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|Single by Wayne Cochran|
|Studio||UGA Campus (Athens, Georgia) (original version)|
"Last Kiss" is a song released by Wayne Cochran in 1961 on the Gala label. It failed to do well on the charts. Cochran subsequently re-recorded his song for the King label in 1963. It was later revived by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, Pearl Jam and several international artists, including the Canadian group Wednesday, with varying degrees of success. The song was one of several teen tragedy songs from that period. The song's opening lyrics mirror the opening lyrics of Septimus Winner's "Der Deitcher's Dog".
The song was supposedly based on the true story of Jeanette Clark and J.L. Hancock, who were both 16 years old when their car hit a tractor-trailer on a road in rural Barnesville, Georgia. The problem is that the song was recorded more than a year before the accident supposedly happened. Clark and Hancock were on a date a few days before Christmas in 1962. A local gas station attendant helping with the recovery of the bodies did not recognize his own daughter. Hancock and Clark's friend Wayne Cooper, who was riding with them, was killed instantly. Their two other friends, Jewel Emerson and Ed Shockley, survived with serious injuries. Wayne Cochran's drummer had been dating Jeannette Clark's sister at the time of the wreck. The song was written by Wayne Cochran, who lived on Route 1941 in Georgia, about 15 miles from the crash site. It was a busy road, and Cochran witnessed many accidents on it. He was working on a song based on all the crashes he saw, and was about halfway done with "Last Kiss" when he heard about the wreck in Barnesville. There was an intense emotional response from the community after the tragedy, and Cochran used those feelings to finish the song, which he dedicated to Jeanette Clark. The music history podcast Uncovering the Cover analyzes all these versions from many sources going deep into the story behind the song.
The narrator borrows his father's car to take his girlfriend out on a date, and comes upon a stalled car in the road. Unable to stop, the narrator swerves to the right to avoid it, losing control and crashing violently in the process, knocking him and his girlfriend unconscious. The narrator later regains consciousness in the midst of a rainstorm, and finds several people at the scene of the accident. While partially blinded by the blood flowing from his injuries, the narrator is able to find his girlfriend, still lying unconscious. When he cradles his girlfriend lovingly in his arms, she regains partial consciousness, smiling and asking the narrator to "hold me, darling, for a little while." The narrator then gives her the titular "last kiss" as she fades into death and enters the afterlife.
In the song's chorus, the narrator vows to be a good person so that he may reunite with his love when his time comes, believing she has made it into Heaven.
By Wayne Cochran, Joe Carpenter, Randall Hoyal & Bobby McGlon (1961)
In the summer of 1961, four friends traveled to the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, to record a song Wayne Cochran had written, with Joe Carpenter, Randall Hoyal and Bobby McGlon, called "Last Kiss". Wayne Cochran (vocals), Joe Carpenter (guitar), Bobby Rakestraw (bass), and Jerry Reppert (drums) recorded the song for the Gala label, a small label based in Vidalia. When the labels for the 45s, Gala #117, were printed, the names of co-writers Joe Carpenter, Randall Hoyal and Bobby McGlon were left off. Cochran evidently never asked Gala to change the label, to include the other names; to this day Cochran is the only one credited with writing "Last Kiss".
Cochran would go on to re-record the song for release on Aire Records (1962), in a slightly different tempo, with some changes to the lyrics and for re-release on King Records in 1963. In all, Cochran recorded four versions of the song, the original, Gala #117, Boblo Records #101, King Records #5856, and Aire Records #150, released as "Last Kiss" b/w "Edge of the Sea", with Cochran sharing vocals with an unnamed male vocalist. The Aire disc was easily the most different version of all, with heavy reverb and a staccato drumbeat. Aire Records, located in Dublin, Georgia, credited the song to Perry Music, as did the Gala recording. The Boblo disc credited "Last Kiss" to Macon Music, while the King record cited Boblo-BMI. The Boblo record featured "Last Kiss II" b/w "Hey! Baby" (Boblo 101-A), produced by Bobby Smith, offering another take on the song, with different lyrics, a faster tempo, and different instrumentation. A fifth version of the song was cobbled from the Boblo recording, rechanneled for stereo, on Radical Musik Records, probably around 1973.
The original opens with the sound of a screeching crash, then the drums start, and the bass picks up the beat; in contrast, the final version sounds like a cross between a pop arrangement and a reggae recording. Cochran loaded 45s in the trunk of his car, taking them along to gigs, to sell to fans, although it didn't help much. Over the course of the four versions, Cochran expanded his (and his co-writers') concept of the song, seeking a wider audience. Cochran would later go on to Miami, where he found moderate success playing nightclubs, with his band, CC Ryders. Jackie Gleason had Cochran on his television show several times. Cochran went into the ministry, in later years; he doesn't talk about his rock and roll years anymore.
