Crime Song Wednesday: Five Dollar Bill by Corb Lund

Prohibition, bootleggers and illegal booze: the perfect recipe for a scruffy country crime song

You see you couldn’t buy liquor in the States back then,
So we saddled up the ponies and we loaded up the gin,
Rode underneath the shadow of the grande Old Chief,
To git some northern Rocky Mountain kinda tax relief,
You couldn’t count on the cattle when the market got down,
And the veterinary bills to the doctor in town,
Both kids needed shoes and they had to get fed,
And a big old bank lien was over my head.

They wouldn’t stop talking about Canadian rye,
Bouquet and the palate and it’s crisp and it’s dry,
In a Seagrams bottle, tasted mighty top shelf,
I said ‘well, thank you very much, sir, I cooked it myself’,
Of course, that didn’t wash with the boys down south,
Judging by the stream of color coming out of their mouth,
Though I can’t figure why, cuz from where I stood,
It got ’em just as damn drunk as any store bought would.

As a writer who spent several years living in Alberta, I have to appreciate the quality of writing that sets the stage for the song. I’m pulled back to a familiar place in another time and it isn’t hard to close my eyes and see this story unfolding in my mind’s eye. Whenever I hear people talk about Canada’s squeaky-clean image, about the lack of crime, I have to smile. Some of the extended Ruttan clan cashed in on Prohibition decades ago, and these days drugs and illegals slip across the border on a regular basis. (Not through the Ruttans, though. We left our sinful ways behind.) While I touched on it in one of my own books, an excellent movie on the subject is FROZEN RIVER.

Corb Lund doesn’t make commentary on the subject or cast judgment. What he does do is tell a damn good crime story with superb lyrics, and illustrates the effectiveness of “show not tell” writing in a way that’s as spare and precise as any Ken Bruen novel

I wrote my new song on a five dollar bill,
But I won’t be able to sing it until,
I get hot on the trail for to pick up the track,
Of the dirty little thief and get my five bucks back.

Somewhere in my safe, I have a letter, giving me permission to quote lyrics from Corb Lund’s song FIVE DOLLAR BILL in one of my novels.

That novel never went to print, but I referred to one of my protagonists, Tain, listening to the album FIVE DOLLAR BILL in LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS – a nod to the band and to the subject matter, which is echoed in the novel. There’s no doubt in my mind FIVE DOLLAR BILL is a crime song. What do you think?

(Now, it’s unfortunate that there isn’t a proper video for this song, but I’ve opted for this version because the quality of live performances isn’t certain.)

(And because I just can’t resist posting some more Corb Lund music…)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website:

More Posts - Website - Twitter