Foul Play(list) Issue One


A swathe of real-life crimes have been transposed into the medium of music through the years: so reach for your earphones, and enjoy the very first Foul Play(list).


1. Polly, Nirvana, Nevermind (1991) 

Polly wants a cracker
Maybe she would like some food
She asks me to untie her
A chase would be nice for a few 

The famous Nirvana track is based on the true story of a fourteen-year-old girl who was walking near the Tacoma Dome in Spokane, Washington. After a rock concert in 1987 she was persuaded to accept a ride from 49-year-old Gerald Arthur Friend. She was taken to Friend’s mobile home and abused, only managing to escape when her captor took her for a ride and stopped at a petrol station.  The slower, acoustic track didn’t make it onto the ’89 debut Bleach as it didn’t fit with the heavier grunge tracks on the album. It later made its way onto the band’s second album, Nevermind two years later. 

Foul Fact: Sexual assault is a common theme in Nirvana’s music, with Cobain stating in 1991 that it is ‘one of the most terrible crimes on earth.’ He also criticised the hypocrisy of teaching women to defend themselves, when the real solution should be teaching men not to rape people in the first place. Well, quite.  


2. I don’t like Mondays, The Boomtown Rats, The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979) 

Tell me why
I don't like Mondays
I want to shoot
The whole day down

On 29th January 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer started shooting her gun through a window at her old school, Grove Cleveland Elementary in San Diego, California, as children were pitching up to school. Eight kids were injured but survived, though the principal, Burton Wragg, and custodian Mike Suchar were both killed trying to protect the youths. Spencer’s justification for doing this was, 
simply, that she didn’t like Mondays.

Foul Fact: I Don’t Like Mondays was a massive hit in the UK, but  it was less of a success in the US; its citizens were likely less inclined to see the school shooting as an appropriate theme for a pop song less than six months after the event took place


3. Georgia Lee, Tom Waits, Mule Variations (1999) 

Cold was the night and hard was the ground
They found her in a small grove of trees
And lonesome was the place where Georgia was found
She’s too young to be out on the street 

One of Wait’s most haunting songs, Georgia Lee tells the story of 12-year-old Georgia Lee Moses, found murdered in 1997, eight days after she went missing having been last seen walking with a man in his twenties. The story is especially tragic as her disappearance received minimal press attention, leading to criticism on how ethnicity affects the reporting in missing children cases. Her murderer was never found.  

Foul fact: When Waits was choosing the songs for his album, Mule Variations, Georgia Lee didn’t make the original cut. His daughter, Kellisimone (who was close to Georgia Lee’s age at the time) found out and asked him ‘So she’s going to get forgotten again?”  


4. Suffer Little Children, The Smiths, The Smiths (1984) 

Lesley-Anne, with your pretty white beads  
Oh John, you'll never be a man  
And you'll never see your home again  
Oh Manchester, so much to answer for 

Suffer Little Children is one of the many ways that the Moors Murderers have been immortalised in popular culture. From the Smith’s self-titled ’94 album, the song talks about the terrible murders that took place on Saddleworth Moor (just outside Manchester) between 1963 & 1965. Mancunian Morrissey would have been only a few years older than the victims at the time. The overlaid sounds of distressed sounding children make this one a more difficult, although poetic, listen. 

Foul Fact:  The song mentions three out of the five victims by name (John Kilbride, Lesley-Ann Downey and Edward Evans.) The murders of the additional two victims were not attributed to Brady and Hindley until a year after the song was released. 


5. John Wayne Gacy Jr, Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005) 

His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed  
Folding John Wayne’s tshirts  
When the swingset hit his head. 

Sufjan Stevens' final song on his masterpiece 2006 album Illinoise is a ballad about serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr, who was found guilty of of the murder, torture and sexual assault of 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. With particularly haunting lyrics, the song doesn’t just talk about Gacy’s life, but also of those of the children whose lives he altered irreparably. 

Foul Fact: Gacy Jr appears on the Illinoise album artwork dressed as
his clown alter-ego, Pogo. He can be seen (as the lyrics state) with his 'face paint white and red’, holding three coloured balloons


6. Lookout Lookout, Perfume Genius (2010)

And Brian's face down
Keep your wits
He will not be missed
He didn't have a family to begin with

Lookout, Lookout is a melodic true crime-based track from Perfume Genius’ 2010 album Learning. In 1968, 11-year-old Mary Bell was arrested and charged with manslaughter after she and 13-year-old Norma Bell strangled four-year-old Martin Brown and three-year-old Brian Howe. The case is one of the most famous in UK history, due to the age of Mary Bell and her perceived lack of empathy towards the victims. She was released from prison in 1980 aged 23, having served 12 years.

Foul Fact: The line in the song ‘look out, look out, there are murders about’ is taken from a note Mary and Norma left behind after vandalising a nursery


7. Death Valley '69, Sonic Youth (1985)

Coming down
Sadie, I love it
Now now now
Death valley '69

Less explicitly a true crime song, but inspired by the infamous Manson Family cult, which captivated the press – and its many members – in California during the 1960s. Its most notorious crime was the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends at the house she shared with Roman Polanski in 1969. The references in the song to 'Sadie' seemingly refer to Susie Atkins, who was given that nickname by Manson, who she was in love with. 

Foul Fact: The Beach Boys song Never Learn Not To Love was allegedly written by Manson with an alternative title, Cease to Exist. The lyrics were changed, including the opening line being revised from ‘Cease to exist...’ to the more palatable, ‘Cease to resist’


8. Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen (1982)

From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska
With a sawed-off .410 on my lap
Through to the badlands of Wyoming
I killed everything in my path

Nebraska, the title song from The Boss’ 1982 album, tells the story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who killed 11 people in eight days in the state in 1958. The song is told through Charles’ eyes, which makes for a chilling listen. After 60 days at large, the pair were caught: Starkweather was sentenced to death and 14-year-old Fugate received a life sentence. She was released on parole in 1976, after serving almost 18 years.

Foul Fact: Springsteen stated that he was inspired to write the song after watching the movie Badlands on television. The opening line, about a girl standing in her garden twirling a baton, directly references
the film

Grace Harrison