The future of music

20 Powerful Songs About Domestic Violence

December 19, 2023
songs about domestic violence

I’ve compiled a collection of powerful songs about domestic violence, each one offering a profound voice to the experiences and struggles of survivors.

This article is a tribute to the strength and resilience depicted in these songs, providing awareness and empathy through music.

Top powerful songs about domestic violence

  • “Violets Tale” by Ren
  • “Stone Cold Dead In The Market (He Had It Coming)” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan
  • “Run For Your Life” by The Beatles
  • “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” by The Crystals
  • “Outside of That” by Bessie Smith
  • “Cherry Wine” by Hozier
  • “Church Bells” by Carrie Underwood
  • “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks
  • “Delias Gone” by Johnny Cash
  • “Independence Day” by Martina McBride

1. “Violets Tale” by Ren 

Our first selection is not one that everyone will have heard but it is one of the most powerful songs about domestic violence in recent years.

It is actually just one of the most powerful songs, period.

Ren is a newcomer, so you are forgiven if the artist has gone under your radar. 

His compositional style is very unique, he uses music art poetry, and video combining them creatively to bring his unique blend of bard-like storytelling to life.

In “Violets Tale” we open with an impressive acoustic shred that soon turns into arpeggios beneath a haunting falsetto of oohs.

From there we get an opera-like spoken recitative before he takes us back in time to tell the character’s tale.

“Violet was a silent girl and Violet she fell fast

See Stevie was a wrong’un but he sure knew how to charm her

Every night he’d tuck her tight but never left the room

History repeats itself, he’d paint her black and blue and— Ah

She never stood a chance”

The clever lyrics fly by all of them well-written.

His emotional intensity is unmatched in his poetry slam-style bridge section without musical accompaniment. 

The silence echoes Violet’s silence against her abusive partner.

We get the entire story’s beginning, middle, and tragically fatal end. 

2. “Stone Cold Dead In The Market (He Had It Coming)” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan

Looking back to 1946 we have the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan’s popular Calypso style hit.

Some violent relationships are not so one-sided.

Often a toxic environment and a bad pairing can bring out the worst in one another. 

“Stone Cold Dead In The Market”  is about a mutually abusive relationship. 

Now it may have been a little tongue-in-cheek but reflects a sad reality for many nonetheless.

In the story, which is chipperly narrated by the duo, a woman publicly kills her drunken, abusive husband.

The murder weapon could have been the frying pan, a cookpot, or a rolling pin as it changes from verse to verse as the pair recount the tale.

Fitzgerald dons an ersatz Jamaican accent in her parts that bring the calypso song to life.

In its day, it was a shocking song, most crooners were giving the world love songs or heart-wrenching ballads.

Household violence and other heavier topics were simply not discussed openly.

Its controversy made it wildly popular even if it did make light of things to an extent, it started a conversation regardless.

3. “Run For Your Life” by The Beatles

On the subject of controversy, “Run for Your Life” was a Beatles track that divided fans.

It was heavily criticized because it was felt by many to promote violence against women.

Lennon and McCartney wrote the storyline from the perspective of a very possessive man.

The words are pretty worrying by today’s standards. 

The tone is threatening from the get-go. Take a look at the opening lines;

“Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl

Than to be with another man”

“Little girl” is derogatory for starters! He goes on to excuse his mindset and manner;

Well, you know that I’m a wicked guy

And I was born with a jealous mind

And I can’t spend my whole life

Trying just to make you toe the line”

Before making the ultimate threat;

You better run for your life if you can, little girl”

As far as Beatles tracks go it is pretty heavy going!

4. “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” by The Crystals

Tragically, there was a time when domestic violence was fairly normalized. 

The stereotype of a wife being put in her place by her husband if she fell out of line, spoke out of turn, or didn’t manage the household as expected was commonplace.

“He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” was written for The Crystals in 1962 by Goffin and King.

The storyline was inspired by true events.

They found out that their babysitter (“Little Eva” Boyd) was being beaten regularly by her boyfriend.

In the lyrics, the protagonist/victim rationalizes her partner’s behavior.

This is something that we see all too often in a one-sided abusive relationship.

