Songs where someone dies at the end

Writers are unique creatures. Most of them will tell you that their ability is like a little machine in their head, or perhaps a writing gremlin that can occasionally take days off. But when the gremlin is working, it's as if the words just can't stop flowing — and if all the gremlin wants to write is Orange is the New Black fan fiction, well, the writer probably doesn't have much say in the matter.

That is to say that most writers have areas of specialty, and in particular, there are two very different skill sets involved between writing songs and writing stories. Not all songwriters have a firm grasp of narrative, and most prose authors probably couldn't write lyrics if their lives depended on it. But the authors of these songs are literarily ambidextrous, if you will — and their creations function just as effectively as complete, compelling narratives as they do killer pop tunes. Emphasis on the "killer," because in these stories (as in most of the best ones), someone buys the farm at the end.

"Jeannie Needs a Shooter" - Warren Zevon

Even if Bruce Springsteen isn't your musical cup of tea, he's indisputably an amazing and prolific songwriter. He's written a metric ton of songs that have been recorded by other artists, many of which have become smash hits, while amassing an enormous discography of his own. "Jeannie Needs a Shooter" is a tune that he had been kicking around for a while before eventually giving up and passing it off to Warren Zevon, who featured it on his 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (and if there's ever been a more awesome album title, we'd like to hear it).

The Old West-flavored tune tells the story of an unnamed narrator who was "Born down by the river, where the dirty water flows," who falls in love with Jeannie, the daughter of a lawman who doesn't take kindly to suitors. The narrator insists that "Jeannie needs a shooter, a shooter like me," and Jeannie seems to agree, planning to run away with him one night. But in a Shyamalan-esque twist, the final verse reveals that the poor guy had been set up: "The night was cold and rainy / Down by the riverside / I was riding hard to meet her / When a shot rang out behind / As I lay there in the darkness / With a pistol by my side / Jeannie and her father / Rode off into the night." Yep, she sure needed a shooter, sport — just not you.

"Can't Stop, Won't Stop" - KRS-One

KRS-One has never exactly been a household name, but in the Hip-Hop world, he gets more respect than the guy who invented Cristal. As a member of Bronx crew Boogie Down Productions, he helped pioneer a rapid-fire, technical rhyming style, and his freestyle skills are the stuff of legend. But his mastery of the rap narrative doesn't get discussed nearly as much as it should, as he's displayed his penchant for crafting vivid, cinematic narratives ever since the beginning of his career with lively tunes like "9MM Goes Bang" and "P is Free."

"Can't Stop, Won't Stop" is a deep cut from his gold-selling 1997 effort I Got Next, and it's his leanest and meanest narrative. In it, a low-level weed dealer who is constantly on the lookout for undercover cops accidentally kills three of them during a raid. After his arrest, he discovers that they were crooked, and he's being forced to become an unwilling participant in a federal investigation. He's set up in a new weed spot by the feds, who promptly rescue him from an attempted robbery — at which point the poor sap finally lets his guard down, at the precise wrong time: "Suddenly a sense of trust came over me / I thought to myself 'Well, soon I'll be free' / But as I turned around I heard the gun go click / I said 'Wait' / But it was too late." Actually, he could and did stop; all it took was a bullet.

"El Paso" - Marty Robbins

Country singer/songwriter Marty Robbins has probably notched more hits than anyone you've never heard of, with a prolific career spanning from the '50s to the '70s. His signature tune "El Paso," released in 1960, tore up both the country and rock charts and won a Grammy Award. If you've heard it, it may very well be because you're a fan of Breaking Bad. The tune is featured prominently in the series finale, titled "Felina" — an anagram of "finale" and the name of the "Mexican girl" with whom Robbins' unnamed narrator falls in love.

Of course, it doesn't go well. Felina ignores his advances, but not those of a dashing stranger who comes into the El Paso cantina where the narrator pines for her nightly. So the narrator shoots the guy dead. "Shocked by the evil deed I had done, I had but one chance and that was to run." And run he does, but despite Felina's total friendzoning of him, he can't stand to stay away. "My love is stronger than my fear of death," he says, and sure enough, he's greeted by "mounted cowboys … a dozen or more," coming away from the encounter with a bullet in his chest. As his croaking becomes imminent, Felina tearfully kneels by his side: "Cradled by two loving arms that I'll die for / One little kiss and Felina, goodbye." The story closely mirrors Walter White's final season arc, but that's probably just a weird coincidence.

