Arguably, the first “gangsta” song to reach #1 on the Billboard pop charts … way back in 1959. “Stagger Lee” is an adaptation of a popular blues/folk song whose first published version came in 1911, but apparently had been around since 1897 in a version called “Stack-a-Lee” by “Prof. Charlie Lee, the piano thumper”. It’s based on a true story of the murder of William “Billy” Lyons by Stagger Lee Shelton in St. Louis in 1895.
Even though Price’s version is relatively slick and is now considered one of those “safe” oldies relegated to Cousin Brucie-style radio shows, it still packs quite a wallop and if a similar song was released nowadays, would arguably be extremely controversial.