The teen tragedy song genre was exactly what it sounds like: pop/rock music that focused on the bittersweet relationship between two young lovers. One of them winds up dead. There were multiple variations of the theme, which was a hit during the 1950s and ‘60s, and contemporary groups have parodied or performed their own versions since then. Today marks the anniversary of one of the most popular teen tragedy tracks, “Leader of the Pack” by The Shangri-Las.
We’re celebrating the dead sweethearts of yore with a look at some of the more ridiculous takes on the genre (although they were all pretty over-the-top). Brace yourself for overwrought lyrics and messages from the grave. Add your favorites to our list, below.
Lucille Ball and Mel Torme, “The Surfboard Came Back By Itself”
Before old fogies wrote think pieces about how terrible kids are these days, they got their jabs in like this. Lucille Ball (and her flaming hair fall) took to the stage of the Lucy Show in 1965 to perform a parody of the teen tragedy genre with Mel “the Velvet Fog” Torme.
Ray Peterson, “Tell Laura I Love Her”
Tommy wants to buy his sweetheart a ring, he enters a drag-car race instead of getting a job like the rest of us. In a morbid move to end all morbid moves, Tommy calls Laura to say his last goodbyes before he even leaves for the race.
Jimmy Cross “I Want My Baby Back”
After a car accident with the “leader of the pack,” a grieving teen resorts to necrophilia since he can’t live without his woman. We think it’s a parody. . . .
Wayne Cochran, “Last Kiss”
“Last Kiss” has a real-life spooky element to go along with its depressing lyrics. Texas record promoter Sonley Roush helped make J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ version of the 1961 Wayne Cochran song a big hit. While on the road for a concert, Roush fell asleep at the wheel with J. Frank Wilson and others in the car. Roush was killed instantly when he collided head-on with a tractor-trailer.
Bill Anderson, “Candy Apple Red”
A young woman’s dad is the town sheriff. He doesn’t approve of her lead-footed boyfriend, so he sets up a trap on the road to catch him and winds up killing his daughter, too. Oops.
Dickey Lee, “Patches”
A boy’s dad says he can’t marry the unfortunately named Patches, a girl who lives in a nearby shack. A devastated Patches kills herself in the river. When one of the neighbors finds her, Laura Palmer-style, the boy is so distraught he promises to join her later that night. Imagine this tale of suicide at the sock hop.
Dickey Lee, “Laurie (Strange Things Happen)”
Dickey Lee is at it again with a song about dating dead girls. This gem was inspired by a Memphis news report in 1964 that inspired the urban legend about the vanishing hitchhiker. Psychologist turned songwriting creep Milton Addington spotted the article and wrote the track for Lee and his band.
Johnny Cymbal, “The Water Was Red”
What happens when a shark eats your girlfriend? You somehow kill the deadly beast with a puny knife — and then write a song about it.
Roy Orbison, “Leah”
When bae goes diving for pearls to make you a necklace, gets stuck, and drowns. No wonder David Lynch loves Roy Orbison.
Cathy Carroll, “Jimmy Love”
Cathy Carroll fools us by starting “Jimmy Love” as a song about meeting her honey at the altar for their wedding. Then, we realize she’s meeting him at the church for his funeral. In a random turn of events, it turns out Jimmy was hit by a falling tree and died the night before.