A long-running rumor held the song was based on an auto accident that killed 16-year-old Jeanette Clark, who was on a date with J.L. Hancock, also 16, in Barnesville, Georgia, on December 22, 1962. It was the Saturday before Christmas; the pair were with a group of friends, riding in a 1954 Chevrolet, driven by Hancock, in traffic. While traveling on U.S. Route 341, their car hit a tractor trailer carrying a load of logs in rural Barnesville, Georgia; Clark, Hancock and Wayne Cooper were killed. Two other teens in the car were seriously injured, but survived. However, this tragedy could not be the source of the song, as it had been recorded in the summer of 1961, more than a year earlier. Wayne Cochran lived on Georgia State Route 19/41, when he wrote "Last Kiss", only 15 miles away from the crash site, and was reportedly inspired to write the song after seeing many accidents on the highway. He re-recorded "Last Kiss", for release on King Records, in 1962, dedicating it to Clark, a fact which probably explains association of the song with the tragic crash.
On September 18, 1961, Billboard Music Week printed a review of the song "Last Kiss" and gave it three stars but said nothing about the song itself in the review. None of the records charted, failing even to reach the "Bubbling Under" level, although the record was a local hit in Georgia, before it disappeared.
Billboard had kind words for the B-Side, in its review of "Last Kiss" — giving four stars to the song called "Funny Feeling", on the flip side, written by Joe Carpenter and Milt "Pete" Skelton. The reviewer said, "Blues, chanted in relaxed style, with a funky guitar backing. Derivative but a good job." "Funny Feeling" didn't make an impression on disc jockeys, either.
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers version
|Single by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers|
|from the album Last Kiss|
|B-side||"That's How Much I Love You"|
|Studio||Accurate Sound Co. (San Angelo, Texas)|
"Last Kiss" came to the attention of record promoter Sonley Roush, a Texas promoter eking out a living, looking for the next big thing. Roush brought the song to a group that he booked around West Texas, the Cavaliers of San Angelo, with the proviso that singer J. Frank Wilson was still with the band. Wilson joined the Cavaliers after his discharge from Goodfellow Air Force Base (San Angelo, Texas) in 1962, but had left for a while, unsure of the future. Credit should be given also to Sid Holmes of San Angelo for founding the original Cavaliers band in c.1956. He later discovered J. Frank Wilson in the early 1960s and invited him to join the band and did sign him. Holmes, a fine rockabilly guitarist, also taught future Cavalier Lewis Elliott to play bass guitar, and also brought Jim Wynne into the band to play piano.
Sonley Roush would subsequently split the group to place lead singer Wilson with another musician or two. By this time Holmes had already left the group. Be that as it may, J. Frank Wilson (vocalist), Gene Croyle (guitar), Roland Atkinson (drums), Lewis Elliott (bass), and Jim Wynne (piano), along with Sonley Roush (manager/promoter) and Ron Newdoll (studio owner and engineer) were all present at Accurate Sound Recording studio in San Angelo around 1:00 pm in early August, 1964, when they made the record that would bring them lasting fame. The band worked all afternoon on the song, recording it over and over, with few pauses, for three straight hours, until Roush was satisfied with take number 64. The record was first released locally, on Le Cam Records (#722), then on Tamara Records (#761), becoming a local hit. Eventually released on Josie Records (#923), a subsidiary of semi-major label Jubilee Records, the record became a national hit in the fall of 1964.
Released on September 5, 1964, Josie 923 spent 15 weeks on the charts, reaching number 2 on November 7, held out of the top spot by "Baby Love", the second number 1 hit for The Supremes, which spent four weeks in the top spot. "Last Kiss" would spend eight weeks in the top ten; the record selling over one million copies, and propelling the resulting album onto the album charts. The Le Cam #722-A disc running time is noted as 2m 14s, while both the Tamara Records #761 release and the Josie Records #923 platter have a time of 2m 25s, an 11-second difference.
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers had their first and only commercial success with "Last Kiss". Their cover version reached the top 10 in October, staying for eight weeks. It eventually reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and also earned the band a gold record. Roush took a reconstituted version of the band, J. Frank Wilson, Gene Croyle, Bobby Wood, Jerome Graham, and Phil Trunzo, on a brutal promotional tour, in support of the record.
On a concert trip to Ohio, the band had just left Parkersburg, West Virginia, heading to Lima, Ohio, for a performance at the Candy Cane Club. At about 5:15 a.m., Roush apparently fell asleep at the wheel. The car drifted across the centerline and rammed head-on into a trailer truck. Roush was killed instantly, but Wilson, sitting in the front seat, and Bobby Wood (vocalist / piano) from Memphis, sitting in the back, both suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs and a broken ankle. Wilson went on with the tour, though, taking only a week off. People still remember him coming out on the stage on crutches to sing "Last Kiss" and "Hey, Little One". The accident had a curious effect on record sales, nevertheless, pushing the song to number 2 (it had previously stalled at number 3) on the national charts.
The Last Kiss album cover shows Wilson kneeling over the young woman portraying the dying girl. Supposedly, first printings of the cover showed blood trickling down the girl's face, but it was air-brushed out by the record company for fear that alienating parents would limit sales of the album.
