Teenage Tragedy Songs

The Shangri-Las epitomized the teenage tragedy song with “The Leader Of The Pack”
Teenage Tragedy Songs – The Music Of Pathos and Tragedy

Romances gone wrong. Parents on the disapproval. Escaping on the open road only to find your lover never to return.

Nothing is more keenly felt than your emotions, and nothing portrays it more keenly than in song. Hence, the importance of the teenage tragedy song, the focus of this week’s episode on Music 101. 

A little history: the term teenager came to the fore in 1941, owing to an article in Popular Science. Although the concept formed decades before, this is roughly when it entered the mainstream – in advertising, and in Rock And Roll. 

With this new voice given to teenagers, their emotions needed an outlet. And popular music in a newly burgeoning consumer culture became the channel, literally. 

The song that perhaps started the whole Teenage Tragedy movement (it’s also known as “Death Disks” or “Splatter Platters”) got released in 1955. It comes from The Cheers – “Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots”. It was released with ominously perfect timing – one week before James Dean died in a car crash. It’s a morbid tune set to catchy pop and takes on a common theme: the girlfriend foretells the end of the line for her lover. 

Over time, the genre became more melodramatic, like on “Tell Laura I Love Her”, featured here by Ray Petersen. It would make an excellent short story today. The narrator tries to win money for a wedding ring at a stock car race. It’s all fun and cool, until it’s not. “The Leader Of The Pack”, by the Shangri-Las, also has the requisites crashes and flames. In a Teenage Tragedy song, nary a soul comes out alive, or without a broken heart.  

It turns out, no matter the decade, it’s hard to be a teenager. In “7’11” from The Ramones, released in 1981, the narrator loses his girl after an almost perfect day – playing Space Invaders and listening to Blitzkrieg Pop. An oncoming car ends this tale, too: “It crushed my baby, and it crushed my soul”.

It’s a common refrain. And it’s the sound of young love pouring over.

Hear all those songs and more on the playlist below.

All the songs heard on Music 101 this week:

“Black Denim Trousers And Motorcycle Boots” | The Cheers

“Endless Sleep” | Jody Reynolds

“Teen Angel” |  Mark Dinning

“Tell Laura I Love Her” | Ray Peterson

“Last Kiss” | Wayne Cochran

“Leader Of The Pack” | The Shangri-La’s

“Johnny Remember Me” | The Meteors

“Nightmare” | The Whyte Boots

“I Want My Baby Back” | Jimmy Cross

“Detroit Rock City” | KISS

“Come Back Jonee” | Devo

“7-11 | The Ramones

“Days Of Graduation” | Drive-By Truckers

After credits song: “Suzy And Jeffrey” | Blondie