Americana is known for its realism and acceptance of the vagaries of ordinary life, which certainly doesn’t lack drama and complications. Americana does not judge! No matter what your moral dilemma is, whatever stupid and ill-advised romantic entanglement you might find yourself in, or gut-wrenching betrayal you’re recovering from, there’s a songwriter who has walked, or in this case run away, in those shoes. Whatever side of a romantic triangle, square, or dodecahedron you have been on, there’s a song for that. In fact, there are so many cheating songs that there could be separate lists for those with murder and those without.
Here are ten songs from several decades about infidelity, with an honorary mention of Carrie Underwood’s hit and evergreen karaoke favourite ‘Before He Cheats.’
The Flying Burrito Brothers ‘Dark End of the Street’ (1969)
Gram Parson’s heartfelt anguish brings an extra emotional dimension to the soul song written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn and originally recorded by James Carr in 1966. Moman and Penn intentionally set out, according to Penn in 1995, to write ‘the best cheatin’ song ever.’ There is a level of fatalism — ‘they’re gonna find us someday’ — and future atonement for their sins (“I know time is gonna take it’s toll / We have to pay for the love we stole”) without the expectation of ultimately getting away with sneaking around. The powerful love he feels is undeniable, but it does seem cruel that he explicitly warns his lover that he will pretend not to know her if he sees her in public.
Dolly Parton ‘Something Fishy’ (1967)
From Parton’s debut album, this humorous song mocks a lying husband claiming to be away from home on fishing trips and contains the fantastic line “I guess some large-mouthed bass left that lipstick on your shirt / I don’t think you’re a fisherman, honey, I think you’re a flirt.”
Jean Shepard ‘Thief in the Night’ (1958)
Social Distortion’s Mike Ness was right to include this Harlan Howard song on his 1999 album of country, rockabilly, bluegrass, and folk cover versions, ‘Under the Influences.’ Shepard’s guilty conscience and desire to do the right thing force her to finally end a clandestine relationship.
Patti Scialfa ‘Come Tomorrow’ (1993)
Scialfa was a New Jersey solo singer-songwriter before becoming a member of the E Street Band prior to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA tour. She and Springsteen became romantically involved during his Tunnel of Love Express tour a few years later, while he was separating from his wife Julianne Phillips. This song from Scialfa’s debut solo album ‘Rumble Doll’ presents her side of the story, along with the guilt and ambivalence she struggled with during their affair.
Patsy Cline ‘Too Many Secrets’ (1957)
Cline was a master at conveying a broken heart and self-recrimination over not being able to let an old love go. She was also clearly adept at conveying a rueful eye roll over a deceitful man’s sloppiness at covering his tracks.
Ani DiFranco ‘Shameless’ (1996)
DiFranco is a straying wife’s Other Woman in this song, which was not a common theme yet when her seventh album ‘Dilate’ was released. That plotline was a bit of a shock to listeners and made DiFranco even more beloved in the LGBT indie folk community.
Jerry Lee Lewis ‘One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)’ (1969)
Songwriter Eddie Dean could have written this song as an arrogant boast about having a wife ‘and’ a side girlfriend, but instead his lyrics and Jerry Lee Lewis’ delivery sound like he genuinely regrets ending up in this situation and recognizes the arrangement as untenable. Still, the twist on the chorus at the end, “now both have my name,” sounds like a hurried, last-minute resolution to the dilemma.
Loretta Lynn ‘I’m the Other Woman’ (1963)
Lynn’s better known ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’ and ‘Fist City’ are from the perspective of an angry betrayed wife, but here she’s on the other side as the affair partner — and, like many of her male country artist counterparts, not sorry.
James Pastell ‘Hell Yes I Cheated’ (1977)
There have been several versions of this Mel Street composition, including Patty Booker’s excellent more recent version. There are no apologies here, just Pastell’s blame-shifting and bold-faced admission: “And I’ll do it again.” He feels completely justified in pursuing his adulterous ways, with a cursory concession that “it was wrong.” Regret for his actions, though? Hell, no.
Garth Brooks ‘Papa Loved Mama’ (1991)
Some might dismiss Garth Brooks as bro-country, but his mini-opera meets murder ballad has it all: a straying, disgruntled wife, unhappy children, an illicit rendezvous at a cheap motel, a trucker husband unexpectedly arriving home early, prison, and a semi-truck used as a weapon.