The song was initially banned from many radio stations.

But as society changed and the issues were publicly raised it got the recognition it deserved as a provocative and powerful song about domestic violence.

5. “Outside of That” by Bessie Smith

At a time when it was an accepted, normalized part of some couple’s lives, “Outside of That” sung by Bessie Smith hit home.

She tells the audience about her mean man, who beats her up.

She confesses that other people think she is foolish to stick around. 

But “outside of” the terrible things she tells the audience he does she relents that he is all right!

The woman tells him she wants to leave but that only provokes him to get more violent;

“And when I said that, I made sweet Papa sore

He blacked my eyes, I couldn’t see

Then he pawned the things he gave to me

But outside of that, he’s all right with me”

Again it paints a familiar picture and considering it was recorded in 1923 it might be one of the earliest powerful songs about domestic violence.

It certainly is on our list!

6. “Cherry Wine” by Hozier

In 2014 Hozier brought us “Cherry Wine”, a powerful song that shines a light on the cycle of violence within domestic abuse and the cycle of violence.

Often there is a twin dynamic in abusive relationships, the moments of beauty and passion seem more beautiful because of the sheer contrast provided by the destruction, pain, and suffering.

Armed with a haunting melody line for his poignant lyrics the Irish musician describes the duality that battles in a toxic relationship. 

He is madly in love with a woman who treats him like crap and sleeps around.

But when it’s good it’s great, almost “worth it”.

This again describes a mindset that some can fall into.

“The way she shows me I’m hers and she is mine

An open hand or closed fist would be fine

The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine”

We often forget that men face domestic abuse at the hands of women, typically picturing things the other way around.

The accompanying video has a clear message and urges people who relate personally to get out and seek the right help. 

7. “Church Bells” by Carrie Underwood

In a way that only country music really can, Carrie brings us a dark but entertaining murder ballad.

Jenny (a poor but pretty girl) heard “Church bells ringing” when she met a fancy millionaire.

Fast forward they married and thought she had a life made.

To begin with, it was peachy;

“It was all roses, dripping in diamonds

Sipping on champagne”

Unfortunately, she soon learned he was an angry, violent drunk which they had to hide from the world to keep up appearances.

It was all bruises, covered in makeup

Dark sunglasses”

One night tired of being his punch-bag she slipped something extra into his whiskey and Underwood leaves us with the comical but serious line;

“And how he died is still a mystery

But he hit a woman for the very last time”.

8. “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks

A song in a similar vein as the above, perhaps even more gratuitous is “Goodbye Earl”.

The Chicks brought this murder ballad to life back in 1999 and it tells of how Mary-Anne helped her best friend Wanda who was getting knocked around.

“She’d put on dark glasses and long-sleeved blouses

And makeup to cover a bruise

Well, she finally got the nerve to file for divorce

She let the law take it from there

But Earl walked right through that restraining order

And put her in intensive care”.

Seeing no other way out the two plot his murder and drive off to enjoy the lake with him in the trunk of the car!

9. “Delias Gone” by Johnny Cash

This next one is sort of like the reverse of those above, told from the perspective of the abusive partner who takes the life of his victim.

Disturbingly this is a frequent outcome in an abusive relationship.

The abuser can go too far when they see their victim grow a spine and leave.

Cash sings with no real remorse about how went to Memphis and shot his would-be wife.

He does however confess to the jailor that he is plagued by her ghost in his prison cell.

Jailer, I can’t sleep

‘Cause all around my bedside

I hear the patter of Delia’s feet”

The song culminates with some appalling advice;

“So if your woman’s devilish

You can let her run

Or you can bring her down and do her

Like Delia got done”.

10. “Independence Day” by Martina McBride

This one is written from the perspective of a child doomed to watch her mother suffer at the hands of her father.

The “Independence Day” fireworks described by the child were the flames she watched as her mother took back her independence, burning her home down with her husband inside.

A harrowing story painted throughout the provocative lyrics. 

One thing the words draw attention to is the fact that often the neighbors might realize there is domestic violence going on but don’t like to “interfere”.

