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Top 10 Teenage Tragedy Songs

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A teenage tragedy song is a style of ballad popular between the late 1950s
and 60s.  The lyrics of the songs tell the story of teenage death, either sung
from the viewpoint of the dead person's sweetheart, or sometimes from the
viewpoint of the dead (or dying) person.  Many of the famous teenage
tragedy songs deal with a deadly car crash.  In modern times they tackle the
issue of teenage suicide.  The genre is known for producing sad love ballads
that generate great visual imagery for the listener.  Here is a list of some
great teenage tragedy songs. 

10. Blink 182 - Adam's Song


Adam's Song is a song by American punk band Blink 182.  It was released
on their third album Enema of the State, the album largely credited for the
band's success.  The song's lyrics deal with depression and suicide, a
noticeable departure from most Blink 182 lyrics.  Blink 182 was forced to
release a statement indicating to the public that the lyrics were in no way a
reference to a real person, and any similarits between the characters,
places, and events is purely coincidental. 

Adam’s Song caused a stir in 2000 when it was reported that the song was
set on replay indefinitely on the stereo of 17-year-old Greg Barnes, a
survivor of the Columbine High School massacre, who hanged himself in the
garage of his family's home.  The song was one of five Blink 182 releases
that peaked at #2 on the US Modern Rock chart.    

9. Mark Dinning - Teen Angel (1959)

Teen Angel is a teenage tragedy song written by Jean Dinning and her
husband Red Surrey.  It was recorded by Jean's brother, Mark Dinning in
1959.  The song was a one-hit wonder for Dinning and reached #1 on the
U.S. Billboard singles chart in February of 1960.  It peaked at #37 in the UK,
even though it was banned from being played by the BBC.  Teen Angel was
one of the first songs to deal with teenage death.  The lyrics attracted
controversy and the song was banned by many radio stations.

The lyrics are about a girl who is out on a ride with her boyfriend.  Their car
gets stalled on a railroad track when he pulls her to safety.  However, she
runs back to the car to get something and gets hit by the train.  When they
find her body, the narrator's high school class ring is in her hand, apparently
the reason that she ran back.  Teen Angel was featured in the 1973 film
American Graffiti.      

8. Stan - Eminem featuring Dido (1999)

Stan was the third single released from Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.
The song features English singer Dido and samples her hit single Thank
You.  Stan was a major success and reached #1 in the United Kingdom and
Australia.  It is considered one of the most original rap tracks ever written.

Stan tells the fictional story of a fan that is obsessed with Eminem and
continually writes him fan mail. The first three verses of the song are
delivered by Eminem as Stan, while the fourth verse is Eminem attempting
to write to Stan, only to realize that he has already heard about Stan's death
on the news.  The video for the song stars Canadian actor Devon Sawa and
is considered one of the greatest and most controversial videos ever
created. 

7. Jan & Dean - Dead Man’s Curve (1964)

Dead Man’s Curve is a 1964 hit song by Jan and Dean.  The lyrics of the
song tell the story of a teen drag race gone awry.  According to the song,
the race starts at Sunset and Vine and is between a Corvette Sting Ray and
a Jaguar XKE.  The cars are traveling west on W. Sunset Blvd, passing the
streets, N. La Brea Ave, N. Crescent Heights Blvd. and N. Doheny Dr.
Deadman's curve could be after N. Whittier Drive or the next curve after
Delfem Drive, or even at the intersection of Sunset and Doheny.

Co-songwriter Roger Christian wanted the song to end with the racers
finishing in a tie, but Jan Berry insisted it end in a fiery crash.  Dead Man’s
Curve is highly regarded as one of the most popular teenage tragedy songs
of all time.  It peaked at #8 on the U.S. singles chart. 

6. Terry Jacks - Seasons in the Sun (1974)

Seasons in the Sun is an English-language adaptation of the song Le
Moribond by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel.  It became a worldwide
hit for Terry Jacks in 1974.  The song is a dying child's farewell to relatives
and friends.  It was an international hit and topped the charts in the United
States, Canada and the UK.  The song has sold over six million copies
worldwide.  Seasons in the Sun is one of the most touching songs ever
written.   

Nirvana Cover: Seasons in the Sun

5. The Verve Pipe - The Freshmen (1997)

The Freshmen is an alternative rock song by The Verve Pipe.  It was
released on the bands 1996 album Villains.  Brian Vander Ark wrote the
song in 1991 about the guilt he felt from his ex-girlfriend having an abortion.
The songs lyric, "stoppin' baby's breath and a shoe full of rice" refers to the
marriage that would not happen between the two despite the pregnancy.
The song was written after watching the film The Freshman starring Marlon
Brando and Matthew Broderick.

In an interview, Vander Ark was quoted as saying, "At some point in our
lives, we're all freshmen.  We think we know everything, but we don't know
much".  The teenage girl in the song is based on Vander Ark's girlfriend at
the time, who really had an abortion.  However, she didn't actually commit
suicide like in the song, which Vander Ark said was poetic license. 
The
lyrics of this song are quite revealing, “For the life of me I cannot remember
what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise.  For the
life of me I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins, we were merely
freshmen.”

4. Leader of the Pack - The Shangri-Las (1964)

Leader of the Pack is a pop song recorded by girl group The Shangri-Las.  It
reached the top of the U.S. singles chart on November 28, 1964.  The record
was controversial in the 1960s.  In the United Kingdom, the song was
refused airplay by the BBC, probably due to its death theme, although some
have speculated that it may have been an attempt to prevent violence
between the mods and rockers.  Leader of the Pack charted four times in
the UK between 1965 and 1976, peaking at #3 in 1972.  The record also
reached #1 in Australia.

