18 Best Songs About Breaking the Law That Prove Crime Doesn’t Pay

Throughout the history of music, artists have been inspired by the thrill of breaking the law, and the stories of criminals and outlaws. From the blues to hip hop, the theme of law-breaking has been a staple of many genres. These songs often portray the glamorous side of breaking the law, but they also provide social commentary on the consequences of criminal behavior. In this article, we will explore the top 18 best songs about breaking the law that prove crime doesn’t pay.

This list includes classics such as “I Fought the Law” by The Bobby Fuller Four, which tells the story of a man who gets caught robbing a bank and ends up in jail. It also includes newer tracks such as “99 Problems” by Jay-Z, which tells the story of a man who is stopped by the police for a traffic violation, and the ensuing confrontation. Each song on the list tells a unique story about the consequences of breaking the law, from the thrill of the heist to the pain of imprisonment. These songs provide a powerful commentary on the impact of criminal behavior, and remind us that, ultimately, crime doesn’t pay.

1. ‘Shoplifters Of The World Unite’ – The Smiths

“Shoplifters of the World Unite” is a single by The Smiths, released in 1987. The song speaks to the frustration and desperation of youth, and how theft can be a way of rebelling against society’s constraints. Morrissey’s biting lyrics and Johnny Marr’s guitar work make this track an anthem for those who feel like they are living on the fringes. The catchy chorus, “Shoplifters of the world unite and take over,” has become a rallying cry for misfits everywhere. With its social commentary and infectious energy, this song is a prime example of The Smiths’ enduring appeal.

2. ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ – Bob Marley

“I Shot The Sheriff” is a classic reggae song written and recorded by Bob Marley in 1973. The lyrics tell the story of a man who claims he was forced to shoot a sheriff in self-defense, and is now on the run from the authorities. The song is often interpreted as a commentary on police brutality and the need for self-defense in the face of injustice. Marley’s smooth vocals and the song’s catchy melody have made it a beloved classic, covered by numerous artists over the years. With its powerful message and irresistible groove, “I Shot The Sheriff” remains a staple of Marley’s legacy.

3. ‘Gallows Pole’ – Led Zeppelin

“Gallows Pole” is a traditional folk song that Led Zeppelin covered on their 1970 album “Led Zeppelin III”. The song’s haunting melody and dark lyrics tell the story of a man facing execution and pleading for someone to help him escape his fate. Led Zeppelin’s version features a driving acoustic guitar and intense vocals from Robert Plant, making it one of their most unique and memorable tracks. The song has been covered by many artists over the years, but Led Zeppelin’s version stands out for its powerful energy and sense of urgency. “Gallows Pole” is a prime example of Led Zeppelin’s ability to take traditional music and infuse it with their own unique style.

4. ‘Crime in the City’ – Neil Young

“Crime in the City” is a song by Neil Young that was released in 1989 on his album “Freedom”. The song is a powerful commentary on the corruption and violence that can arise in urban environments, and the need for individuals to stand up against injustice. Young’s gritty vocals and searing guitar work give the song a sense of urgency and passion. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a city plagued by crime and despair, and the chorus implores listeners to “stand up for justice, not for gain”. “Crime in the City” is a testament to Neil Young’s ability to use music as a tool for social commentary and change.

5. ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ – The Traveling Wilburys

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is a song by the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, released on their 1988 album “Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1”. The song tells the story of a criminal couple on the run from the law, with references to classic gangster movies and Bruce Springsteen lyrics. The song’s catchy melody and upbeat rhythm, along with the band’s trademark harmonies, make it a standout track on the album. “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” showcases the Wilburys’ ability to blend different musical styles and influences into a cohesive and enjoyable sound. The song has become a fan favorite and a classic example of the Wilburys’ unique style.

6. ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ – Supergrass

“Caught by the Fuzz” is a song by the British rock band Supergrass, released as their debut single in 1994. The song tells the true story of lead singer Gaz Coombes’ arrest for possession of cannabis as a teenager. The song’s energetic punk rock sound and catchy chorus helped launch Supergrass to fame and established them as a major force in the Britpop scene. “Caught by the Fuzz” captures the rebellious spirit of youth and the consequences that can come with breaking the law. The song remains a fan favorite and a testament to Supergrass’ early success and impact on British rock music.

7. ‘JailBreak’ – Thin Lizzy

“Jailbreak” is a classic hard rock song by the Irish band Thin Lizzy, released on their 1976 album of the same name. The song tells the story of a group of inmates who stage a daring escape from prison, with a focus on the character of lead vocalist Phil Lynott’s charismatic jailbreak leader. “Jailbreak” showcases the band’s powerful guitar riffs, Lynott’s distinctive vocals, and their signature dual guitar harmonies. The song remains one of Thin Lizzy’s most popular and enduring tracks, and a favorite of classic rock fans. “Jailbreak” is a testament to Thin Lizzy’s impact on the hard rock genre and their influence on future generations of musicians.

8. ‘Take The Money & Run’ – Steve Miller Band

“Take the Money and Run” is a classic rock song by the Steve Miller Band, released in 1976 on their album “Fly Like an Eagle”. The song tells the story of two lovers, Billy Joe and Bobby Sue, who go on a crime spree across the United States, ultimately ending up in Mexico. The song features Miller’s signature catchy guitar riffs and a sing-along chorus. “Take the Money and Run” became a hit and remains a staple on classic rock radio. The song showcases the band’s upbeat style and Miller’s clever songwriting, making it a timeless classic of the genre.

