When Tragedy Became Popular

In the 50s and the 60s tragedy was popular and there were many songs written about the trials and tribulations of teenagers. Death played a major roll and the songs were sung with feeling and passion making their listeners’ sigh and cry. Many of the songs have heart wrenching words and lovely melodies. However I always found it odd to slow dance to a song telling the story of someone dying tragically. Let’s take a look at what all the crying was about.

1959 Mark Dinning recorded “Teen Angel” and I still remember that just listening to the story told in this song could make you sob with compassion. The song can still be heard today. It was the story of two love-struck teenagers whose car stalls on railroad tracks. They both get out but before the boy can stop her the girl runs back to the car to find his high school ring. Well she becomes a teen angel and he becomes a broken-hearted boy.


Other songs of tragedies were written about true events. Wayne Cochran recorded “Last Kiss” in 1962 and became even more popular when recorded again in 1964 by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. All about Jeanette Clark a 16 year old girl who went out on a date in Barnesville, Georgia. It was on a Saturday just before Christmas. Along with a group of friends in a ’54 Chevy they were heading down Highway 341 when they collided with a trailer truck. The driver and Jeanette were killed and two other teens were seriously injured. Most of them were students at Gordon Military College. This most horrible accident became the subject of a song.


Along comes the tragedy of suicide in a song by Dicky Lee “Patches”. All about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks and the guy whose parents object to him seeing her. The guy decides he wants to marry her but since his parents are dead set against it he breaks up with her and as a result she commits suicide. At the end of the song the guy is thinking about joining his love in heaven above.

Another tragic song had to do with car racing. In 1960 Ray Peterson recorded “Tell Laura I Love Her”. This one was all about a young man who wants to marry his girl but he doesn’t have enough money. So he sees an ad and enters a stock car race in order to win the prize money. He leaves his girl a letter and off he goes. There is a tragic accident and our hero goes up to heaven. His final words were to tell his girl Laura not to cry.


Even songs about young Indian braves and maidens were written. In “Running Bear” Johnny Preston wrote about the tragedy of different Indian tribes who were at war and how their tribes wouldn’t let a maiden from one warring tribe be with a brave from another tribe. Loving each other very much the brave Running Bear and the maiden Little White Dove jumped into a raging river and together went up to the happy hunting ground in the sky.

Here I want to add one more song that I particularly like and that is “Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers. It tells the story of a young man waiting for the love of his life to fly to his side. Unfortunately the plane crashes and he loses his love forever.


Other tragic songs of this era included “Leader of the Pack 1964”, “Moody River” 1961, “Dead Man’s Curve” 1964, “Ode to Billy Joe” 1967 and “Endless Sleep” from 1958.


So dry your eyes and one more song “Endless Sleep” about the sea taking the life of one’s love.


It is amazing that we survived our teen years not overly influenced by these songs. I am sure that there were some emotional teenagers that these songs really spoke too. I wonder what it is that makes tragedy so popular. These days I prefer sad love songs.


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Comments 7 comments

Jean Bakula profile image

Jean Bakula 15 months ago from New Jersey

I have a funny story about Running Bear. For some reason, my late husband and his sister found the ending to be a good one, so always sang the song. As they got older, every time they had a few drinks at a party, they would sing a duet. It's a great memory I have of them together.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 15 months ago from Central Florida

I don't remember most of these songs. I was very young in the early '60s. My first musical memories of that era are of The Beatles.

Such tragic songs! I wonder if these songs came about as the result of so many stars dying young in that era and the years prior: James Dean, Billie Holiday, Buddy Holly, etc.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 15 months ago from Riga, Latvia Author

Now that sounds like a very pleasant memory indeed Jean. Glad this brought it back.

It could be possible Shauna. I only know that it always sounded like woe oh woe every time I turned on the radio. Sure the songs do have great music but you know I don't like hearing them all that much now. Now is the time for upbeat songs.


Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 15 months ago from Minnesota

The sad song that comes to mind for me, is 'Billy don't be a hero'. In grade school, the girls would all sing and cry to this song on the bus ride to school.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 15 months ago from london

What can I say, Gypsy? We do love sad and tragic songs. Do they help us? Don't know, really. Not to dissimilar from reading the newspapers, perhaps. Some good stuff for sure, but some painful stuff also. Yet some of us still read them.

What you say is real and meaningful. I hope that you are not sad. (smile) The videos are touching.


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 15 months ago from Victoria, Australia

I guess that sad songs help us to express our own sad feelings. I'm afraid that in the 60s we were too busy with work and children and I don't really know any of those songs, but I've enjoyed your article about them.


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 15 months ago from Riga, Latvia Author

I remember that song Linda. Yes, tragedy sure was popular.

No Manatita I am not sad. I don't listen to these songs much anymore if I want sadness there are plenty of sad love songs.

Thank you Blossom. Oh, I remember hearing these songs so much on the radio that it almost felt like rain every day.

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