Album: Murder Ballads (1996)

Songfacts®:

  • On the night of December 25, 1895, "Stag" Lee Shelton shot dead his underworld rival William "Billy" Lyons in a St. Louis saloon following a dispute. The crime soon became the subject of songs as well as folktales and poems. The best known version of "Stagger Lee," by Lloyd Price, reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 - Dick Clark insisted the violent content of the song be toned down when Price appeared on American Bandstand Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' sweary interpretation tells the story from a neutral perspective and is set in the 1930s.
  • The recording of the song for the Murder Ballads album was a happy accident. "It was a real last-minute miracle," drummer Jim Sclavunos told NME. "I came into the studio towards the very end of the sessions, and I showed Nick a book called The Life, which was a collection of black hustler prison poetry. I pointed out an old really nasty version of 'Stagger Lee', and he got quite excited. Just a few minutes later, we piled into the live room, and recorded the song, fully realized, totally off-the-cuff, in one take."

Comments: 1

  • Andrea from Australia Henry Lee is a song I'm disappointed I haven't been able to find.
    The sensuality between P.J Harvey and Nick Cave is spine tingling; it oooooozes sex appeal with that "keep you on the edge of your seat".
    It's right up there with his duet with Kylie.
    It "works " and they make it seem so effortless.
    Kylie is the beautiful sweet vulnerable woman.
    Where on the other hand P.J has the almost evil side to her ALTHOUGH she is in love with him.
    BRILLIANT
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Trucking Songs That Were #1 Hits

Trucking Songs That Were #1 HitsSong Writing

The stories behind the biggest hit songs about trucking.

Lori McKenna

Lori McKennaSongwriter Interviews

Lori's songs have been recorded by Faith Hill and Sara Evans. She's performed on the CMAs and on Oprah. She also has five kids.

Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)

Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)Songwriter Interviews

The Brazilian rocker sees pictures in his riffs. When he came up with one of his gnarliest songs, there was a riot going on.

Pete Anderson

Pete AndersonSongwriter Interviews

Pete produced Dwight Yoakam, Michelle Shocked, Meat Puppets, and a very memorable track for Roy Orbison.

Who Wrote That Song?

Who Wrote That Song?Music Quiz

Do you know who wrote Patti Smith's biggest hit? How about the Grease theme song? See if you can match the song to the writer.

Steely Dan

Steely DanFact or Fiction

Did they really trade their guitarist to The Doobie Brothers? Are they named after something naughty? And what's up with the band name?