Back in April we published ’10 cool songs about Jesus’ and it proved to be immensely popular. So, in the spirit of our well-renowned adherence to, ahem … the principles of balance and impartiality – or alternatively a naked attempt to garner more clicks, we now bring you ‘10 cool songs featuring The Devil’. Yes, we know that the blues is the devil’s music but fortunately for our purposes americana artists have also dabbled with demons, flirted with fire and brimstone, befriended Beelzebub, laughed with Lucifer and sung with Satan. So here are just 10 (ish) of the many that we had to choose from. Please add tour own fiendish suggestions in the comments box at the foot of the page.
Lightnin’ Hopkins ‘Devil is Watching You’
We really couldn’t do this thing without a nod to the blues somewhere. What better way to kick off then, than with the Texas country-blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins. A friend and huge influence on Townes Van Zandt, Hopkins unique fingerstyle and talking blues were also adopted by many other ‘americana’ artists. This song is typical of Hopkins’ vocal and guitar styles and is taken from his 1962 ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’ album.
Gene Vincent ‘Race with the Devil’
Gene Vincent’s second single, released in 1956 as a follow-up to ‘Be-Bop-a-Lula’ is a towering example of why respectable parents worried about the influence of that ungodly racket they called ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ on their little darlings. Vincent died prematurely in 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer. He was only 36 and still making great music including a 1969 album for John Peel’s Dandelion Records. Nothing though, could better this for sheer tension, excitement and menace.
Grateful Dead ‘Friend of the Devil’
If fifties parents were shocked by the sight of their kids greasing their hair, donning blue jeans and black leather jackets or girls wearing poodle skirts and make-up, then spare a thought for the sixties parents who found that their beloved offspring had joined the hippie revolution. Long hair, free love and an aversion to soap were bad enough, but on top of all that, they listened to an interminable din that they had the temerity to call music. At the forefront of that din were the Grateful Dead. Hippiedom was short-lived, but thankfully the Grateful Dead were not. Here is one of their better-known songs from arguably their best album ‘American Beauty’. This live version is from 1978.
Billy Joe Shaver ‘The Devil Made Me Do it the First Time’
This song is taken from the late Billy Joe’s 1987 album ‘Salt of the Earth’. Following the well-trodden path of accounting for misdemeanours by apportioning blame on the devil, the song uses the influence of old Lucifer to explain a dalliance with gin and infidelity. The punchline being that after that first time “the second time I done it on my own”.
The Reverend Horton Heat ‘The Devil’s Chasing Me’
Formed in 1986 Texas rockabilly legend Jim Heath’s outfit are captured here at their best – live! In this rumbling blues he finds himself being chased by the devil in a limousine, not your everyday problem, but one that makes for a great song and a scorching performance.
The Box Tops ‘I Must Be the Devil’
This great Alex Chilton song was the B-side of the Box Tops’ single ‘I Shall Be Released’ and also featured on their final 1969 album ‘Dimensions’.
“I can’t stop now; I must be the Devil, baby
Whoa, don’t make no deals with me
Whoa, you don’t want to make no deals, no you don’t now
I’ve got a long list of broken souls
Well, it stretches far as your little eyes can see”
Wringing psychedelic blues at its best.
Pure Prairie League ‘Pickin’ to Beat the Devil’
Forget your gargoyles, strings of garlic or the Hand of Fatima, Pure Prairie League have a far more efficacious way to ward off the devil and his evil spirits. Yes, it’s that most exorcising of instruments, the banjo. Taken from their third album ‘Two Lane Highway’ released in 1975, the song was written by the band’s original drummer Tom McGrail, who had long since departed by the time this album was released.
The Jayhawks ‘The Devil is in Her Eyes’
Taken from the somewhat undervalued 2016 album ‘Paging Mr Proust’ this song has been included for the beautiful stripped down KEXP performance here which really needs to be viewed. Having briefly re-joined the band for ‘Mockingbird Time’ Mark Olson then left again in 2012, leaving Gary Louris to once again take up full songwriting duties on the band’s ninth studio album. Once again, he didn’t disappoint.
Ray Wylie Hubbard ‘Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can’
This is the title track from Hubbard’s 2017 album ‘Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can’. At the time of its release Hubbard said about the song “‘Tell the Devil’ is a rock & roll fable about hanging your life on a guitar, holding onto a dream no matter what or how long it takes, wagering your soul in a crooked game and falling in love with a badass tattooed woman. . . hmmm, maybe it isn’t a fable”. Fable or not, this is a stunning performance by the Texas legend, recorded for Austin radio station kutz98.9.
Steve Earle ‘The Devil’s Right Hand’
Usually when compiling these lists, there is a tendency to avoid the obvious selections, ‘Devil in Disguise’ being one example. However, excluding this song from this list, for me would be the equivalent of leaving cheese off my shopping list – it simply doesn’t happen. A great song and great live solo acoustic performance from Farm Aid in 2004
Bonus track: Lucinda Williams ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’
Sometimes you just can’t decide what to leave out, so you find an ingenious way to cheat. Yes folks, the bonus track. Taken from her stunning 2020 album ‘Good Souls Better Angels’ this is americana royalty in fine form. Unable to get out and do live performances of this song during the pandemic, there is no breath-taking live footage to bring you. However, the audio is so stunning, who needs moving pictures?
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