Teenage Death Songs are songs about dead or dying teenagers. Also called "death rock" (not to be confused with the music genre of the same name) or "teen tragedy" songs, these were a staple of pop music in The '50s and early Sixties, when Rock & Roll was very much a teenage phenonemon, but they are still written occasionally today.
Often a romantic tragedy written from the point-of-view of the dead teen's girlfriend or boyfriend, but sometimes written as if the dying (or even dead) teen is singing himself. A more bittersweet variation might end with a pair of teen lovers Together in Death. Often, but not always, there are also parents who are sorry they weren't more understanding. Usually a Morality Ballad, and if homicide is involved a Murder Ballad as well.
Expect spoken word bridges (recited through an echo chamber), sound effects (crashing cars, swishing waves), and some of the most attractively orchestrated arrangements in early rock recordings. Many, though not all, of them are inexplicably upbeat if you don't pay too much attention to the lyrics.
Sometimes also classified as a "Tear Jerker", especially if the age isn't quite right but the trope otherwise fits.
This is a Death Trope, so expect UNMARKED SPOILERS!!!
This website is dedicated to Teenage Death Songs.
- "Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning (1959): Bob sings about Alice's death when his car stalled on the Railroad Tracks of Doom: after removing his ring during a fight, she got out when the car stopped but went back for the ring. (That's right, she collects a Darwin Award and he lives to sing about it.) Intended as a parody of the genre, this ironically wound up becoming one of its signature tunes.
- "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson (1960). Tommy enters a stock car race to earn the money to buy Laura an engagement ring. He crashes and dies, but not before belting out this tune.
- "Tell Tommy I Miss Him" by Marilyn Michaels, released the same year, was an Answer Song written from Laura's point of view.
- "Last Kiss" (see page quote) by Wayne Cochran (1961) features another car crash. The year after its original release, a teenage couple and their friends were killed in a nasty car accident not far from where the singer lived, and the re-release version was dedicated to them. Covered Up for a huge hit by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964, again by Wednesday in 1973, and yet again by Pearl Jam in 1999.
- "Teenage Honeymoon" by Kenny Ancel (1962) has its young newlyweds getting killed by a drunk driver.
- "A Young Man Is Gone" by The Beach Boys (1963) references the real-life automotive death of James Dean, who was technically in his twenties but very much a teen idol.
- Ditto "James Dean" by the Eagles (1974). He was too fast to live, too young to die, bye-bye.
- "B.J. the D.J." by Stonewall Jackson (1963) has its title character dying in a car crash.
- "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean (1964) ends in yet another car crash.
- Averted, in that no one actually dies in that song. The singer is explaining how he got his injuries to the ER doctor throughout the song.
- Yes, but in the final verse he tells the doctor that he "watched the Jag (which was the car racing him) slide into the curve". The listener could easily infer that the other driver wasn't so lucky.
- The song rather eerily foreshadowed Jan Berry's own 1966 crash not far from the real-life Dead Man's Curve on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. He didn't die either, although he did slip into a two-month-long coma and suffer brain damage and partial paralysis.
- Averted, in that no one actually dies in that song. The singer is explaining how he got his injuries to the ER doctor throughout the song.
- Bill Anderson's "Candy Apple Red" (1964). The sheriff's daughter falls in love with a local petrolhead. They die after a chase, colliding into a roadblock erected by the sheriff with the eponymous car exploding.
- "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross (1965) parodies the genre with a nasty twist... a "happy ending" based on necrophilia.
- On the '70s variety series The Captain & Tennille Show, the "Sweathogs" of Welcome Back, Kotter fame sang a parody called "Pizza Death." The verse, sung by John Travolta in character as Vinne Barbarino, told of how the teenaged pizza deliveryman died in a crash, but, though his body grew cold, the mourning crowd was able to eat the still hot pizzas in the van. The refrain ran:
Johnny drove the delivery van —
Not too bright, but we all loved him,
'Cause he was Paparelli's Pizza Man! (The Pizza Man!!)
