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What Are “Teenage Tragedy Songs”?

The Rock and Roll genre had significantly branched out in this era compared to when it first started. Today, there are various subgenres of rock that appeal to different demographics. There’s glam, punk, alternative, indie, funk, and even rap-rock. But did you know there was once a subgenre called Teenage Tragedy?

In the late fifties to early sixties, a subgenre of rock called the “Teenage Tragedy,” emerged. Its common theme is about the death of a loved one. Some good examples of the genre are “Leader of the Pack” and “Teen Angel.”

What are Teenage Tragedy Songs?

Teenage Tragedy is a genre that became popular in the late fifties to the early sixties. Songs in this genre were often about a dead or dying teenager, often written in a romantic tone. It is usually written from the point of view of the dead teen’s partner, but sometimes it is written as if the dead or dying individual is singing themselves. (Source: TV Tropes)

The genre is also referred to as Splatter Platter, Teenage Death Songs, Tear Jerkers, and Death Discs. Besides the death of a loved one in the point of view of a teenager, different themes were also used, like romances that went wrong, disapproving parents, or even enjoying the open road only to end in a tragic accident.

The song Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots by the Cheers is recognized as starting the genre. It’s about Mary Lou, who begs her boyfriend not to go out and ride his motorcycle one night. He did anyway and met his tragic end. What’s left of Mary Lou’s lover is just his black denim trousers and his motorcycle boots. Its release was like a doomy prediction of a tragedy. The song was released just a week before the famous actor James Dean died in a car crash. (Source: Colorado Sound)

Popular Teenage Tragedy Songs

Despite its relatively short life in the industry, the genre produced several classic songs, and some have been remade over the years. Here are a few of them.

Last Kiss

Initially released by Wayne Cochran, this song tells a story about a couple out on a date and crashing their car. The male driver awakens from the accident and comforts his girl, giving her one last kiss before she dies. The song became famous when it was revived by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers and was redone by Pearl Jam in 1999 as well.

Teen Angel

Performed by Mark Dinning, this song tells the story of a girl whose car stalls in the middle of the train track. Her boyfriend rescues her, but she decides to run back to the car to get her high school class ring and ultimately meets her death.

Leader of the Pack

This song performed by the Shangri-Las, an all-female group from Queens, New York, tells the tale of Betty, who is dating the leader of a motorcycle gang named Jimmy. When the couple breaks up, Jimmy crashes and dies while riding his motorcycle on a rainy road.

Dead Man’s Curve

Performed by Jan and Dean, the song’s point of view comes from a person driving his Corvette and comes upon a Jaguar. The Corvette driver challenges the Jaguar driver for a race. The song features the narrator talking about the race to the doctor taking care of him.

(Source: List Caboodle)

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