"Jailbreak" - AC/DC

It seems like AC/DC has been one of the world's top-selling bands forever, but before 1980's Back in Black — their first release with new vocalist Brian Johnson after the death of original lead singer Bon Scott — few people in the U.S. even knew who they were. After that record sold a gazillion copies, label Atlantic started pumping everything they could think of from the band's vault into the States, including their classic 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (not released stateside until 1981) and a few outtakes cobbled together for the five-song EP '74 Jailbreak. Its title track revealed that Scott had not been just an awesome singer, but a hell of a storyteller as well.

The tune's narrator recalls the story of "a friend of mine on murder / And the judge's gavel fell / Jury found him guilty / Gave him sixteen years in hell." It seems the guy had caught his wife fooling around with another man, and left the poor chap "lying on the ground / With a hole in his body / Where his life had been." The guy vows to regain his freedom, and in the chaos of a prison riot, he makes it out … "with a bullet in his back!" Pretty harsh, but it would've been a bit less dramatic if he had served his time, gotten out on parole, and gotten a job at the local grocery store.

"Peel Their Caps Back" - Ice-T

Today, Ice-T is known mostly for loving Coco and playing a cop on TV for like 20 years, but it would be tough to overstate the level of respect he once commanded as a rapper. Ice was never the most technically gifted MC, but his skill as a lyricist is unparalleled, and he demonstrated his ability to craft epic stories as far back as his breakthrough single "6 'N the Mornin'," which incidentally is pretty much the first gangsta rap song. On his 1989 release The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech … Just Watch What You Say, he gave us "Peel Their Caps Back" — which illustrates that while most gangsta rappers tended to glorify the lifestyle, Ice-T decidedly did not.

Over a slinky, predatory beat, Ice's narrator calmly recalls the night his posse went out seeking revenge after a friend was killed by a rival gang. The perpetrators are spotted, a gunfight breaks out — all par for the gangsta rap course, until the final verse turns the narrative on its head while punching the listener in the gut. "Then all of a sudden a bullet came through my eye / My dome exploded as I felt my other brothers die / I drank my blood as I fell like sh*t into the street / My corpse stunk like a burned-out rotten piece of meat." Ice leaves his shocked audience with an admonition that "Whenever someone dies, nobody wins" and a thousand-yard stare that lingers for the rest of the album.

"Goodbye Earl" - Dixie Chicks

For a poppy country band made up of a trio of genial … well, chicks, the Dixie Chicks have never shied away from provocation. They famously ticked off a large portion of their audience by talking smack about then-president George W. Bush at a concert, then responded to the inevitable death threats by releasing a song basically telling anyone who didn't like it what they could go do with themselves. In case you're wondering what their stance is on male-on-female domestic violence, suffice to say that they are not in favor. For evidence, look no further than "Goodbye Earl," a cheerful little tune about a woman who helps her friend murder her abusive husband.

Lead singer Natalie Maines regales the listener with the story of Mary Anne and Wanda, friends since their high school days. After graduation, "Wanda looked all around this town / And all she found was Earl." Wanda's lout of a husband immediately begins abusing her, putting her in intensive care and ignoring restraining orders, until Mary Anne offers up a solution: a poisoned batch of black-eyed peas. After some jovial taunting ("Ain't it dark wrapped up in that tarp, Earl?") it's revealed that nobody ever heard from Earl again, nor cared what happened to him. The song ends with a suggestion that Earl might like to go for a ride in the trunk, but he was clearly in no condition to answer.

"Hallowed Be Thy Name" - Iron Maiden

You can pretty much use the terms "metal as hell" and "Iron Maiden" interchangeably, so it stands to reason that a great deal of the band's lyrics are metal as Satan's oven. Their classic third album Number of the Beast, the first with lead belter Bruce Dickinson, was certainly no exception. One of the first tunes recorded with the new singer was "Hallowed Be Thy Name," a sunny little ditty penned by bassist Steve Harris which is essentially a window into the final thoughts of a condemned man.