- "Detroit Rock City" by KISS (1976) is about an (actual) KISS fan who died in a crash trying to get to a concert.
- "7-11" (1981) by The Ramones.
- "Car Crash" by punk-rockers The Avengers (1977).
- "Burma Shave" by Tom Waits from his album Foreign Affairs (1977) is about two young teenagers who crash their car trying to make their way to the titular town.
- "Suzy and Jeffrey" by Blondie (1980) Another car crash.
- "Blasphemous Rumours" by Depeche Mode (1984) is about a 16-year-old girl who fails a suicide attempt only to die a sickly ironic death in an automobile accident at 18.
- A contemporary entry into the genre: The Gaslight Anthem's "The '59 Sound" (2008), about an actual friend of the band who died in a car crash.
Young boys... young girls
Ain't supposed to die on a Saturday night
- "The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows" by Brand New (2004), a song about and sung by a dying teenager following a car crash, staying behind to watch over his girlfriend (who was in the crash as well) until he knows she's safe.
- "(All I Have Left Is) My Johnny's Hubcap", in one of MAD magazine's vintage parody albums.
- The National Lampoon stage show Lemmings parodied all sorts of rock music, including a '50s teen death song, where at one point, the girl says the boy in the accident looks like one of the many pizzas they'd shared.
- "Joey" (2009) by Sugarland.
- Parodied on Mystery Science Theater 3000 with the song "Where, Oh Werewolf," inspired by a sequence in Werewolf where a security guard in mid-transformation crashes his car and dies.
- In "Give Us Your Blessings" by the Shangri-Las, a young couple elopes when their parents don't approve of their union. They're too emotional to notice the sign that said 'detour'.
- "Passage" by Vienna Teng starts with the line "I died in a car crash" and has the singer narrate the lives of her family following her fatal accident.
- "Three Stars" by Eddie Cochran (1959), commemorating the deaths of Richie Valens (who was 17 at the time), Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson a.k.a The Big Bopper in an airplane accident. The pilot, Roger Peterson, was hardly 20 himself.
- "Ebony Eyes" by The Everly Brothers (1961) involves a soldier whose girl is flying to marry him, when the plane, on which she will be arriving, crashes. Ouch.
- Then averted in the Answer Song. British Girl Group, The Beverley Sisters (rhyming name just a coincidence) sang "Flight 1203", a sort of musical Fix Fic in which she walks in to comfort him as he's grieving for her in the chapel. It turned out she had been running late, missed the plane, and came in safely on a later flight.
- "Flight 505" by The Rolling Stones (1966) ends with the titular flight going down into the sea.
- "Glow Girl" by The Who (1967), which at least ends on a happy note of reincarnation.
- "D.O.A." by Bloodrock (1971). Airplane crash due to mid-air collision. The song's morbid lyrics, in which the narrator describes his own gruesome death, got the song banned from many stations, but it still became a Top 40 hit in America.
- The US Airborne troops squaddie song "Blood on the Risers". A gruesome story of a young recruit soldier who dies in a parachute accident on his first jump.
- This song is also a cautionary tale. The young trooper does everything right except he forgets to attach his static line (the line which automatically deploys his main parachute) on the cable inside the aircraft. He then opens his reserve parachute on bad falling position, resulting in getting tangled with the canopy lines and risers and plummeting to ground on unsurvivable speed. The moral of the story is to always check everything when you jump.
- In the same vein, the German paratrooper song "Abgeschmiert aus 100 Metern" (Bounced from 100 Metres). The young conscript jumps off a Ju 52 with his parachute not opening, and has to make a dire decision to either go to Heaven (where all his dead friends are) or to Hell (where is all the schnapps and beer he can drink). After all, he is a Green Devil.
- Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" (1974) based on the far Darker and Edgier "Le Moribond" by Jacques Brel. When Terry Jacks recorded "Seasons in the Sun", he had just been diagnosed with leukaemia, and the song could well have been his actual farewell song. Fortunately, he got better.
