Ordaz

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Betrayal, Murder, and Prison
Part 1
Issues of betrayal, such as infidelity, in Country Music have been discussed within the
context of marriage or a relationship
There are also tough songs that have been written and recorded that deal with betrayal
that ends in violent murder
Sometimes the one betrayed is a lover, at other times a partner or friend
Songs and ballads about murder have been around probably since songs have been
There are many ballads that came across from the folk tradition into early Country
Music that dealt with murder, such as “Tom Dooley,” “Down in the Willow Garden,” and
“Pretty Polly”
Most seem to recount a man either killing out right a woman or taking vengeance upon
her for betraying his love
There were some exceptions
One such ballad, that dates back in America to 1831, told his story of a Toe River, North
Carolina woman named Frankie who chopped up her cheating husband with an axe
Another song that tells the story of revenge by a woman visited upon her two-timing
lover, and does not seem to be related to the axe wielding Frankie just mentioned, is the
ballad “Frankie,” which eventually became known as “Frankie and Johnnie”
Earliest versions of this song popularized by the Leighton Brothers
“Frankie” was also taken up and sung in films by Mae West and other performers, such
as Joe Cook, who performed the song before Jimmie Rodgers recorded his famous
Jimmie Rodgers cut “Frankie and Johnnie” in a session for Victor in August of 1929
His version of the song is unique for the time
In most traditional murder ballads, a male killer confesses and repents at the end of the
Here, instead, Rodgers has Frankie merely ask the Warden what she will face, and he
replies, “It’s the lectica chair for you
Further, there is no moral conclusions to the tale
Instead, he closes with an ironic and nihilistic verse
“Frankie and Johnnie” was popular during the Suffragette era, and the sentiment voiced
in this final verse about there ain’t no good in menwas one found often in 19th
century literature that warned women about men’s predatory nature
Violence in the song is also handled in an offhand manner
Johnnie’s murder is recounted in one of the catchiest and, as one might expect, one of
the most rhythmically vibrant moment in the song
All the while we hear a constantly evolving events in the story in the refrain
As Jimmie Rodgers’ 1927 “Blue Yodel No. 1 (T for Texas)” unfolds, it becomes clear that
the persona in the song has been betrayed in love by Thema” who enters the song
through word association
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