"Hangman Jury" is a song by American hard rock band Aerosmith. It was released as a promotional single in 1987 on the album Permanent Vacation. It was written by lead singer Steven Tyler, guitarist Joe Perry, and outside collaborator Jim Vallance.
"Hangman Jury" is a re-working of an old blues song, used by numerous artists over the years, particularly Lead Belly and Taj Mahal. The chant it was based on was the refrain, "whoa boy, dontcha line the track-a-lack-a", which is often called "Linin' Track" or "Line 'Em". A similar chant was used in "Poor Boy Boogie" by Mac Davis. Joe Perry added the acoustic guitar, and Tyler re-worked the song, building it around the refrain, adding original verses of his own. Tyler and Perry had the song mostly completed when they worked with Vallance on the song in the spring of 1987.
Tyler received permission from Taj Mahal to use the refrain (thinking he wrote it), however he did not receive permission from Lead Belly. Tyler felt that the song was a classic American chant dating back to the days of slavery and that it was in the public domain, meaning nobody actually owned it. However, after Lead Belly recorded it, he claimed ownership of the song. Subsequently, Lead Belly's estate sued Aerosmith about a year after "Hangman Jury" was released.
"Hangman Jury" begins with special sound effects, including a creaking rocking chair and the sounds of a summer night, including chirping crickets. The song begins with acoustic guitars, a percussion instrument, and then a harmonica part. Tyler then begins the first verse and the refrain, while the acoustic guitars continue to play. After the first few lines, the song kicks into a hard rock song, with electric guitars, drums, and bass.
The song chronicles the lead-up to, and the commission and aftermath of, a murder. The singer is married to a woman who continually badgers him about his lack of money ("me and my old lady, sitting in the shade, talking about the money I ain't made"). One night, beset by stress, he comes home in a drunken stupor ("drank so much hooch it made my eyes be gettin' blurry). He points a gun at her, then fires it, killing her ("Whatcha do with a gun that's loaded? Shot her dead and her heart exploded!"). He is taken to trial, where he claims he did not know the gun was loaded ("I swear I didn't know that .45 was loaded, in fact my memory ain't too clear"), but he remains unrepentant ("that's not to say she didn't get what she deserved, least that's the way it looks from here"). He testifies his wife was involved in prostitution and refused him sex ("and every night she'd take her thang into the city, and in the morning made me beg"). He is sentenced to be hanged ("poor boy sweatin' in the hot summer night, hangman waitin' for the early morning light").
The song was released to rock radio in 1987. It hit #14 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart in 1987, and stayed on that chart for 12 weeks.
The band resurrected the song as a setlist staple in the mid-2000s, performing it at several concerts around the world on their 2007 World Tour. Tyler and Perry performed the acoustic portion of the song sitting down at the end of the catwalk, before going into "Seasons of Wither". In concert, Tyler often substitutes the line, "I'd stand on the rock that Moses done stood" for the line "I'd stand on the rock Joe Perry done stood".