There are a lot of songs about stealing hearts, stealing away love and even a couple about stealing the limelight – but those aren’t on this list. This is a selection of songs about pure (dis)honest-to-goodness robbin’ and thievin’. By the look of the list, shoplifting was a relatively popular pastime in the 70s and 80s – there are three tracks here that deal with the old ‘five-finger discount’. It seems to have decreased in popularity as a song topic in recent years (although maybe ‘the kids’ have loads of songs about shoplifting now and I just have no idea what they’re talking about). There’s also three songs about robbing banks – a cautionary (if amusing) tale by the Barenaked ladies, a eulogy for an American anti-hero by Woodie Guthrie and a bit of nonsense by the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. There’s only one rap tune on the list – in rap songs stealing often escalates into murder and I wanted to avoid that. I’m not squeamish, some of the best songs are about mur-diddly-urdlers, but a murder list is another day’s work…
As always, if you have any thievery songs that I’ve missed, let me know either directly here or on the seven-tunes facebook page
1. Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing
This is the classic petty-theft song as far as I’m concerned. There are actually lots of others that cover the subject well… but none start with the line ‘Been caught stealing, once, when I was five…’ It also feature’s a great video, which seemed to be on MTV all the time in the mid 90s.
2. The Smiths – Shoplifters of the World Unite
This is supposedly Morrissey’s way of admitting that he, like most other artists, actually steal a lot of their work. He chose to call it ‘cultural or spiritual shoplifting’. Most of the lyrics, and even the title itself, are derivatives of famous phrases. The single’s artwork even featured a photo of Elvis, to drive the point home.
3. Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Scooby Snacks
The Fun Lovin’ Criminals aren’t actually criminals. They figured out that writing songs about stealing money and being gangsters was much more lucrative (and safer) than actually stealing money and being gangsters. They even managed to make a mildly diverting career out of it. Then they got really greedy and moved to ‘Celtic Tiger’ Dublin to run some pubs and play ‘secret gigs’ about once a month. It all went wrong from there.
4. Woodie Guthrie – Pretty Boy Floyd
Pretty Boy Floyd was an outlaw bank robber in 1930s mid-west America. He’s usually portrayed as a victim of the depression and hard-times, and is mentioned as such several times in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Woodie Guthrie here paints a typically romantic portrait – Pretty Boy seems to spend most of his time being kind to the poor in a Robin Hood style way.
5. Slick Rick – Children’s Story
“Hey Kids, if one of your friends ever asks you to get involved in a stick-up. Well… just don’t do it because it’ll end really badly with a shootout and killings and stuff.” That pretty much sums up this classic piece of 80s hip hop. It’s a silly enough record but the amazingly catchy piano hook and Slick Rick’s nasal drawl combine to make something very special. Oh that video!
6. Barenaked Ladies – Bank Job
You really have to listen to this one from start to finish. It’s quite a nice melody, so listening to the whole thing is no hardship. It’s a song with a punchline, so pay attention to the lyrics and you’ll get the funnies.
7. The Slits – Shoplifting
In the third song on the list about that most teenage of crimes, the slits manage to sound, well… quite teenage about the whole thing. “Ten quid for the lot, We pay fuck all” just about sums up shoplifting. Of course if you master-plan fails you can always “do a runner”.
If you’d like to listen to all the tunes consecutively – you know, like an old mixtape (which you probably STOLE from the radio)– check out the youtube playlist.