9. ‘The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde’ – Georgie Fame

“The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” is a song by Georgie Fame, released in 1968. The song is a retelling of the infamous story of Bonnie and Clyde, the notorious criminal couple who robbed banks and killed several people during the Great Depression. The song features a catchy melody and a horn section that became a signature sound of Fame’s music. “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” was a commercial success, reaching the top of the UK charts and becoming a hit worldwide. The song remains a popular classic, showcasing Fame’s unique blend of jazz, pop, and soul music.

10. ‘I Fought The Law’ – The Clash

“I Fought the Law” was originally written by Sonny Curtis of The Crickets in the late 1950s. The Clash’s punk rock version of the song, released in 1979, has become the definitive version of the song. The song’s lyrics tell the story of a person who rebels against the law, but ultimately fails and is caught by the police. The song has become an anthem for those who stand up against authority and rebel against the status quo, and has been covered by numerous other artists over the years, solidifying its status as a classic song about breaking the law.

11. ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ – Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” is an iconic song about the struggle of being incarcerated. Released in 1955, the song tells the story of a man who hears a train passing by, reminding him of the outside world he longs to return to. Cash’s deep voice and simple guitar melody perfectly capture the sadness and frustration of life in prison. The song became an instant classic and is considered one of Cash’s most famous songs, inspiring generations of musicians and fans alike. It also became a symbol of the country’s prison system, raising awareness about the harsh realities of incarceration.

12. ‘Hey Joe’ – Jimi Hendrix

As one of Jimi Hendrix’s most famous songs, “Hey Joe” tells the story of a man who shoots his lover and must flee to Mexico. The haunting lyrics and Hendrix’s soulful guitar playing make the song an instant classic. The song’s origins are unclear, but it was popularized by a 1966 recording by the Los Angeles-based group The Leaves. Hendrix’s version was released in 1967, and it quickly became a hit, showcasing his unique blend of rock, blues, and psychedelic music. The song’s enduring popularity has made it a staple of classic rock radio and a must-play for guitarists looking to pay homage to Hendrix’s musical legacy.

13. ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.’ – Simon & Garfunkel

“Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” is the title track from Simon & Garfunkel’s debut album, released in 1964. The song is a melancholic and introspective ballad, featuring the duo’s signature harmonies and Simon’s fingerpicking guitar style. The lyrics describe a moment of solitude in the early hours of the morning, reflecting on life and the passage of time. The simple instrumentation and subdued vocals give the song a sense of intimacy and vulnerability. “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” showcases Simon & Garfunkel’s talent for crafting poignant and timeless songs that capture the essence of the human experience.

14. ‘Police and Thieves’ – Junior Murvin

“Police and Thieves” is a reggae classic that speaks to the social and political tensions of late 1970s Jamaica. The song’s lyrics, written by legendary reggae artist Junior Murvin, describe a clash between police and young people in the streets of Kingston. Murvin’s smooth vocals are accompanied by a driving bassline and a prominent guitar riff, creating a sense of urgency and rebellion. The song’s political commentary and infectious rhythm made it a hit both in Jamaica and internationally, and it has been covered by numerous artists over the years, cementing its place as a reggae classic.

15. ‘The Great Filling Station Hold Up’ – Jimmy Buffett

“The Great Filling Station Hold Up” is a humorous and lighthearted song by Jimmy Buffett, released in 1973. The lyrics tell the story of a man who robs a gas station in order to pay off his gambling debts, only to be caught by the police shortly after. Despite the serious nature of the crime, the song is filled with playful imagery and catchy melodies, making it a fan favorite. The upbeat instrumentation and Buffett’s signature storytelling style make “The Great Filling Station Hold Up” a fun and enjoyable addition to any playlist, particularly for fans of country and folk rock.

16. ‘Bankrobber’ – The Clash

“Bankrobber” by The Clash is a reggae-influenced song that tells the story of a bank robber on the run from the authorities. The catchy bassline, horns, and driving beat make it a popular track among fans of the band. The lyrics are sung from the perspective of the robber, who expresses remorse for his actions but justifies them as a way to provide for his family. The song is a commentary on the poverty and unemployment that plagued Britain during the 1980s, as well as the political turmoil and corruption of the era.

17. ‘Seven Curses’ – Bob Dylan

“Seven Curses” is a ballad by Bob Dylan that tells a story of a young man who seeks revenge against the murderer of his lover. The song features Dylan’s signature poetic lyrics and a haunting melody. The narrator’s voice is sorrowful and full of emotion, drawing the listener in and creating a vivid image of the story. The song’s themes include love, betrayal, and the desire for revenge. It showcases Dylan’s talent for storytelling and his ability to capture the essence of human emotions. “Seven Curses” is a beautiful and powerful song that is both haunting and memorable.

18. ‘Coming Into Los Angeles’ – Arlo Guthrie

“Coming Into Los Angeles” is a humorous folk song that tells the story of a traveler smuggling drugs into Los Angeles. It was written and performed by Arlo Guthrie at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. The song’s upbeat melody and playful lyrics make it a crowd favorite, as the traveler describes the details of his journey with a light-hearted tone. Guthrie’s use of imagery, such as “flying low, looking like a rainbow” and “peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall,” add to the song’s charm. Overall, “Coming Into Los Angeles” is a fun and enjoyable song that showcases Guthrie’s talent for storytelling through music.


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