“Well, word gets around in a small, small town

They said he was a dangerous man

But Mama was proud and she stood her ground

She knew she was on the losin’ end

Some folks whispered, some folks talked

But everybody looked the other way

And when time ran out there was no one about

On Independence Day”

The 1995 hit received a tonne of nominations but never won any but remains one of McBrides signature songs.

11. “Behind the Wall” by Tracy Chapman

Another track that points out the importance of neighbors in a domestic violence situation is Tracy Chapman’s 1988 track “Behind The Wall”. 

The song is narrated by a neighbor who has been listening to her neighbors.

“Last night I heard the screaming

Loud voices behind the wall

Another sleepless night for me

It won’t do any good to call

The police always come late

If they come at all”

It is an acapella song that makes the words all the more powerful, Chapman wanted them heard.

The opening lines of the verse change in the final verse and give you the chilling synopsis;

“Last night I heard the screaming

Then a silence that chilled my soul

I prayed that I was dreaming

When I saw the ambulance in the road”.

Evocatively delivered without music it really highlights the apathy that is sometimes found societally in this serious situation.

12. “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine” by Savage Garden

“Another bruise to try and hide

Another alibi to write

Another ditch in the road You keep moving

Another stop sign

You keep moving on

And the years go by so fast”

A song about a mother in an abusive relationship who escapes from time to time packing up the kids and leaving. 

She stays in cheap hotels as the “two Beds and a Coffee Machine” line that forms the title suggests. 

But economically, she can’t stay away, trapped by groceries and bills she always returns for round two.

Tragically, this one was inspired by singer Darren Hayes’ genuine childhood experience as his mum often took him away for short stays with black eyes as a kid.

Sadly his story is familiar to a lot of kids.

13. “Family Portrait” by Pink

Another track told from the child’s perspective that makes for a powerful song about domestic violence is “Family Portrait” by Pink.

The whole thing is very candid from start to finish.

It opens with a heartbreaking verse;

“Momma please stop crying, I can’t stand the sound

Your pain is painful and it’s tearin’ me down

I hear glasses breaking as I sit up in my bed

I told Dad you didn’t mean those nasty things you said”

The naivety of the child’s portrayal of the situation shines through in the chorus as she has the hope it can all be fixed.

“Can we work it out? (Can we?)

Can we be a family? (Can we?)

I promise I’ll be better (I promise)

Mommy, I’ll do anything (I’ll do anything)”.

14. “Rain On Me” by Ashanti

Partnering up with LidRock and the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) Ashanti produced a mini-movie to accompany this song’s release and raise awareness.

The words speak for themselves;

“I’m lookin’ in the mirror at this woman down and out

She’s internally dyin’ and knew this was not what love’s all about

I don’t wanna be this woman the second time around

‘Cause I’m wakin’ up screamin’, no longer believin’

That I’m gonna be around, yeah”.

She did a great job of setting the scene, exploring the challenges of overcoming an abusive relationship. 

The cinematic narrative-driven video highlighted how domestic violence affects people from all walks of life and the philanthropic singer even went on to do an official public service announcement.

15. “Love The Way You Lie” by Eminem ft. Rihanna

Though the two have brought us a few collaborations, in 2010 Eminem and Rihanna gave us a duet with powerful storytelling.

Love the Way You Lie depicts the inner turmoil from both perspectives of a couple involved in an abusive relationship.

The lyrics capture the turbulence, and the hook was beyond catchy with an incredible melody sung to perfection by the Barbadian vocalist.

While the chorus ties it together and fills in the other side of the story, it was Eminem’s words that truly hit the hardest. 

“It’s so insane ’cause when it’s going good, it’s going great

I’m Superman, with the wind at his back, she’s Lois Lane

But when it’s bad, it’s awful

I feel so ashamed, I snapped, “Who’s that dude?”

I don’t even know his name, I laid hands on her

I’ll never stoop so low again, I guess I don’t know my own strength”

“Come inside, pick up your bags off the sidewalk

Don’t you hear sincerity in my voice when I talk?

Told you this is my fault, look me in the eyeball

Next time I’m pissed, I’ll aim my fist at the drywall

Next time? There will be no next time

I apologize, even though I know it’s lies”

It was very commercially successful, holding the number-one spot for seven consecutive weeks and receiving critical acclaim for its brutally honest portrayal.