- "Rocky" by Austin Roberts (1975-and unrelated to the movie) tells the story of young lovers who get married, have an infant daughter, and then the wife unexpectedly dies to an unmentioned disease. The lyrics go "Rocky, I never had to die before. Don't know if I can do it." In the last verse she suggests she will always be around and help him in spirit whenever he and their daughter would be in need.
- "Back of My Mind" (1980) by Breathless. The protagonist's girlfriend dies from complications of abortion.
- "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry (2010) mixes the young narrator's regrets for the grief her death will cause her mother and the loss of her chance to fall in love with the more cynical observation that people will pay more attention to her words after she's dead, and last requests that are sometimes wistful and sometimes cavalier. "So put on your best, boys, and I'll wear my pearls..."
- "Cancer" by My Chemical Romance.
- "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro. The protagonist's fiancee has died from an unspecified disease.
- "Girlfriend in a Coma" (1987) by The Smiths.
- Some versions of "Oh Death" have the young narrator bedridden with a severe fever and fearing for their life.
- "Love You to Death" by Kamelot has the girl die of unspecified Victorian Novel Disease.
When they met, she was fifteen
Like a black rose blooming wild,
And she already knew she was gonna die.
- The Sufjan Stevens tear-jerker "Casimir Pulaski Day", about a girl dying of bone cancer; although it's entirely possible the characters are still in their preteens.
- "Tonight" from Lust for Life by Iggy Pop (1977) deals with a drug overdose; the dying girl's lover stays by her side as she slips away. Co-writer/producer David Bowie, who also contributed backing vocals, recorded a Cover Version of this for an album of the same title in 1984, but dropped the opening verse that establishes the girl is dying. Thus, it became a straightforward love ditty (and duet with Tina Turner).
- "Tommy (Don't Die)" - Steaknife.
- Think's "Once You Understand" ends with a teenager dying of an overdose, and the police breaking the news to his father.
- Johnny Cash song "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" (1960) about a young cowboy, who takes his guns to town, with fatal results.
- The well-forgotten "Run, Joey, Run" by David Geddes (1975) about a teenage affair that ends tragically when the girl gets pregnant and her father gets pissed and tries to kill her boyfriend, only for her to take the bullet for him.
- Not so forgotten these days since Glee did a rendition of it.
- Richard Thompson, "Vincent Black Lightning 1952" (1991). A roguish young biker falls for a girl with an interest in bikes, reveals he's been in trouble with the law in the past. Gets mortally wounded by the police during a robbery, leaves his bike to his girl on his deathbed.
- Thin Lizzy "Mexican Girl". It's never actually said what killed her but it's rather obvious a ricochet from the shootout her boyfriend is involved in.
- "53rd and 3rd" by The Ramones (1977). Male hustler commits murder to prove he's "no sissy".
- "I Don't Like Mondays" by the Boomtown Rats (1982). Bob Geldof was being interviewed at WRAS-FM in Atlanta when news came in about a shooting at an elementary school. The title of the song comes for the suspect's reason for the shooting.
- "The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun" by Julie Brown (1984) which anticipates a Columbine-style massacre. This song, however, was an example of Black Comedy.
- "18 and Life" by Skid Row (1989). The protagonist has shot his friend and gotten a life sentence.
- Parodied by Mitch Benn in the song "Now He's Gone", which originally appeared in an episode of Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music. In the episode he explained his theory that the message of Teenage Death Songs such as "Leader of the Pack" was "Dead boyfriends are safe", and illustrated it with a 50s teenybopper tune about a girl who was killing her boyfriends before they could do anything to hurt her.
- "Janie's Got A Gun" by Aerosmith (1989). Girl gets violent revenge after years of Parental Incest.
- "Becky" by Be Your Own Pet. A girl stabs the Alpha Bitch, who has bullied her, to death and goes to juvenile prison, but thinks it was worth of it.
- "Come Out And Play" by The Offspring. And the killer is under eighteen and won't be doing time.
