I’ve been working on some short story ideas involving the invincibility of youth, or rather, the self-perceived invincibility of youth often held by those under twenty. While most need look no farther than their own past teenage dalliances with (what could have been certain) death, I’ve been preoccupied with the motif within popular culture—explicitly in film and, of course, music. Curiously, the greatest bulk of these teenage “death songs” came about in the 1950s and 60s. A good number of these tracks have been collected in various themed compilations. The two best, and most comprehensive, being ACE Records Dead! The Grim Reaper’s Greatest Hits and its follow up, entitled–wait for it–Still Dead! Both encompass all manner of tragedy expanding on the Shangri-La’s epic “Leader of the Pack.”

Taken in as a whole these collections are not dissimilar to the experience of sitting through a compilation of old murder ballads…only as eerily filtered though teenage anxiety. Below are some well known examples. Drop your favorites in  the comments. Oh, and I’ll let you guess whose car the above mangled wreckage belonged to.

MP3: Jody Reynolds & The Storms :: Endless Sleep
MP3: J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers :: Last Kiss
MP3: Twinkle :: Terry
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12 Responses to “Teenage Death Songs”

  1. Once You Understand, by Think is one of my favorites of the genre. I was probably 10 when it was first on the radio and I thought it was deep. Now, it’s so bad it’s good.

    I was glad it showed up on Dead! The Grim Reaper’s Greatest Hits.

  2. J Gage, do you know the live video of “Leader of the Pack” wherein the host of the show drives a motorcycle onto the stage to rev the engine for the hook? I’ll dig it up if you haven’t.

  3. No, but I want to

  4. Super obvious choice here (since it’s on the first compilation you mention), but ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ by Jan & Dean always struck me as really eerie and prescient since Jan Barry was in a terrible car wreck pretty close to the stretch of road the song references.

  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGQt6GY8nKA

    There ya go

  6. Wasnt the first song in a Tarintino movie? Terry, ah now i see where Johnny Thunders riped that lick.

  7. So whose car wreck is the above? Is it James Dean’s?

  8. Dean.

  9. One of the most upbeat songs about teen death. Beach boys – don’t worry baby. It took me years to even really listen to the lyrics. A guy who knows he’s going to die in a drag race but tells his girl “don’t worry baby” it’ll be alright

  10. @Francisco – yes, me too. that tune, the atmosphere, would just wash over me. didnt *listen* to the lyrics for years.

  11. that is absolutely be james dean’s car. crazy pic.

  12. jayne mansfield’s wreck is complete with scattered bodies, one pic even shows her dead chiuaua in the back seat.

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