Leader of the Pack’s tells the story of a girl named Betty, who is asked by
friends to confirm that she is dating Jimmy, the leader of a motorcycle
gang.  After singing of love at first sight, Betty's heart turns to despair as her
parents disapprove of Jimmy.  They claim he hails from "the wrong side of
town" and will be a bad influence on her.  They ask Betty to tell Jimmy
goodbye.  Betty does as she is asked and breaks it off with Jimmy.  As he
speeds of on his motorcycle, Jimmy crashes on a rain-slickened surface
and dies.  The song was featured on the soundtrack of the Martin Scorsese
film Goodfellas.

3. Pearl Jam – Jeremy (1992)

Jeremy is a song by the American rock band Pearl Jam.  The lyrics were
written by vocalist Eddie Vedder and music by bassist Jeff Ament.  Jeremy
was released in 1992 as the third single from Pearl Jam's debut album, Ten.
The song reached the number five spot on both the Mainstream Rock and
Modern Rock Billboard charts in the U.S.  The record gained notoriety by
way of its music video, which was put into heavy rotation by MTV.  In 1993,
it won MTV Video of the Year.  Pearl Jam did not like the notoriety, so they
stopped making music videos.

The lyrics of the song are based on two different true stories, with the
majority of the inspiration coming from a newspaper article about a 15-year-
old boy named Jeremy Wade Delle, born February 10, 1975, from
Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his English class at
Richardson High School on the morning of January 8, 1991. In a 2009
interview, Vedder said that he felt "the need to take that small article and
make something of it; to give that action, to give it reaction, to give it more
importance.”  When Eddie Vedder was in elementary school a boy he had
previously had altercations with brought a gun to school and fired shots in a
classroom, but nobody was injured.   

2. Ray Peterson - Tell Laura I Love Her (1960)

Tell Laura I Love Her is a teenage tragedy song written by Jeff Barry and
Ben Raleigh.  It was an American hit for singer Ray Peterson in 1960,
reaching #7 on the U.S. singles chart.  Later that same year, the song was
recorded and released by Ricky Valance in the United Kingdom, where it
went to the #1 spot.  Tell Laura I Love Her has been a major hit in fourteen
countries and has sold over seven million copies worldwide.

The lyrics of the song tell the tragic story of a teenage boy named Tommy
who is desperately in love with a girl named Laura.  They are only teenagers,
but he wants to marry her, so he enters a racing car championship, planning
to use the prize money to buy Laura a wedding ring.  During the race the car
gets overturned after being t-boned at a roundabout and burst into flames.
Tommy is killed with his last words being "Tell Laura I love her...my love for
her will never die". 

Ricky Valance Version

1. J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers - Last Kiss (1964)

Last Kiss is a song that was written by Wayne Cochran in 1962 and originally
performed by Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders, although their version of
the song had little success.  Last Kiss was later covered by J. Frank Wilson
and the Cavaliers in 1964.  J. Frank Wilson’s cover was a commercial
success and reached the Top 10 on the U.S. singles chart.  Wayne Cochran
was initially inspired to write Last Kiss after having lived near a dangerous
highway as a child.  The lyrics are based on a real accident in which several
teens were killed and two seriously injured when their car struck a flatbed
logging truck.

Sixteen-year-old Jeanette Clark was out on a date in Barnesville, Georgia on
December 22, 1962, the Saturday before Christmas.  She was with a group
of friends in a 1954 Chevrolet.  J. L. Hancock, also sixteen, was driving the
car in heavy traffic and while traveling on Highway 341, collided with a trailer
truck.  Clark, Hancock, and another teenager were killed, and two other teens
in the car were seriously injured.  Cochran dedicated the song to Clark.  Last
Date is widely regarded as one of the most successful teenage tragedy
songs ever written.  In 1999, rock band Pearl Jam covered Last Kiss.  Their
version was an international hit and reached the Top 50 all over the world.
Pearl Jam’s cover peaked at #2 in the U.S. and reached the Top 10 in
Canada.  It remains the bands most commercially successful single.  
    

Honorable Mentions

Roy Orbison - Leah (1962)

Roy Orbison was an American singer-songwriter and musician, well known
for his distinctive, powerful voice, complex compositions, and dark emotional
ballads.  In 1962 he released the single Leah, which tells the story of teenage
tragedy.  Leah was a hit and reached the #1 spot on the Australian singles
chart.  The song peaked at #19 in Canada and #25 in the U.S. 

Bobby Goldsboro - Honey (1968)

Honey is a song written by Bobby Russell.  It was recorded by Bobby
Goldsboro in 1968 and released on his 10th album titled Honey.  The song's
protagonist mourns his deceased lover, reflecting on their relationship before
turning to the day "the angels came."  The song spent five weeks atop the
U.S. singles chart and peaked at #2 in the UK.  Honey was also very popular
in Australia.  It was Bobby Goldsboro’s most successful release and the
sixth most successful singe of 1968.  The song was originally recorded by
Bob Shane of the Kingston Trio.  It has been bashed by many media
members and was labeled The Worst Song of All Time by the Cincinnati
Enquirer.

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Stephanie Seglin - April 20, 2010
Running Bear Ray Peterson? and Patches (Dickey Lee)are also good teen tragedy
songs.

Copyright The List Blog - Top 10, All Rights Reserved, Posted February 12, 2010