- Played for Laughs in "Wait Until Tomorrow" by Jimi Hendrix. Guy trying to convince his reluctant girlfriend to elope with him gets so frustrated that he forgets to keep his voice down, and is promptly shot and killed by her father.
- "Nightmare" by the Whyte Boots (1967). The protagonist fights another girl who stole her boyfriend and accidental death results.
- "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" (1955) by the Cheers, may be the prototype death rock song, as well as the inspiration for "Leader of the Pack" a decade later. It was popular enough to have a parody, Dodie Stevens' 1959 "Pink Shoelaces".
- "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-Las (1964). Girl sings of her love for Badass Biker who gets it after driving away all stormy mad because her parents forced her to break up with him.
- The titular figure of Twinkle's "Terry" (1964) 'rode into the night, accelerated his motorbike' after a quarrel, with predictable consequences. The narrator pleads for him to 'please wait at the gate of heaven' for her.
- Like a number of their songs, deconstructed by 10cc in "Johnny Don't Do It" (1972). Instead of being sung from the POV of the character or his girlfriend it's sung by his family and friends, first as a warning and then as a lament. Although it contains the often-heard spoken voiceover (reporting his death), it also is somewhat unique in that the deaths occur because of trying to fit in with a group of "cool kids" and faulty brakes on a stolen bike...and that after the typical praise of him as an angel, he's said to be in heaven with the angels—still riding his bike.
- "Teenage Cremation" (1975) by Australian artist Bob Hudson. Protagonist's girlfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident.
- "Bat Out Of Hell"
- "Running Bear" by Johnny Preston (1959). Written by The Big Bopper, it's a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet in which young Native American lovers defy their families, their warring tribes and a rough river to be together. The river gets them, but the last line says they'll meet in the next life.
- "The Water Is Red" by Johnny Cymbal (1960). Girlfriend eaten by shark. The protagonist takes his knife and goes to kill the shark.
- "Jimmy Love" by Cathy Carroll (1961). This fakes you out by starting as a wedding song until she says her fiance will be waiting for her at church, in his coffin. He was killed by a falling tree the night before. No, he doesn't get to be a vampire.
- Finnish Hawaiian-style rock song "Tiikerihai" (Tiger Shark), where the boyfriend is killed by the shark.
- "No Surfin' Today" by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (1964). The protagonist's girlfriend was his surfin' girl and she got caught by the undertow when she went out too far.
- The parodic "Gidget Goes to Hell" by Suburban Lawns (1979) has a shark attack. Jonathan Demme directed the video, which made it onto Saturday Night Live.
- Double Subverted on "Leah", by Roy Orbison (1962). The protagonist dives to fish pearls for his girlfriend, gets stuck and gets drowned. On the last verse it is revealed it was just an awful nightmare. The lyrics imply Leah actually was the one who was drowned long ago.
- "Surfin' Tragedy" by The Breakers (1963) combines the teenage tragedy song with a surf theme, in which the subject, a surfer, careens "ninety miles an hour" into a Malibu pier, killing him instantly.
- "The Greatest Surfer Couple" by The Four Preps (1963). In front of a large crowd, the titular couple tries to shoot (go under) the pier, only to disappear while under it. The next day, the surfers gather on the ocean to pay tribute to the late couple. A year later, the narrator walks past the pier and notices the two flowered leis the couple were wearing that fateful day drifting out from underneath.
- "Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds (1958). Reynolds based this partly on Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel". A girl tries to drown herself in the ocean after a fight with her lover, but he rescues her. Technically nobody dies, but because the chorus says "Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep" many people think this is the original Death Rock song. It was banned in England because it seemed to invite kids to commit suicide.
- This may have been one of the inspirations behind Patti Smith's "Redondo Beach" (1975).
- "Moody River", originally written and recorded by Chase Webster, Covered Up by Pat Boone (1961). Sort of a take-off on "Endless Sleep", except the girl actually dies.
- "Patches" by Dickey Lee (1962) deals with a teenage girl who drowns herself when her romance with the singer is forbidden by their respective parents. Another one that was banned on many stations, especially since the narrator plans to "join (her) tonight".
- "Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry (1967). All about the day that Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. His reasons for doing so aren't revealed in the song, though fans have speculated for decades. A friend of Jody Reynolds says Bobbie was Jody's rhythm guitarist and was partly inspired by "Endless Sleep" when she wrote this.
- "Alone Again (Naturally)" by Gilbert O'Sullivan (1972) is a subversion; at the start, the singer climbs a water tower with the intention of jumping off after being abandoned by a Runaway Bride... but he can't go through with it, so he climbs back down and goes home.
- "Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye" from the movie Phantom of the Paradise is a sendup where the title character kills himself because Dead Artists Are Better.
- "Straight A's" by the Dead Kennedys (1980) is a song about a kid whose parents only love him if he gets good grades. So he kills himself.
- Unfortunately, Truth in Television.
- Besides their "Last Kiss" cover mentioned above, Pearl Jam themselves get into the act with "Jeremy" (1991). The kid isn't loved by his parents, is picked on at school, so he shoots himself in front of his class. Jeremy Delle was the real kid in question. The original video's ending was ambiguous to many viewers as to whether Jeremy shot his classmates or himself, because all that could be seen in the edited-for-tv release was the students splattered with blood, but it was always a suicide.
- In "Last December" by Iced Earth (1995), teenage lovers commit suicide together, saying it's their "only way out". "Mother, you have forced us here... Father, now we'll disappear."
- "Four Dead Cheerleaders" by Texas punk band Dropkick (1997), four teen suicides, mostly for stupid reasons, though the last girl in the song killed herself because she was date raped.
- "Tourniquet" by Evanescence (2003) is sung by a girl dying after slitting her wrists.
- "Homecoming" by Green Day (2004) on album American Idiot.
- "Whining Teenager's Dramatic Exit," by Matt Osborne, about a school shooting.
- "Revenge Syndrome" by MafuMafu is about a teenage girl who leaps out of her classroom window after an unknown amount of time being bullied by everyone else. This also mixes in the Homicide category, as the root of her mental illness prior to jumping was her vivid revenge fantasies (hence the title), where a Superpowered Evil Side would emerge and slaughter her tormentors. However, it turns out to have been All Just a Dream.
- "Adam's Song" by blink-182. A depressed teenager hangs himself in garage.
- "Stan", by Eminem. An outright bizarre tale of an obsessed fan.
- "The Freshmen" by the Verve Pipe (1997). Girlfriend kills herself after an abortion.
- "Emma" aka "Emmaline" by Hot Chocolate, later covered by Urge Overkill. Lifelong sweethearts and teen spouses looking to make it big in show biz. He and many others feel that she has the talent to make it big; but while he manages to hold on through all the setbacks, he comes home one day and finds Emma/Emmaline has taken her own life, feeling she can't live on dreams anymore.
- "Her Last Words" by Courtney Parker (2013). A teenage girl lost her will to live due to severe depression hangs herself.
- "Veronica" by Sloppy Seconds.
- "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods (1974) is about the death of a young soldier; the title lyrics are delivered by his girlfriend.
- "Nineteen" by Paul Hardcastle (1982). A lamentation of The Vietnam War, where nineteen was said to be the average age of the combat soldier. (They were actually more like 22.)
- "I Was Only 19" by Redgum (1983). Another lamentation of the Vietnam War, on the Australian perspective.
- "Riding With Private Malone" by David Ball.
- "The Grave" by Don McLean.
- "Travelin' Soldier" by The Dixie Chicks. Another Vietnam War entry. The titular (deceased) soldier had just turned eighteen.
- "Just A Dream" by Carrie Underwood may fit this trope: the protagonist (the fiancee left behind) is just eighteen although the deceased's age isn't given.
- "Green Fields of France", a song of World War I. The subject, Willie McBride, was 19 when he was killed. The song lamented that WWI, the "war to end wars," was only followed by subsequent wars that killed even more young soldiers like Willie.