"I'm waiting in my cold cell / When the bell begins to chime," the narrator begins, metal-ly. "Reflecting on my past life and it doesn't have much time / 'Cause at five o' clock they take me to the gallows pole / The sands of time for me are running low." We're never let in on what the guy did to land himself on death row, only privy to his stream-of-consciousness inner narrative, which careens between acceptance and desperation: "I take a look through the bars / Of the last sights / Of a world that has gone very wrong for me … Somebody please tell me that I'm dreaming." As the inevitable comes to pass, he offers his last thoughts from beyond the grave: "I've gone beyond to see the truth … Life down here is just a strange illusion." Metal. As. Hell.

"Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night" - The Coup

Boots Riley finally revealed himself to the world as a master storyteller with his debut feature film Sorry to Bother You, but fans of his rap group The Coup have known it for years. A cut from 1998's Steal This Album, "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night" has a title as unwieldy as its seven-minute-plus length, ensuring that it would get no airplay — which is a crime because it's one of the greatest rap narratives ever.

The narrator explains the history of the complicated relationship between himself and his father figure ("His name was Hay-soos, but his pimp name was Jesus"), who is out of jail after doing time for murder ("Fifteen years, but it seemed like a century"). Through flashbacks, it's revealed that Jesus killed the narrator's prostitute mother, and that as an adolescent the narrator had written letters of forgiveness and reconciliation to the pimp in prison. As they drive around town on a cold and rainy night in the present day, it becomes clear that the narrator has plans far beyond reconciliation, and as he "pull[s] into a vacant lot, the road to recovery," he grabs a gun and spits the last piece of game Jesus will ever hear. It's a masterful, spellbinding piece of storytelling as compelling as anything Riley is ever likely to put up onscreen, and proof that you can't judge a song by its unbelievably silly title.

"You Don't Mess Around With Jim" - Jim Croce

Singer/songwriter Jim Croce is best known today for "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," an excellent story song which has unfortunately become a karaoke staple and something of a punchline. But with his very first single, Croce revealed his prototype for the "bad, tough guy gets what's coming to him" narrative. "You Don't Mess Around with Jim," the story of a badass pool hustler who hustles the wrong guy, was actually based on a dude named Jim Walker who Croce used to hang with in pool halls in his younger years. The real Walker, however, didn't meet the same grim fate as the poor guy he inspired.

It seems the fictional Jim was going about his hustlin' business one day when a Southern boy named Willie McCoy ("but back home they call me Slim") came around looking for him. "Last week he took all my money," Slim says, "And it may sound funny / But I come to get my money back." Nobody thinks this will go well for Slim, but when Jim returns to the pool hall, all hell breaks loose: "When the cuttin' was done / The only part that wasn't bloody / Was the soles of the big man's feet / He was stabbed in a hundred places / And he was shot in a couple more." Croce closes the song by warning against hustling, "even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue" — because those generally don't cure stab wounds or deflect bullets.

"I Remember Larry" - Weird Al Yankovic

Everybody loves Weird Al Yankovic — there's probably some kind of national law. But Al's biggest fans know that, despite the fact that he seems like the nicest guy in the world, there is a thick dark streak underpinning his humor. Every once in awhile, this streak can come bubbling to the surface, and the results can be every bit as disturbing as they are hilarious.

"I Remember Larry," a deep cut from 1996's Bad Hair Day, is a prime example. Over an uptempo, new wave-y track, Al waxes nostalgic about Larry, "the neighborhood clown," and all the increasingly cruel pranks he used to pull. "All those wedgies he gave, all the shoestrings he tied / All the brownies he made with the Ex-Lax inside … Remember when he cut my car in half? / Well, he really got me good that time!" The chorus seems just a bit more sarcastic than nostalgic ("Boy, what a joker / What a funny, funny guy"), and the final verse reveals that the narrator "dragged him by his ankles to the middle of the forest / and stuffed him in a big plastic bag." Al winds up by musing, "If the cops ever find him, who knows what they'll say / But I'm sure if ol' Lar were still with us today / He'd have to agree with me it was a pretty good gag." Don't get on Weird Al's bad side.