murder ballads


In my background research on folk music, and related to my interest in developing a ‘American Culture’ class that focuses on Massachusetts history and culture, I came across this fascinating article by Peter Drier on the Kingston Trio, and the song, ‘M.T.A.’ In my reading, I’ve been interested in the folk community’ crankiness about the Kingston Trio as too commercial and too apolitical: Their big hit was a murder ballad (‘Tom Dooley‘), a classic trope in folk music, which would be hard to pull off these days, by a ‘popular’ band, I imagine… Less related: I also had the not altogether novel realization of how in touch with American songwriting Kurt Cobain was. Nirvana’s ‘In the Pines,’ is a changeup of ‘Where did you sleep last night?’ which was sung by Leadbelly, and one of their bigger songs was ‘Polly,’ which is an adaptation of a traditional (which is perhaps a redundancy in terms) murder ballad, sung here by Dock Boggs.