Story Songs: Day Five

Stagger Lee Shelton was a cab driver, a pimp — one of the famous “Macks” — and, as it turns out, a murderer.

Fellow pimp Billy Lyons reached for his pretty hat and snatched it off of Stagger Lee’s head. So, Stagger Lee shot Billy in the gut, and Billy died.

Since that murder in 1895, the Stagger Lee legend (sometimes called Stackolee, Stackalee, Stackerlee, etc.) has been retold in a number of songs by a number of prominent artists: Fabulous Thunderbirds, Elton John, Huey Lewis and the News, James Brown, The Clash, and The Grateful Dead. Over 30 different recorded songs about this murder. All of these put different spins on the murder: maybe Billy was shot over dice. Or because he cheated at cards. Some take out the murder. Some put in sex.

My favorite is the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds version, seen below in lyrics, and heard through Grooveshark. It amps up the violence. Cranks in some profanity. Throws a weird man-rape vibe. And it changes the era, putting the murder in the 1930s.

Usual caveats apply. I don’t own this, blah-dee-blah, foofaraw, hoobitijibbits, snargh.

It was back in ’32 when times were hard

He had a Colt .45 and a deck of cards

Stagger Lee

He wore rat-drawn shoes and an old stetson hat

Had a ’28 Ford, had payments on that

Stagger Lee

His woman threw him out in the ice and snow

And told him, “Never ever come back no more.”

Stagger Lee

So he walked through the rain and he walked through the mud

Till he came to a place called The Bucket Of Blood

Stagger Lee

He said “Mr Motherfucker, you know who I am?”

The barkeeper said, “No, and I don’t give a good goddamn,”

To Stagger Lee

He said, “Well bartender, it’s a-plain to see

I’m the bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee–

Mr. Stagger Lee!”

Barkeep said, “Yeah, I’ve heard your name down the way

And I kick motherfucking asses like you every day,

Mr Stagger Lee.”

Well those were the last words that the barkeep said

‘Cause Stag put four holes in his motherfucking head

Just then in came a broad called Nellie Brown

Known to make more money than any bitch in town

She struts across the bar, hitching up her skirt

Over to Stagger Lee, she a-startin’ to flirt

With Stagger Lee

She saw the barkeep, said, “Oh God, he can’t be dead!”

Stag said, “Well, just count the holes in the motherfucker’s head!”

She said, “You ain’t look like you scored in quite a time.

Why not come to my pad? It won’t cost you a dime,

Mr. Stagger Lee.”

“But there’s something that I have to say before you begin

You’ll have to be gone before my man Billy Dilly comes in,

Mr. Stagger Lee.”

“I’ll stay here till Billy Dilly comes in, till time comes to pass

And furthermore I’ll fuck Billy Dilly in his motherfucking ass,”

Said Stagger Lee

“I’m a bad motherfucker, don’t you know

And I’ll crawl over fifty good pussies just to get one fat boy’s asshole,”

Said Stagger Lee

Just then Billy Dilly rolls in and he says, “You must be

That mad motherfucker called Stagger Lee.”

“I’m Stagger Lee.”

“Yeah, I’m Stagger Lee and you better get down on your knees

And suck my dick, because If you don’t you’re gonna be dead,”

Said Stagger Lee

A-well, Billy Dilly dropped down and slobbered on his head

And Stag filled him full of lead

Oh yeah.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds