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Alternative Love Songs From The Teenage Tragedy Vault


It's Valentine's Day, which of course you know. You can't turn around without running into hearts, red roses and sappy cards. So for those of you who cannot take one more love song, this is for you.


MARK DINNING: (Singing) That fateful night, the car was stalled upon the railroad track. I pulled you out, and we were safe, but you went running back.

MARTIN: The teenager tragedy songs of the late '50s and '60s seem like the perfect antidote if you have OD'd on Valentine's Day.

Actually, it's a real musical subgenre, believe it or not, according to author and critic Colin Fleming.

Hi, Colin. Happy Valentine's Day.

COLIN FLEMING: Oh, same to you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So that song we started out with - what was happening there?

FLEMING: Yes. That grisly manner of chanson was Mark Dinning's 1959 "Teen Angel." And it was sort of the jumping off point for the teen tragedy movement, if you will.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

FLEMING: The whole movement went by the charming sobriquet the death disc or - I'm sorry about this - the splatter platter. That was actually...


FLEMING: It was a different time. And this was a big hit, came out end of '59 and, you know, in 1960, it was number one.

MARTIN: But the - it wasn't just this song. There were others, right? You say that this is a genre, so lay them out for me.

FLEMING: Oh, well, you've never been at a slumber party rocking out with some of your favorite Thanatos-friendly sounds? There were - "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson, "Endless Sleep" - you know where that's going...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

FLEMING: ...By Jody Reynolds.


JODY REYNOLDS: (Singing) Rain falling down. Look for my baby, she's nowhere around. Traced her footsteps down to the shore, afraid she's gone forevermore...

FLEMING: But sort of like the touchstone song was 1964's "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean. It's like, when you're a kid, things take on, like, a different hue. Like, the neighborhood bully becomes, like, some pirate in an Errol Flynn film. And I feel like this was the teenage version of that, some vehicular Grimm-sian (ph) fairy tale with found sounds and screeching brakes.


JAN AND DEAN: Well, the last thing I remember, Doc, I started to swerve. And then I saw the Jag slide into the curve. I know I'll never forget that horrible sight. I guess I found out for myself that everyone was right.

(Singing) Won't come back from Dead Man's Curve.

MARTIN: Why is this guy driving a Jag, by the way? I never noticed that before.

FLEMING: Oh, you know, well-heeled people, I guess.

MARTIN: Well-heeled (laughter) - well-heeled tragedies.


MARTIN: So - I mean, we hear that. There's like this story, but it's not, like, a great song, is it? I mean, even then, were these - I mean, I know they were popular, but did music critics think - now, that - that is a good piece of music?

FLEMING: Well, this predates the music critic era.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

FLEMING: So it was sort of a free-for-all. But the Shangri-Las, the same year, they put out "Leader Of The Pack."

FLEMING: And that's a legitimate piece of...

MARTIN: That's a great song.

FLEMING: Yeah. And it's very sophisticated in some ways. Like, at the beginning, there are these subtle bass drum accents that almost, like, lively up the minor key. And then, for all of the lonelies (ph) out there who might be doing everything you can to try and ignore the holiday, here's a soundtrack for how another side lives or, of course, doesn't.


THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) I'll never know. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Look out, look out, look out, look out.

MARTIN: Oh, man. That has Valentine's Day written all over it. Author and critic and teenage tragedy fan Colin Fleming - thanks so much, Colin.

FLEMING: All right. Thank you, Rachel.


THE SHANGRI-LAS: (Singing) Gone - the leader of the pack, and now he's gone. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone. The leader of the pack... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.