Friday Five: Executioners’ Songs

Juli Thanki | October 4th, 2013

There are many songs about those who’ve been sentenced to death, but fewer about those on the other end of the rope. Here are five.

5. Fairport Convention – “Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman”

“Here’s to the jolly hangman / He’ll hang you the best that he can.” That sounds comforting; if I were on the gallows, I’d hate for my last minutes to be ruined by an underachiever who wouldn’t, for example, properly calculate the drop.

 

4. Mason Proffit – “Two Hangmen”

What happens when one hangman is ordered to hang another? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well.

 

3. Henry Wagons – “A Hangman’s Work is Never Done”

“It’s been a killer of a day” indeed.

 

2. Marty Stuart – “Hangman”

As you’ll hear Stuart mention in the video below, “Hangman” came from a conversation with Johnny Cash in which the men wondered about the psychological effects executions had on the executioner. In this case, the hangman tries to chase away his ghosts with booze and dope. (Fellow history buffs: you can read about the lives of real hangmen, some of whom struggled to cope with their work, in this book; it’s pretty good.)

 

1. Slaid Cleaves – “Twistin’”

Singing from the hangman’s perspective, Cleaves unflinchingly depicts the atmosphere surrounding a public execution in this song based on one of many similar events that occurred in countless town squares: “Men held up their babies to see / Reporters jotted down a tale / Hawkers brought out lemonade / And the ladies headed for the hanging day sale.”

  1. Jack Williams
    October 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

    Steve Earle – Ellis Unit One

  2. nm
    October 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Yeah, that’s what I was thinking too. No hanging in it, though.

    Can we suggest movies? Who besides me remembers The Traveling Executioner with Stacey Keach?

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