Crime Song Wednesday: Hey Joe

To the extent there is a hall of fame for crime songs then there are two songs that have arguably been there the longest, “Hey Joe” is the first one and the second we’ll talk about next week. “Hey Joe” is a true classic of this made up of genre. Like a great folk song it has withstood numerous interpretations and styles and probably hundreds of artists have recorded it. It was so pervasive in the 60’s that Frank Zappa recorded a parody version of it.

The central story arc has been tweaked and altered over the years and the different styles give each a unique feel. I prefer the more stark arrangements that let the power of the words have their greatest effect.

Putting aside how violent it is you have to love the line “I gave her the gun.”

The only person who never recorded a version of the song (that I know of) that I wish would have was Johnny Cash. Imagine a young Cash version and a revisited version when he was old. Tim Rose’s slow version would provide the template for most versions that came after.

“Hey Joe” is a simple story but a powerful one. The words on their own don’t add up to much in the story department but all of the spaces are filled in by the addition of vocals. “Hey Joe” is a great crime song.

Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand
Hey Joe, I said where you goin’ with that gun in your hand

I’m going down to shoot my old lady
You know, I’ve caught her messin’ around with another man
I’m going down to shoot my old lady
You know, I’ve caught her messin’ around with another man
And that ain’t too cool

Hey Joe, I’ve heard you shot your woman down,
shot her down, now
I said I’ve heard you shot your old lady down,
You shot her down to the ground

Yes I did, I shot her
You know, I caught her messin’ round, messin’ round town
Yes I did, I shot her
You know, I caught my old lady messin’ around town
And I gave her the gun
I SHOT HER!

Hey Joe, alright
Shoot her one more time, baby

Hey Joe, said now
Where you gonna run to now?
Where you gonna run to?
Hey Joe, I said where you gonna run to now?
Where you, where you gonna go?
Well, dig it

I’m goin’ way down south,
Way down to Mexico way
Alright!
I’m goin’ way down south,
Way down where I can be free
Ain’t no one gonna find me

Ain’t no hangman gonna,
He ain’t gonna put a rope around me
You better believe it right now
I gotta go now
Hey Joe, you better run on down
Good by everybody
Hey Joe, uhh
Run on down

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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