16. “Never Again” by Nickelback

This heavy track from the “love-to-hate” group is a hard-hitting track and not just musically.

It is told from the child’s perspective which is often the rawest way to talk about something as serious as domestic violence in a song.

The backstory is pretty stereotypical; Dad drinks, loses his temper when intoxicated and Mum bears the brunt of it.

The kid is worried his dad might kill his mother.

“I’m terrified that she’ll wind up dead in his hands”.

The mother’s bruises are explained away;

“Just tell the nurse, you slipped and fell”

Eventually, the story reaches a pivotal point with the mother pulling a gun out in self-defense.

17. “Shoot” by Sonic Youth

Met with very mixed reviews, this 1995 release by Sonic Youth was deemed too violently graphic for some.

Others praised it for the subject matter tackled in its lyrics.

Initially, it was inspired by and dedicated to Joe Cole, a Black Flag roadie who was shot at a robbery gone wrong.

But the narrative of the lyrics centers around an abused woman who is constantly asking permission from her controlling partner. 

Each verse introduces something else she asks for;

“Can I have some money/the car keys/my lipstick?”

In a turn of events she finds herself pregnant and decides enough is enough and turns a gun on him.

“I won’t be asking your permission to leave

I won’t be asking not to have this baby, please

and I won’t be asking don’t point some bust at me

and I won’t be asking I had to see you bleed”

18. “Face Down” by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

Sometimes being an outsider looking in from the edge of an abusive relationship is tough to deal with.

Ronnie Winter, vocalist of American rock band The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus sings about exactly that in their 2006 single “Face Down”.

Singing as a third party with a crush on a woman who ought to walk away.

In the verses, he addresses his love interest and in the chorus, he powerfully speaks directly to her abuser.

“Do you feel like a man

When you push her around?

Do you feel better now, as she falls to the ground?

Well I’ll tell you, my friend, one day this world’s got to end

As your lies crumble down, a new life she has found”

His lyrics are inspired by his childhood, as he and his brother suffered through domestic abuse.

19. “Better Man” by Pearl Jam

Released in 1984 on the group’s Vitalogy album, “Better Man” is a song from the perspective of a woman who wants out of a loveless relationship but fears she won’t find a “Better Man”.

The words don’t depict anything gratuitously violent like some of the heavier songs we have seen.

So I guess it is up for interpretation, but Vedder wrote it with his stepfather in mind as he felt his mother had settled following his dad’s death.

As far as domestic abuse is concerned it is still relative as a song as many victims view those they are with as their “best option”.

It tells a real back-and-forth of emotional thoughts as she flip-flops, gaining strength while he is away and counseling herself to tell him and walk away. 

“Waitin’, watchin’ the clock

It’s four o’clock, it’s got to stop

Tell him, “Take no more”

She practices her speech”

This is something all too common, many women know in their guts what they ought to do, but finding the strength to take the steps is an entirely different kettle of fish.

20. “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy

So, this last entry is perhaps less powerful than some of the more thought-provoking songs in our rundown. 

With far fewer lyrics, less is said.

There is no real take-home message, but it doesn’t get much more upfront and candid than the song’s two repetitive phrases.

“Change my pitch up!

Smack my bitch up!”

The controversy of the lines probably brought it more spotlight than it may have received otherwise.

The accompanying video was equally as shocking in its depiction.

Smack My Bitch Up had near-continuous airplay and made it to the top ten in the UK and the US.

Powerful Songs About Domestic Violence – Final Thoughts

In their own way, all of the songs about domestic violence we have rounded up have helped bring awareness to the heavy subject.

Many simply might resonate enough with the victims to help them deal with the aftermath, or even highlight the situation that they are in, giving them clarity and spurring them to get help.

We appreciate that some of the lyrics shared may have been triggering, given that statistically even if not directly affected the majority of us have known domestic violence in some capacity.

So we end our article responsibly by saying that if you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence reach out to an organization.

You are not alone, the situation isn’t impossible no matter how it may appear, and there is help waiting.

You may also like: Songs About Toxic Relationships

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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