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When Tragedy Was Popular

Singing About Tragic Endings

In the 1950s and the 1960s tragedy was popular and there were many songs written about the trials and tribulations of teenagers. Death played a major role and the songs were sung with feeling and passion making their listeners sigh and cry. Many of the songs have heart-wrenching words and lovely melodies. However, I always found it odd to slow dance to a song telling the story of someone dying tragically. Let’s take a look at what all the crying was about.

"Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning

1959 Mark Dinning recorded “Teen Angel” and I still remember that just listening to the story told in this song could make you sob with compassion. The song can still be heard today. It was the story of two love-struck teenagers whose car stalls on railroad tracks. They both get out but before the boy can stop her, the girl runs back to the car to find his high school ring. Well, she becomes a teen angel and he becomes a broken-hearted boy.

"Last Kiss" by Wayne Cochran

Other songs of tragedies were written about true events. Wayne Cochran recorded “Last Kiss” in 1962 and became even more popular when recorded again in 1964 by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. All about Jeanette Clark a 16-year-old girl who went out on a date in Barnesville, Georgia. It was on a Saturday just before Christmas. Along with a group of friends in a 54 Chevy, they were heading down Highway 341 when they collided with a trailer truck. The driver and Jeanette were killed and two other teens were seriously injured. Most of them were students at Gordon Military College. This most horrible accident became the subject of a song.

"Patches" by Clarence Carter

Along comes the tragedy of suicide in a song by Clarence Carter “Patches” about the love between a boy and a girl from the wrong side of the tracks living in poverty in a place called Old Shanty Town. The boy’s parents refuse to let him go and see the girl. When she cannot be with her love, she commits suicide, and when the boy finds this out, he says he is going to join her.

"Tell Laura I ove Her" by Ray Peterson

Another tragic song had to do with car racing. In 1960, Ray Peterson recorded “Tell Laura I Love Her.” This one was all about a young man who wants to marry his girl, but he doesn’t have enough money. So he sees an ad and enters a stock car race in order to win the prize money. He leaves his girl a letter and off he goes. There is a tragic accident and our hero goes up to heaven. His final words were to tell his girl Laura not to cry.

"Leah" by Roy Orbison

The very haunting “Leah” by Roy Orbison who sang of a guy who dove into the sea to get pearls for his love, Leah. He gets tangled up in seaweed and such and drowns. Then suddenly realizes it was a dream about his lost love. 

"Running Bear" by Johnny Preston

Even songs about young Indian braves and maidens were written. In “Running Bear,” Johnny Preston wrote about the tragedy of different Indian tribes who were at war and how their tribes wouldn’t let a maiden from one warring tribe be with a brave from another tribe. Loving each other very much, the brave Running Bear and the maiden Little White Dove jumped into a raging river and together went up to the happy hunting ground in the sky.

"Ebony Eyes" by Everly Brothers

Here I want to add one more song that I particularly like and that is “Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers. It tells the story of a young man waiting for the love of his life to fly to his side. Unfortunately, the plane crashes and he loses his love forever.

"Leader of the Pack" by The Shangri-Las

One of the most popular, “Leader of the Pack” by The Shangri-Las tells of two teens in love. The parents of the girl tell her to break up with the guy because he rides a motorcycle and they look at him like a guy who is no good. The girl breaks up with him and he takes off on his motorcycle, crashing and dying.

"Dead Man's Curve" by Jan & Dean

"Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean tells the story of the dangers of driving on a roadway where a lot of deaths have occurred due to crashes at dead man’s curve, the nickname given to the dangerous part of this roadway. This song tells of a teen street car race that goes tragically wrong.

"Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds

So dry your eyes and one more song, “Endless Sleep” is about the sea taking the life of one’s love.

It is amazing that we survived our teen years not overly influenced by these songs. I am sure that there were some emotional teenagers that these songs really spoke too. I wonder what it is that makes tragedy so popular. These days I prefer sad love songs.

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