I have become fascinated lately with the teenage tragedy song. This is a form of song that was in high fashion in the early 60’s. Some irreversible ill fortune struck the narrator or someone close to the narrator, often to a joyful bubblegum melody. A prime example is the Shangri-La’s Leader of the Pack where Mary Weiss’s boyfriend dies in a motorcycle crash. Other songs include Jan and Dean’ s Dead Man’s Curve and Teen Angel by Mark Dinning.
I really love the motorcycle crash of Twinkle’s Terry. Many people think of Twinkle, if they think of her at all, as a sleight talent with an average voice. However, it is precisely her lack of emotion that makes this song, and others, so great. The only time she seems to rise above boredom is when she is describing the actual crash itself, and then she sound slightly excited by it. Because of this the tragedy of the song turns into a human comedy of error.
These songs are mini movies or plays that miraculously take place in two or three minutes. There is also again a great deal of camp, comedy, and tragedy delivered in these songs. Are you supposed to feel sad or elated when listening to them? Quite often the music is very happy and if not the melody is usually beautiful. None of these songs sound like the horror they are describing. They are like films that combine different genres.
It is these contrasting emotions that make these songs so powerful to me. I find myself laughing at situations in which I normally wouldn’t. When you laugh at something you shouldn’t you are less afraid even if you aren’t thinking through that process while you are actually listening.
Edgar Allen Poe once said that, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world.” The lyrics of these songs would never quality as high poetry, and quite often it is the boys that take the plunge in these songs, but there is something wonderful about young lovers facing tragedy over a candy coated melody, made old before their time. They are often stoic, with a stiff upper lip, singing sweetly into the whirlwind.