You think country music can’t be scary? Better listen again. From murder ballads like the “Knoxville Girl,” “Delia’s Gone,” and “Banks of the Ohio,” to ghost stories that involve phantom truck drivers as well as Hank Williams–not to mention the occasional psychopath–the genre has enough haunting tales to creep you out for a lifetime.
Below are 10 that cause more than a few shivers with every spin.
10) Alan Jackson, “Midnight in Montgomery”
The ghost of Hank Williams is a popular topic in country music, and for good reason. What country artists, star or otherwise, doesn’t feel the presence of Hank–an artist who came to practically define the genre of country music–almost anywhere they turn? Jackson’s song is haunting but also a loving tribute to one of his heroes.
9) Bobby Bare, “Marie Laveau”
Shel Silverstein wrote this song about a fictional witch who was somewhat modeled after a real-life, 19th-century New Orleans Voodoo priestess of the same name. Bobby Bare took the recording all the way to No. 1 in 1974.
8) Johnny Cash, “Delia’s Gone”
The song has been around in versions by Waylon Jennings and Bobby Bare, but it was the solo acoustic recording by Johnny Cash on his groundbreaking American Recordings album that stands out as the most haunting. The video by Anton Corbijn (featuring Cash and Kate Moss) doubles the creepiness.
7) Johnny Cash, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”
Written by Stan Jones, this song about a ghostly vision of cowboys past has been recorded by countless artists over the years (Burl Ives was the first, but the list includes Marty Robbins, Sons and the Pioneers, Peggy Lee, and Bing Crosby). It’s as kitschy as it is creepy, but don’t blame us if wake up after a night of spooky dreams involving “red eyed cows” with “hooves of steel” and “black and shiny” horns.
6) George Jones, “Open Pit Mine”
Well with a title like that, you must have some idea what’s going to happen. We won’t spoil the details, except to say it doesn’t end well for George’s friend Rosie. Believe it or not, this song made the Top 20 in 1962.
5) Eddie Noack, “Psycho”
Written by Leon Payne (the songwriter responsible for such classics as “Lost Highway” and “I Love You Because”), this little ditty about a serial killer first saw the light of day thanks to Texas honky-tonker Eddie Noack, before being covered by Elvis Costello and others. It’s weird, it’s a bit wacky, and it’s absolutely creepy.
4) Charlie Daniels Band, “The Legend Of Wooley Swamp”
Charlie Daniels has a handful of good, creepy songs in his repertoire. There’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” about a fiddle duel between a guy named Johnny and Satan himself. A certain swampy scariness seeps as well from songs like “Simple Man,” with its lyrics about backwoods justice (“put ’em on their knees and tie ’em to a stump”). But “Wooley Swamp” involves actual ghosts–that sort that will keep even the bravest of souls from creeping around any southern swamps after midnight.
3) Johnny Paycheck, “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill”
There are actually quite a few Johnny Paycheck songs from his early recordings that fit the definition of ‘creepy,’ among them “(Like Me) You’ll Recover in Time” (where he’s locked in an institution, imagining his ex in the next cell) and “The Cave” (about a nuclear holocaust). But this song takes the cake. It’s about two guys at a bar, with one telling the other (in deceptively polite language) his tale of heartbreak and how, once he finishes his drink, he’s got a job to do–namely, go home and kill his wife, her lover, and himself. It’ll make you think twice about starting up conversations with random strangers in bars.
2) Eric Church, “Creepin'”
You knew this song was coming, right? But the latest single from Eric Church’s epic Chief album is here for a reason. The frantic camerawork and frightened faces of the music video only add to the song’s haunting underbelly.
1) Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell, “Dueling Banjos” (from Deliverance)
The song itself dates back to a 1955 recording by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith and Don Reno. Originally titled “Feudin’ Banjos,” it’s a fun-loving duet between two fast-fingered pickers. But when a re-recording of the song (by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell) was used in the 1972 film Deliverance, the nature of the song changed forever. You can’t just listen, you have to watch the clip from the film. The rising tension in the song is echoed on screen in glances and facial expressions between the two pickers–the city slick guitarist (Ronny Cox) and the banjo-playing country savant (Billy Redden). Thanks to Deliverance, “Dueling Banjos” is now marked forever as the creepiest song in country.
– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local