Teenage tragedy song

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The "teenage tragedy song", also known as a "tear jerker", "death disc" or "splatter platter", is a style of ballad that was most popular between the late 1950s and early 1960s. These songs lamented tragic teenage death and were either sung from the viewpoint of the dead person's sweetheart or from the viewpoint of the dead (or dying) person.

Examples[edit]

Revisions and sourced additions are welcome.
Title Original artist Year Notes
"Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" The Cheers 1955 U.S. #6
"Chicken" The Cheers 1956
"Don't Take Your Guns to Town" Johnny Cash 1958 U.S. Country #1
"Endless Sleep" Jody Reynolds 1958 U.S. #5, precursor of the genre, sweetheart is rescued in final chorus
"El Paso" Marty Robbins 1959 U.S. #1
"Running Bear" Johnny Preston 1959 U.S. #1
"Teen Angel" Mark Dinning 1959 U.S. #1 in 1960, considered the primary prototype of the genre
"Tell Laura I Love Her" Ray Peterson 1960 U.S. #7, cover by Ricky Valance was #1 in the U.K.
"Ebony Eyes" The Everly Brothers 1961 U.S. #8, U.K. #1
"Moody River" Pat Boone 1961 U.S. #1
"The Prom" Del Shannon 1961
"Patches" Dickey Lee 1962 U.S. #6
"Leah" Roy Orbison 1962 U.S. #25
"Chapel Bells Ringing" Gene Summers 1962
"Last Kiss" Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders 1962 Cover by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers was a 1964 U.S. #2
Cover by Pearl Jam was a 1999 U.S. #2 and on the album Lost Dogs.
"A Young Man Is Gone" The Beach Boys 1963
"Dead Man's Curve" Jan and Dean 1964 U.S. #8
"Terry" Twinkle 1964 U.K. #4
"Leader of the Pack" The Shangri-Las 1964 U.S. #1
"The Hero" Bernadette Carroll 1964 WFUN "radio survey" Miami, FL U.S. #9
"Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" Dickey Lee 1965 U.S. #14
"Give Us Your Blessing" The Shangri-las 1965 U.S. #29
"I Can Never Go Home Anymore" The Shangri-las 1965 U.S. #6
"A Young Girl" Noel Harrison 1965 U.S. #51. Originally a French song co-written and recorded by Charles Aznavour
"Green, Green Grass of Home" Curly Putman 1965 Porter Wagoner covered it in 1965, Tom Jones in 1966, and Johnny Cash in 1968 on his At Folsom Prison album.
"Ode to Billie Joe" Bobbie Gentry 1967 U.S. #1
"Death Cab for Cutie" Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band 1967
"Condition Red" The Goodees 1968 U.S. #46
"The Visitations" White Noise 1969
"In the Ghetto" Elvis Presley 1969 U.S. #3, U.K. #2
"D.O.A." Bloodrock 1971 U.S. #36 despite many radio stations choosing to not play,
"Once You Understand" Think 1971 U.S. #23
"Billy and Sue" B. J. Thomas 1972
"Seasons in the Sun" Terry Jacks 1974 U.S. #1. A reworking of "Le moribond'" aka "The Dying Friend" by Jacques Brel
"Billy Don't Be a Hero" Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods 1974 U.S. #1
"Emma" Hot Chocolate 1974 U.S. #8
"I Was in Love with Danny (But the Crowd Was in Love with Dean)" Kimi and Ritz 1975 Rare U.K. single by Rocky Horror Picture Show creator Richard O'Brien and his former wife, Kimi Wong
"Run Joey Run" David Geddes 1975 U.S. #4
"Rocky" Austin Roberts 1975 U.S. #9
"You're Gonna Kill That Girl" Ramones 1977 Released on album Leave Home
"Tuttie Fruttie Alice" Elton Motello 1978 Released on the album Victim of Time
"Hello This Is Joanie" Paul Evans 1978 U.K. #6
"I Don't Like Mondays" Boomtown Rats 1979 U.K. #1
"Back of My Mind" Breathless 1980 Released on the album Nobody Leaves This Song Alive (EMI-America Records). Tells the story from the bereaved boyfriend's viewpoint of a young girl's death while undergoing an abortion
"7-11" Ramones 1981 Released on the album Pleasant Dreams
"The Only One" Huey Lewis and the News 1982 Released on the album Picture This
"Blasphemous Rumours" Depeche Mode 1984
"Cherish" Kool & the Gang 1985 U.S. #2
"A Girl Like Emmylou" Southern Pacific 1986 Top 20 country hit
"Girlfriend in a Coma" The Smiths 1987 U.K. #13
"18 and Life" Skid Row 1989 U.S. #4
"Hazard" Richard Marx 1991 U.S. #9, U.K. #3, Australia #1
"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" Richard Thompson 1991 U.K. #32
"Jeremy" Pearl Jam 1992 Inspired by a high school student who killed himself in front of his classmates
"Jumper" Third Eye Blind 1997 "It's about a friend who's gay, jumping off a bridge and killing themselves."
"Saturday Night" The Misfits 1999 Released on the album Famous Monsters
"Adam's Song" Blink-182 1999
"April 20th" Yellowcard 1999 Written in dedication to the friends and families of victims of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre
"Stan" Eminem 2000 U.K. #1, Isn't a teenager
"Days of Graduation" Drive-By Truckers 2001 A first person narrative about a fatal car crash the night before the victims' high school graduation
"View From Heaven" Yellowcard 2003 Written in memory of a close friend of the band, the drummer and co-founder of the band Inspection 12, who was killed in a car accident in 2001
"Crazy Cat Corner" Gene Summers 2004 available on 2004 CD release
"Not Now" Blink-182 2004
"His Pecs Were So God" Death Falcon 2006
"Who Knew" P!nk 2006 Re-released in 2007
"Star Crossed" Scary Kids Scaring Kids 2007 Nobody actually dies
"Teenage Tragedy" Dive 2009
"Joey" Sugarland 2009
"Death of a Surfer Girl" L.Stadt 2010
"The One That Got Away" Katy Perry 2010 While this song's lyrics do not necessarily suggest a death, the accompanying music video has the man dying in a car accident.[citation needed]
"Teen Idle" Marina and the Diamonds 2012


The Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" are considered sometimes teenage tragedies, due to some of the lyrics talking about a young man about to be executed. Some of the songs in The Who's Tommy are also considered of this genre (though the protagonist, Tommy Walker, does not die, but rather suffers from mistreatment). The Shel Silverstein song, "25 Minutes to Go", tells of a prisoner counting off how many minutes he has left to live, similar to his other song, "Boa Constrictor". The song "Joe Bean" by Johnny Cash tells of a prisoner who is sentenced to die on his 20th birthday; Cash has also covered both of Silverstein's songs.

Precedents[edit]

Two songs by Stephen Foster, the 19th century "father of American music," are said to have a similar basis. The lyrics to "Gentle Annie" long for a young sweetheart who is said, in some sources, to be inspired by the death of a young woman in an accident, and in "Beautiful Dreamer" (Foster's last song) the singer begs his beautiful dreamer to awake because 'Then will all clouds of sorrow depart'.

"Gloomy Sunday", the so-called "Hungarian Suicide Song" of 1933 (recorded by Billie Holiday among many others), also has as its theme a lament over the death of a lover.

Satires and parodies[edit]

  • Bob Luman mocked the genre in "Let's Think About Living" in 1960.
  • One parody that looms large in the genre's legend is Jimmy Cross' 1965 novelty, "I Want My Baby Back". The singer narrates a traffic crash that at first glance seems to be the one described in J. Frank Wilson's "Last Kiss", but is revealed to be another angle of the fatal crash at the climax of The Shangri-Las' #1 hit "Leader of the Pack"; the singer is the sole survivor, and his girlfriend was fatally dismembered by the impact ("Over there was my baby.. and over there was my baby.. and way over there was my baby"!). After months of unabated grief, the distraught singer, in an apparent fit of insanity, decides that he is going to have his girl back "one way or another". With realistic sound effects, he unearths her grave, crawls into her coffin, and closes the lid for a muffled final chorus of "I Got My Baby Back." Though the single barely made the Hot 100 (#92) during its initial release, it has since become a cult classic, rescued from obscurity by Dr. Demento, who played it regularly on his syndicated radio show. In the UK the song was rediscovered by Kenny Everett, who played it on his own radio series, which resulted in May 1977 with it being voted, by listeners, as The World's Worst Record.
  • The Smothers Brothers song "Jenny Brown", from their 1964 album It Must Have Been Something I Said!, spoofs the genre. The melody and lyrics of the opening verses mimic a typical "dead teenager" song, but in the last verse, it is revealed that Jenny was playing a prank on her boyfriend.
  • A more direct parody of "Leader of the Pack" is "Leader of the Laundromat" by the Detergents (1964). The song was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, and performed by a studio group including singer Ron Dante, later of The Archies.[1]
  • On a 1965 episode of The Lucy Show, "Lucy in the Music World," Lucille Ball tried to appeal to teenage music fans by singing the tragic tale of a boyfriend whose "surfboard came back by itself," thereby sending up two 1960s teenage song genres at once. She had been advised that youth today "aren't happy unless they're miserable," referring to the death disc trend.
  • An undated song (presumably from around the early to mid-1960s), by The Breakers, "Surfin' Tragedy," combines the teenage tragedy song with a surf theme, in which the subject, a surfer, careens "ninety miles an hour" into a Malibu pier, killing him instantly. The song is featured on The Rhino Brothers Present the World's Worst Records.
  • 10cc's 1973 song "Johnny Don't Do It," done in the style of early 1960s girl-group songs, parodies the teenage trope of the bad boy who is good but misunderstood. Johnny steals a motorcycle but then hits a truck, killing his girlfriend along with himself.
  • In the film Phantom of the Paradise, the opening song "Goodbye Eddie Goodbye" is a homage and parody of these songs.
  • The song "Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die!" by Jethro Tull is another homage and parody of the theme. The lyrics tell the tale of a now (1976) old rocker who, while "living in the past" and refusing to "grow up" like his friends did, suffers a motorcycle accident and meets his certain death. (Although, in the following song of the concept album, it is revealed that he survived.) The music (featuring a string quartet) and lyrics are noted for being overly dramatic for the sake of dark humor.
  • Bob Rivers also did a parody of "Leader of the Pack" called "Leader of Iraq". The song was centred around the execution of former president of Iraq Saddam Hussein.
  • Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, as part of the early alternative comedy act, 20th Century Coyote, would play a song called "Oh Gosh, I'm So Lonely."
  • Another satirical take on the theme was "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" by Julie Brown from 1984, which rather eerily anticipates a Columbine-like massacre.
  • The cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 did a parody called "Where Oh Werewolf?"
  • A rock-and-roll parody album, Mad “Twists” Rock ’n’ Roll, was released in 1962 on the Bigtop label in association with the publishers of Mad magazine. One of the songs, "All I Have Left is Johnny's Hubcap", is a spoof of the teen tragedy genre.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]