"Oh, the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing and dying, 'twas all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it's all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again"
- Finnish military march "Sotilaspoika" (Soldier Boy). The protagonist, age 15, joins the Army, and anticipates to get killed in action like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. The march can be taken either as patriotic fervour, or a particularly sad case of a Child Soldier.
- "1916", by Motörhead, is about a group of underage boys who join the army during a war (implied to be World War I), then meeting a messy and anonymous death in battle.
- Dar Williams's "Alleluia" (1995), about a high-school delinquent who winds up in heaven due to some sort of clerical error.
- "Space Junk" by Devo (1978) depicts an outright bizarre story: a Soviet satellite falls out of orbit and disintegrates. Some of the debris hits the protagonist's girlfriend, who gets killed.
- Humorist Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs (1997) had a chapter complaining about these, ending with an excerpt from a teen death song Barry himself once wrote:
Why did I let 'ya
Near the threshing machine?
- Dickey Lee's "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" (1965) sort of combines this with Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts. It was written by a psychologist, Dr. Milton Addington, based on a newspaper story written by Cathie Harmon, age 15. They split the royalties.
- "Timothy" by The Buoys (1970). The narrator is trapped in a mine with Joe and Timothy. They kill and eat Timothy in order to survive. Allegedly the band insisted that Timothy was only a mule in order to be allowed to record the song.
- "The Big Battle" by Johnny Cash. A story of The American Civil War. An old general tells to a young surviving private that the battle will go on for the rest of his life.
- "Camouflage" by Stan Ridgway (1988). An eerie story of a young Marine in The Vietnam War 1965.
- "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus (1956). A car crash. Emergency first aid saves the protagonist (again and again), albeit not in the best shape.
- "The A-25 Song", a squaddie song of the Fleet Air Arm. The young sub-lieutenant crashes his airplane (again and again) and has to fill the A-25, the Fleet Air Arm damage report form, notoriously detailed and agonous to fill.
- "Be Careful How You Drive Young Joey" by Jerry Keller (1961). As Joey drives with his girlfriend Jane, a guy challenges him to a race and he takes him on in spite of his girlfriend's father's titular plea. He loses control and misses crashing into a tree by a few feet.
- Blue Öyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (1976) deals with death and afterlife itself and touches on the story of Romeo and Juliet (who were both fifteen in William Shakespeare's play).
- "Ruby Jewel Was Here" by Allison Moorer (2002). (She's twelve, but... close enough.) Anyway, Ruby shoots the sheriff with his own gun after he rapes her, and is hanged. Oh, and it's all set to cheerful music.
- Bob Luman's "Let's Think About Livin'" (1960) was written as a kind of Take That! to the many songs of this type that were popular in that era.
- Steve Goodman did a medley of these for one of his '80s concert recordings.
- "Bat Out of Hell" by Meat Loaf (1977) was inspired by these sorts of songs. His musical partner, songwriter Jim Steinman, makes no secret of his love for this kind of thing.
- "Jenny" by Steve Taylor (1984) is one, but according to Taylor it's supposed to be allegorical.
- "Green Green Grass of Home" by Porter Wagoner (1965), a country staple also covered by Tom Jones. The protagonist is on Death Row and is about to be executed.
- "Sing Me Back Home" by Merle Haggard (1967) is another death-row variation.
- "Let Him Dangle" by Elvis Costello (1989). Story of the wrongful execution of Derek Bentley, who was 19 when he was hanged in 1953 in UK.
- "Castles Made of Sand" from Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix (1967). Three verses - homicide, war and suicide.
- "People Who Died" by The Jim Carroll Band (1980). Lots of deaths due to various causes.
- "Youth of the Nation" by P.O.D. (2001), features in this category a school shooting and a suicide.
- "The Ballad of Billy Brown" (1961), by future trash-TV host Morton Downey Jr., never specifies what caused the eponymous teen's death.
- "Johnny Remember Me" by John Leyton (1961) is another example that doesn't specify the cause of death, but the protagonist hears the voice of his dead girlfriend in the wind whenever it howls.