6 '80s Songs Inspired By True Crimes (Murder, Mostly)

These '80s tunes were inspired by true crimes: from rumored Satanic cult killings to sex rings.

By Gina Tron

Oxygen Digital is kicking off its first-ever themed month in June with Crimes of the '80s. We'll explore big trends (drug cartels), sensational cases ("The Preppy Killer"), the decade's most lethal and infamous serial killers (The Night Stalker, The Grim Sleeper) and more. 

These 1980's jams were inspired by real life true crimes. Here are six songs (plus an honorable mention) that will make your toes tap and and send chills up your spine. 

1. Sonic Youth, “Death Valley ‘69” (1985)

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Sonic Youth’s duet with Lydia Lunch “Death Valley ‘69” is about the Charles Manson killings. The song’s lyrics aren’t overly graphic but they are creepy.  The song features “Sadie” aka Susan Atkins, one of the Charles Manson followers who murdered at least 11 people between 1969 and 1972. The video features band members in various states of bloody dismemberment.

2. Elvis Costello: “Let Him Dangle” (1989)

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This song is based on the true crime case of Derek Bentley, who was convicted and hanged for the murder of Police Constable Sidney Miles in London in 1952. However, Bentley did not kill Miles. His underage accomplice Christopher Craig did. Bentley did however shout the phrase “let him have it, Chris” to his coconspirator, which also inspired the 1991 true crime film Let Him Have It.

3. Bruce Springsteen: "Nebraska" (1982)

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This song was inspired by Charles Starkweather, a teenager convicted in a robbery and murder spree across the state in 1958. His girlfriend Caril Fugate (pictured) accompanied him on the killing spree. Starkweather was promptly convicted and executed the following year. Fugate, who was only 14, was sentenced to life in prison but after the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional, she was paroled in 1976.

4. The Smiths: “Suffer Little Children” (1984)

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This closing song on The Smiths’ 1984 debut tells the true tale of the Moors Murders victims: five children tortured and killed by Ian Brady (pictured) and his then-girlfriend Myra Hindley in Manchester, England in 1960s. The haunting lyrics sing from the victims' point of view. The song ends with a the laugh of a child.

5. Big Black, “Jordan, Minnesota” (1986)

This punk song is named after a city where 24 adults and one juvenile were charged for their alleged involvement in an incestuous sex ring in the early 1980s. The sex ring allegedly involved dozens of children between the ages of 2 and 17. In the end, all cases were dismissed with the exception of one that ended in an acquittal. Defendants accused prosecutors of engaging in a witch-hunt.


6. Big Audio Dynamite: "Sudden Impact!" (1985)


This band’s entire 1985 debut album "This Is Big Audio Dynamite" was inspired by the 1984 murder of Gary Lauwers. His body was discovered with multiple stab wounds and his eyes gouged out by alleged followers of a satanic cult. 17-year-old Ricky Kasso (pictured) of Long Island, was charged in the murder and was later found hanged in his jail cell. Some claimed Kasso killed Lauwers while high on mescaline, some think LSD. Before his death, Gary Lauwers allegedly stole 10 small yellow envelopes of angel dust named ‘Sudden Impact from Ricky Kasso at a party. Kasso —joined by two friends—led Lauwers into the woods and even though Lauwers promised to make up for the stolen drugs Kasso bit Lauwers on the neck, burned him, gouged out his eyes, and stabbed him in the chest between 17 and 36 times. At some point during the hours-long attack, Kasso is thought to have told Lauwers to, “Say you love Satan.” The crime prompted some mass hysteria about teens and Satantic cults.

Honorable Mention: Nirvana, “Polly” (1991)

The reason this 90s grunge song gets honorable mention is because although the song wasn’t released until 1991 it was created in the late 80s. It was supposed to be on Nirvana’s 1989 debut album Bleach but didn’t make the cut. The song is about the Green River Killer case.

Gerald Friend, a suspect in the case, abducted and abused a teen girl who accepted a ride from him after a rock concert in 1987. Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain read about the story in the paper, and it inspired “Polly.”

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