Wilson, with or without the Cavaliers, continued to record until 1978. He died on October 4, 1991, due to alcoholism caused by business stresses and pain caused from his injuries in the car wreck. He was 49 years old.
|Single by Wednesday|
|from the album Last Kiss|
|Producer(s)||John Dee Driscoll|
|Wednesday singles chronology|
In 1973, "Last Kiss" was covered by the Canadian group Wednesday. Their version reached number two in Canada and number 34 in the United States. It is ranked as the 27th biggest Canadian hit of 1973. Their version climbed up the charts very slowly, and spent three weeks longer on the American charts than the Cavaliers' much bigger hit.
As a result of the popularity of Wednesday's rendition, the Cavaliers' version was re-released (Virgo 506) at the end of 1973. It reached number 92 in January 1974, spending a total of five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. The original hit version re-charted five weeks after the version by Wednesday entered the charts.
Pearl Jam version
|Single by Pearl Jam|
|from the album No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees|
|B-side||"Soldier of Love"|
|Released||June 8, 1999|
|Recorded||September 19, 1998|
|Studio||Constitution Hall (Washington, D.C.)|
|Pearl Jam singles chronology|
"Last Kiss" was also covered by the American rock band Pearl Jam for the 1999 charity album No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees. It would later appear on the group's 2003 rarities album Lost Dogs. This version was successful, especially in Australia, where it topped the ARIA Singles Chart for seven weeks. It also reached number one in Iceland for six weeks and peaked at number two in the United States and Canada, making it the band's highest-charting single in either country.
Origin and recording
The idea to cover "Last Kiss" came about after vocalist Eddie Vedder found an old record of the song at the Fremont Antique Mall in Seattle, Washington. He convinced the rest of the band to try out the song and it was performed a few times on the band's 1998 tour. The band eventually recorded the song at a soundcheck at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland in September of that year and released it as a 1998 fan club Christmas single. The band spent only a couple of thousand dollars mixing the song. Bassist Jeff Ament said, "It was the most minimalist recording we've ever done."
Release and reception
In the following year the cover of "Last Kiss" began to be played by radio stations and was ultimately put into heavy rotation across the US. By popular demand the cover was released to the public as a single on June 8, 1999, with the proceeds going to the aid of refugees of the Kosovo War. The cover was featured on the 1999 charity compilation album, No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees. The song helped earn about $10 million for Kosovo relief.
The cover would end up reaching number two on the US Billboard Hot 100, behind "If You Had My Love" by Jennifer Lopez. This remains Pearl Jam's highest-peaking song on the Billboard Hot 100. It peaked at number four on the Top 40 Mainstream chart. The song reached number five on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The "Last Kiss" single has been certified gold by the RIAA.
Outside the United States, the song reached number two on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart and became the band's highest-charting song in Canada. It later charted on the RPM Rock Report, where it reached number four and stayed there for two weeks. In Europe "Last Kiss" reached number 42 in the United Kingdom and number 77 in the Netherlands. In Australasia, "Last Kiss" peaked atop the Australian ARIA Singles Chart for seven weeks and became a top-twenty success in New Zealand. It also reached number one in Iceland, staying at the summit for six weeks.
Christopher John Farley of Time said, "It's a spare, morose song with Vedder's voice warbling lovelorn over a straight-ahead drum beat. Going back to basics has put Pearl Jam back on top." Regarding the cover, guitarist Stone Gossard said, "You can try album after album to write a hit and spend months getting drum sounds and rewriting lyrics, or you can go to a used record store and pick out a single and fall in love with it." Pearl Jam included "Last Kiss" on the 2003 B-sides and rarities album, Lost Dogs, and on the 2004 greatest hits album, rearviewmirror (Greatest Hits 1991–2003).
Pearl Jam first performed its cover of "Last Kiss" live at the band's May 7, 1998, concert in Seattle, Washington, at ARO.space. Live performances by Pearl Jam of "Last Kiss" can be found on various official bootlegs and the Live at the Gorge 05/06 box set.
- "Last Kiss" (Wayne Cochran) – 3:15
- "Soldier of Love" (Buzz Cason, Tony Moon) – 2:54
- *Recorded live on September 19, 1998 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
Charts and certifications
|United States||June 8, 1999||Contemporary hit radio||Epic|||
|United Kingdom||August 2, 1999||
Other cover versions
The song has a long tradition in Latin American popular music. The most popular version was recorded in 1965 by Mexican singer Polo, (ex-member of Los Apson) with the title of "El Último Beso" in Spanish translated by the Mexican TV Director and tennis teacher Omero Gonzalez, this Spanish version has been covered by several bands: Los American's, Los Johnny Jets, Los 007, Los Doltons, also singers as Argentine Leo Dan, and the Colombian singers Alci Acosta (his recording became a hit in Colombia) and Harold Orozco in 1967 as well as José "Joseíto" Martínez in 1990, song with which he won a Congo de Oro in the Barranquilla Carnival. Mexican singer-songwriter Gloria Trevi released her version of the song in 1989, peaking at number 36 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart.
During the late 1970s, "Last Kiss" was covered by the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society and was also sometimes performed as the encore to their show.
Meadow Ryann covered this on her debut cover album, Wings.
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