The full story behind The Killers' Murder Trilogy

26 February 2020, 16:50 | Updated: 26 February 2020, 17:05

Mark Stoermer, Brandon Flowers, Ronnie Vannucci and David Keuning of The Killers  at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards
Mark Stoermer, Brandon Flowers, Ronnie Vannucci and David Keuning of The Killers at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards. Picture: Frank Micelotta/Fox via Getty Images

Looking for a new crime story to dig into? Then look no further than The Killers' debut album Hot Fuss... and its tale of romance gone bad.

The Killers! Despite their name, they're the epitome of good-time rock 'n' roll, fronted by the charismatic Brandon Flowers. Right?

While their name might evoke tales of horror and death, The Killers actually got their name from a fictitious band that appeared in the video to New Order's song Crystal from 2001. Flowers, being a huge fan of the Manchester band, decided to name his own group after these interlopers.

But their early years hide a dark secret: the band's debut album, Hot Fuss, was to include a trilogy of songs that told the story of a murder. Flowers was inspired by the Morrissey song Sister I'm A Poet, which told of "the romance of crime": "I studied that line a lot," he told The Guardian. "And it's kind of embedded in me."

However, things didn't go according to plan.

Brandon Flowers at KROQ on September 18, 2004.
Brandon Flowers at KROQ on September 18, 2004. Picture: Mike FANOUS/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

One of the first of The Killers' songs to come to the UK's attention was Jenny (as it was simply known then) which appeared on a free NME CD called Rock 'N' Roll Riot Vol 1 in November 2003.

The song's lyrics seemingly depict a police interview, in which the protagonist repeatedly insists: "There ain't no motive for this crime, Jenny was a friend of mine." But what happened to Jenny? And what led up to the line: "She couldn't scream while I held her close..."?

Back in 2004 when The Killers were on their first promo tour, Brandon Flowers explained that Jenny was actually the final part of the "Murder Trilogy" - a trio of songs that told the full story. In fact, the NME reported on 20 March that year that the trilogy would form the backbone of their first album.

The Killers' Murder Trilogy is composed of these three songs... in this order:

  1. The Killers - Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf

    "Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf is about a couple breaking up; all the boy cares about is keeping the whiskey they bought," Flowers told the NME.

    The song's lyrics are explicitly tied to Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine: "Jennifer, tell me where I stand, and who's that other boy holdin' your hand?"

    Despite being left with the booze, he boy still ain't happy: "Give me one more chance tonight / And I swear I'll make it right." Which leads us to part two...

    Brandon Flowers of The Killers at KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas Concert 2004
    Brandon Flowers of The Killers at KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas Concert 2004. Picture: J. Shearer/WireImage for KROQ-FM
  2. The Killers - Midnight Show

    The narrator promises to take Jenny to a "midnight show" in his car, as if a night out is going to ease the split. But, he thinks to himself "I got a blanket in the back seat on my mind..."

    As the narrator repeats to himself "We were just a good thing", the scene changes to a seafront at night: "A crashing tide can't hide a guilty girl," says the boy. "I took my baby's breath beneath the chandelier of stars in atmosphere... and watched her disappear."

    Things don't look good for Jenny.

  3. The Killers - Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine

    Flowers said of the song: "It's OK making the decision to split up, but when somebody finds somebody else, it's terrible; it's the worst feeling in the world."

    Flash forward and the hapless narrator has been pulled in by the cops and is trying to tell his story. "We had a fight on the promenade out in the rain." he confesses, but pleads that he didn't harm the girl. "There ain't no motive for this crime," he insists in the chorus. "Jenny was a friend of mine."

    While the protagonist claims that the police can't hold him, the detective in charge of the case mutters "I know what you're doing here". We don't know what the outcome of the arrest is, but it's safe to say that the cops don't believe a word of it.

  4. The Killers' Murder Trilogy Film

    Here, the plot thickens. When The Killers issued their debut album, Hot Fuss, in June 2004, the "Murder Trilogy" was in pieces. The album opens with the final part, Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine... and part 2, Midnight Show, is the penultimate song on the record! Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf is nowhere to be seen.

    However, The Murder Trilogy idea lived on. In an interview in the summer of 2005, just as the campaign for Hot Fuss was winding up and the band were thinking about the second album, Brandon Flowers and Ronnie Vannucci Jr announced an ambitious plan.

    Flowers said: "We would like to make a 25-minute short movie, long video, however you wanna look at it - and release it on a DVD...? At Sundance? At Cannes?"

    The pair claimed they were looking at directors and potential actors. Subsequent conversations floated the idea of either Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton or Kelly Osbourne as Jenny and anyone from Anton Corbijn to David Lynch pitched as a director.

    "Whenever I see it in my head, I see James Spader killing this girl," said Flowers, but the band was open to any older actor, even adding Sir Anthony Hopkins to their wish list. "We don't want it to be a kid movie," insisted Ronnie. Lake Mead in Nevada was given as a potential location.

    The film idea came to nothing - 2005 saw The Killers become hugely famous across the globe and the pressure was on to record what would become Sam's Town. A film of three old songs was not a priority.

    Scene of the crimer? Lake Mead Marina in Nevada, near Las Vegas, circa 1969
    Scene of the crimer? Lake Mead Marina in Nevada, near Las Vegas, circa 1969. Picture: MyLoupe/UIG Via Getty Images
  5. The Killers' Murder Trilogy Live

    The idea of the Murder Trilogy lived on. "It's a convincing theory," said one Twitter commentator, unaware that Brandon had announced the link between the songs years earlier.

    Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf eventually surfaced on the compilation album of rarities and B-sides called Sawdust, in November 2007. Flowers said: "That's a song we kind of promised in the past. It kind of goes together with two songs from the first album and it tells a little story."

    According to the excellent Setlist.fm, The Killers have only performed the "Murder Trilogy" in concert in the correct order twice: once at Athens, Georgia in October 2007, and again in Sydney, Australia, a month later. On both occasions, the trilogy was followed by the anthemic All These Things That I've Done. Wait a minute, is that part of the story...?