Top Ten Songs About the Death Penalty

songs about death penalty

The death penalty, relatively speaking, doesn’t happen too often, when comparing the number of qualifying crimes committed to the number of people executed. There are various reasons why, including the exhaustive appeals process. But this hasn’t stopped stop our favorite bands from writing songs about being executed, and we’ve been rocking to them for years. So death penalty opponents need to make a choice here – would they rather let murderous criminals live, or would they rather jam to these songs? I vote for the latter. And even if some of these songs have an anti-death penalty message, they’re still about the subject and wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for government executions. If we missed your favorites, name them in the comments.


25 Minutes to Go
Johnny Cash

Written by Shel Silverstein and sung by Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison and The Brothers Four. Also Joe Bean.

Well they’re building a gallows outside my cell and I’ve got 25 minutes to go
And the whole town’s waitin’ just to hear me yell I’ve got 24 minutes to go…


The Mercy Seat
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

This song, also performed by Johnny Cash, describes a man being executed via the electric chair who maintains his innocence until he is about to die, when he admits to his guilt.

It began when they come took me from my home
And put me in Dead Row,
Of which I am nearly wholly innocent, you know.
And I’ll say it again


16 on Death Row
Tupac Shakur

This song is flat-out wrong. There are no 16-year-olds on death row. But I don’t think 2Pac cared, as this was a posthumous album called ‘R U Still Down? (Remember Me)’.

Bye bye, I was never meant to live
Can’t be positive, when the ghetto’s where you live
Bye bye, I was never meant to be
Livin like a thief, runnin through the streets
Bye bye, and I got no place to go…
Where they find me? 16 on Death Row


Dead Man
Pearl Jam

Sailing on my every step. Inching off of the earth.
Is magnified by the things I’ve done.
The thing that I’ve become.
Every lift of my hand. Coffee cup up, and back.
Is magnified by the things I’ve done. The things I’ve seen. the things I’ve caused.
I’m a dead man walking.


Dead Man Walkin’
Bruce Springsteen

This is from the completely overrated movie of the same name, which is about a racist idiot, played by Sean Penn, who is on death row and consoled by a nun, Susan Sarandon.

I see your eyes upon the bars
Memorize their other side
Like the tattoos on your arms
The brag so loud and tough that night
But now the truth comes out
Fast as feel can do your talking
It sets you free as one guard shouts
Dead man walking


I’m Not the Man
10,000 Maniacs

But I’m not the man.
He goes free as I wait on the row for the man
to test the rope he’ll slip around my throat… and silence me.

Sorry, we couldn’t find a video for this, but it’s a killer song. Get it?


Death Row
Judas Priest

We’ve all been detained
For the crimes we’ve committed
They stayed execution
But we’ll never get acquitted
Waiting for the day when they strap us in
And when they pull the lever
Hear the goddamn screams
Shake with fear
Electric chair


Ride the Lightning

Metallica’s album of the same name features this song about the electric chair.

Guilty as charged
But damn it, it ain’t right
There’s someone else controlling me
Death in the air
Strapped in the electric chair
This can’t be happening to me


Gallows Pole
Led Zeppelin

This is a centuries old folk song, popularized by Lead Belly, which has seen several cover versions, including Led Zeppelin’s, which sounds the best.

Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while,
I Think I see my friends coming, Riding a many mile.
Friends, you get some silver?
Did you get a little gold?
What did you bring me, my dear friends? Keep me from the Gallows Pole.
What did you bring me to keep me from the Gallows Pole?


Hallowed Be Thy Name
Iron Maiden

This is number one on the list because the song is a musical masterpiece.

When the priest comes to read me the last rites,
I take a look through the bars at the last sights,
Of a world that has gone very wrong for me.
Can it be that there’s some sort of error?
Hard to stop the surmounting terror.
Is this really the end, not some crazy dream?
Somebody please tell me that I’m dreaming,
It’s not easy to stop from screaming,
But words escape me when I try to speak.
Tears flow but why am I crying?
After all I’m not afraid of dying.
Don’t I believe that there never is an end?