Great Reading: 33 1/3 Murder Ballads by Santi Elijah Holley

Well, 1st post of this new year 2021 for me today! If you’ve notices I’ve taken sometime of blogging but I’m back now, baby! It could be called MB part two or it’s just following on for my last post of late last year!

I did in the past loved these little books but haven’t blogged any before but gotta say/type something about this one! It’s on a Nick Cave album, off course and I might check out some others I’ve missed because I really enjoyed this, you know? If you’ve never heard of them? It’s a mini-book series published by Bloomsbury here’s their website. They have 150 little books on albums and MB is 151st volume. The last one I read was Patti Smith’s Horses album by Philip Shaw about five years or so ago, just before starting this blog. Read a few in this series before that but haven’t checked any others out in a longtime.

My own copy arrived just before Xmas, I think it was even on Xmas Eve so that would have been just after posting that MB post last year, they did say my pre-order would take longer but didn’t, does have a 2021 copyright date in it. Here’s a few things I learned or have forgotten or missed from that last post last year, I’ll not repeat anything for that post or it’s mainly stuff I want to note down myself and might as well share/post it here on my blog, kind-of like most stuff I blog about so if anyone else out there is interested? Lucky you!

About the author Santi Elijah Holley: this was his very first Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album he got. My own first NC&TBS album was Henry’s Dream a few years earlier, if you wanna know? What was yours? These tiny book about albums have different writers/authors which it’s up to them how each is written because each book is kind-of different in style or formula, little background on the artist and band but he does say very earlier it’s not a Cave bio book, it’s more a complete break down of each song and long or full history. He didn’t get to interview Nick himself, only using old source material. He interview both current Bad Seeds’ Jim Sclavunos and former member Mick Harvey. So has a chapter on each of the albums ten songs so here’s what a found the most interesting or note down here, if you wanna know?

I think, I did say that or something like this last time but Song Of Joy was originally called Red Right Hand II which recorded soon after the original Red Right Hand song at the Let Love In sessions but was known almost straight away it was going on that album, then O’Malley’s Bar was recorded so than when the joke was told let’s do a murder album. Adding around that time, worth to note the America tour of Let Love In album promo was the mega-festival tour Lollapalooza which at that point indie U.S.A. couldn’t care less about NC&TBS, was a bad tour for them so the idea of doing something different and need a hit or something? Be reminded about Cave’s MTV interview with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, seems to be the “best” press Nick could get, here it is (twice):

The great thing about the book is Santi Elijah Holley is very interested in the history behind the songs, Song Of Joy quotes 1667 John Milton’s Paradise Lost but “Red Right Hand” does go back before and can be found in pre-Christian 23 BC Ode To Augustus Caesar by Roman poet Horace. After both those in 1819 Ode On Venice by Lord Byron had “red right hands” and in 1898 Man Of The Red Right Hand by Robert Buchanan is all the “Red Right Hands” from poems before the 20th Century. Somehow Holley missed May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister by Charlie Poole which is what NC namedropped last year on that listen a-long on YouTube. Most interesting song is the end of the chapter author is talking about the very old song The Murder of the Lawson Family recorded by The Carolina Buddies in 1930 also covered by The Stanley Brothers in 1956, plus did inspired Bob Dylan’s Ballard Of Hollis Brown:

Stagger Lee was the very last song to be recorded for this album. Full history of the real life events which in short almost if not all songs get totally wrong. Lee Shelton was his real name and the murder the song is based on was on Xmas night in St. Louis 1895. Shelton died in 1912 in prison hospital of tuberculosis but he was in prison from a different murder then. Frist published lyrics of Stagger Lee was in 1911 and then huge list of artists covering the song, some I named last time in the last post but goggle it you’ll find even more. This book does name a NOT very well known version which does add the word “motherfucker”, the first cover that does that plus has totally different song which NC borrowed the one of the most well-known lines right at the very end of his, do you know which bit I’m talking about? Maybe you will once you hear it? So here’s Snatch And The Poontangs with The Great Stack A Lee and Two Time Slim:

Most interesting version of Henry Lee which I don’t recall hearing before is by Frank Proffitt with Song Of A Lost Hunter with is done all in a cappella:

Lovely Creature which old song share it’s kind-of title is Yonder Stands A Lovely Creature written by George Butterwoth in 1911, here’s what I can find on YouTube as sung by Roderick Williams:

Let’s included the old version of Down In the Willow Garden by Charlie Monroe and His Kentucky Panders which was a live favorite back then and is off course the old song Where The Wild Roses Grow is based on:

For The Curse Of Millhaven chapter are details about Peter Straub novels and how Cave borrowed the town from his Blue Rose trilogy books for this song, also NC borrows from Straub’s The Juniper Tree for Do You Love Me? (Part 2) too. Cave did say he’s read Straub books but none of this was deliberated on his part. The Curse Of Millhaven killer/murderer Loretta could be based on a lot of history but author of 33 1/3 says the closest counterpart “factual or imagined” is from a novel called, just wait for it: The Bad Seed novel by William March of 1954 with the eight year old Rhoda Penmark. I’ve always meaning or going to read that book just because of it’s title but never have, also haven’t yet read any of Peter Straub books but has anyone out there?

In next chapter for The Kindness Of Strangers here he gives you a road map of the easiest way/most direct route Mary Bellows would have taken to get to the coast, I never did think about that even if like I did say last time, it’s my favorite song on this album which I think, it’s just the saddest song maybe just because of all the crying? The most similar song is NC&TBS Loom Of The Land of 1992 or an old song is called Poor Ellen Smith, here’s Ralph Stanley doing it:

Let’s finish today’s post music with Loom Of The Land, I love to death this song and would say it’s easy his greatest murder ballad of all-time:

Mick Harvey pointed out Crow Jane song was supposed to be on 1985’s The First Born Is Dead album but they were never happy with it at the time. Skip James song of the same name is talked about but I posted that one on my last post. O’Malley Bar chapter is very cool but I’m not looking up anything and same with Death Is Not The End. Did you know? Henry Rollins was supposed to have been another one of guest vocalists on that one too. All the chapters do have so much more details like even more old songs, the history around them, real life events, NC&TBS recording sessions etc. but I’m just looking up these ones and embedding them above here. That’s zero songs from the MB album itself above but they’re all in my last post, you know? Book is 137 pages long but not counting the notes etc. it’s done on page 116 and is pretty great read but read it pretty quickly by Boxing day night I think, I’d already finished it, I really did enjoy! If you, like me love the Murder Ballads album or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds you’ll most likely want to read it? But comes very highly recommend by me, if that means anything?

I think, I might blog some other books I did read last year or at least music ones, how does that sound? Is that a good idea or not?

The front cover looks like this!

Cheers! 🙂



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