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More music madness: Teen death songs will never die

While we're on the topic of wacky lyrics, let's talk about death. Specifically, the spate of teen death songs that had a real heyday in the 1950s. I wasn't around then, but I remember in the 1980s I bought a great Rhino Records compilation of them -- yes, on vinyl. It was called "Teen Tragedy" and the best part about it was that it had a built-in Kleenex box right in the record jacket, so if "Patches" or "Tell Laura I Love Her" made you start bawling on the spot, hey, at least facial tissue was easily at hand.

The standard teen tragedy song detailed how half of a love match met his or her end. Railroad tracks were often involved. Speeding cars and motorcycles were big elements. "Tell Laura I Love Her" is a classic example. (Best line: "No one knows what happened that day / Or how his car overturned in flames..." Well, does it really matter HOW?) "Teen Angel" wins for the stupidest and most avoidable death -- if your car stalls on a railroad track, and you get out safe but run back for your boyfriend's class ring, well, any sympathy you're going to get is limited.

Sometimes the song had a supernatural element. Dickey Lee's "Laurie" tells of meeting a girl at a dance and later finding out she was dead the whole time -- the sweater he loaned her turns up neatly folded on her grave. (Very similar to the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend.)

Not all creepy death songs involved teens. One song that was frequently mentioned in your comments was Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey," where a man reminisces about his dead wife. Not really a teen death song, but a death song nonetheless. The song has been named to numerous "worst song" lists, and once you look at the lyrics, you can see why. In an earlier post, Deb E. says "My vote for worst lyric ever goes to this "gem" from the sappiest song ever written: 'She wrecked the car and she was sad / So afraid that I'd be mad /  But what the heck.' " Others cite the opening lines, "See the tree, how big it's grown, but friend, it hasn't been too long it wasn't big." We get what you're going for, there, but there's no way to say that in a more elegant way?

Maybe the most famous death song of all time is Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun."  (Best/worst line: "But the stars we could reach, were just starfish on the beach.") According to the song's Wikipedia entry, the song was done numerous times by other artists, including the Kingston Trio and the Beach Boys. Apparently Jacks' version meant to leave the cause of death -- be it suicide or natural causes -- vague. In the original version, by Jacque Brel, the singer is not only dying, his wife cheated on him. What a bummer.

Here's a great site about Teen Tragedy songs. Check out their lengthy list! Who knew there were this many? My Rhino compilation only had about eight or 10. Some of these are parodies ("All I Have Left is My Johnny's Hubcap") and some should be ("The Water is Red," about a shark attack).

This site sorts them by theme ("motorcycles," "trains," "flying things") and has a great sense of humor about it. It also goes beyond the old days and pulls in songs from more recent eras, including songs from Nirvana (does "All Apologies" really qualify?) and The Replacements. Seems that teenagers dying is a topic that never grows old.

And this site doesn't have the quantity of songs listed as the others, but it makes up for it by offering links that go into detail about the songs that are listed.

It's easy to make fun of these songs, but I have to say, some really hit bone. The hairs on the back of my neck always stand up when I hear Jan & Dean's chilling "Dead Man's Curve." According to urban-legend site Snopes.com, while that song did turn out to be pretty prophetic, Jan's near-fatal car accident was NOT on the very same corner the song was written about, but it wasn't really that far away. Won't come back from Dead Man's Curve...

And don't forget perhaps the looniest of the death songs...and what has to be one of the only songs out there about cannibalism. You know it: "Timothy." about three guys trapped in a mine who end up munching down on poor Tim. It was written by Rupert Holmes of "Pina Colada Song" fame.  Songfacts has a funny bit where he details how his record label became upset when they realized the content, and tried to spread a rumor that Timothy was a mule. The site quotes Holmes as saying "Someone called me and said, 'Was Timothy a mule? You wrote it.' And I said 'No, what can I tell you, they ATE him.' "

Share your favorite (and least favorite) teen tragedy and other death songs in the comments. Have joy, have fun, have seasons in the sun.