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A Teenage Death Song is a song about dead or dying teenagers. Also known as "death rock", they were a staple of pop music in The Fifties and early Sixties, when Rock and 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 are written as if the dying (or even dead) teen is singing himself. Often, but not always, there are also parents who are sorry they weren't more understanding.

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.

Sometimes also classified as a "Tear Jerker", especially if the age isn't quite right but the trope otherwise fits.

The name is taken from one of the chapter titles used in Stephen King's Christine.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Teenage Death Songs include:
  • "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", and a French translation which became a major hit for chanteuse Edith Piaf.
  • "Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds (1958). Reynolds based this partly on Elvis' "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).
  • "Running Bear" by Johnny Preston (1959). Written by the Big Bopper, it's a Romeo and Juliet about young Native American lovers who 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.
  • "Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning (1960): Bob sings about Alice's death when his car stalls 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. She collects a Darwin Award and he gets to sing about it. Ironically intended as a parody of the genre, this ended up being 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 a response song written from Laura's point of view.
  • Bob Luman's 1960 hit "Let's Think About Livin'" was written as a kind of Take That to the many songs of this type that were popular in that era.
  • "Last Kiss" features another car crash. This one really happened, and was much worse than the song lets on. Originally recorded by composer Waylon Jennings in 1961, the most famous version by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964, it was most recently covered by Pearl Jam.
  • "Ebony Eyes", by the Everly Brothers (1961) involves a soldier whose girl is flying to marry him when her plane crashes. Ouch.
  • "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.
  • "Moody River" 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 says he plans to "join her".
  • "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 Goodees revisit this in "Condition Red" in 1968.
    • Twisted Sister actually did a POV Sequel that counts too.
    • Not to mention the Detergents' parody, "Leader of the Laundromat".
  • "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 foreshadows Jan Berry's own 1966 crash on the real-life Dead Man's Curve on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. He didn't die either, although he did suffer severe brain damage and partial paralysis.
  • Big Daddy's cover of "The Living Years" by Mike and the Mechanics mashes it up with "Dead Man's Curve" for a result that loses none of its poignancy even while making you laugh.
  • "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross (1965) parodies the genre. (No, it has nothing to do with Chili's ribs.)
  • Another Dickey Lee song, "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)" (1965) sort of combines this with Beware of Hitch-Hiking 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.
  • "Give Us Your Blessing" by the Shangri-Las (1965). And now their parents are sorry they didn't.
  • "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.
  • Not sure if she was a teenager, but "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro (1968) might work; ditto for Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" (1974).
    • Honey and the character singing the song seem to have been married for at least a couple of years, and she's always struck this troper as being at least in her twenties, but certainly no older than thirty and very young to die suddenly the way she does. It's possible that her "crying needlessly... in the middle of the day" is because she's received a fatal diagnosis and knows she's doomed, and is trying to spare her husband's feelings by not telling him why she's upset.
  • 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.
    • Speaking of Joey, "Joey" by Sugarland (2009) is a rare Country Music example.
  • On some '70s variety show, the "Sweathogs" of Welcome Back, Kotter fame sang a parody called "Pizza Death." The verse, sung by John Travolta 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:

Paparelli's Pizzaria--
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.
  • "Tonight" 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 of this for an album of the same title in 1984, but dropped the opening verse that establishes the girl is dying and thus it became a straightforward love ditty [and duet with Tina Turner]).
  • "Car Crash" by punk-rockers The Avengers (1977).
  • "53rd and 3rd" (1977) and "7-11" (1981) by The Ramones.
  • "Burma Shave" by Tom Waits (1977) is about two young teenagers who crash their car trying to make their way to the titular town.
  • "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.
  • "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.
  • "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 at 18.
  • "The Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun" by Julie Brown (1984) is another parody.
  • Steve Goodman did a medley of these for one of his '80s concert recordings.
  • 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.
  • 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 death bed.
  • 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."
  • Dar Williams's "Alleluia" (1995), about a high-school delinquent who winds up in heaven due to some sort of clerical error.
  • 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:

Oh, Loretta,
Why did I let 'ya
Stand unattended
Near the threshing machine?

  • "Four Dead Cheerleaders" by Texas punk band Dropkick (1997), four teen suicides for stupid reasons.
  • "Youth of the Nation" by P.O.D. (2001).
  • "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.
  • "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.
  • 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.

  • "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry (2010) is part sentimental last requests, part cynical quip. The girl knows her words will be worth more after she dies. She's oddly cavalier about her impending funeral, too. "So put on your best, boys, and I'll wear my pearls."
  • "(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.
  • Twinkle's 1963 song "Terry" is a classic, if British, take on the trope.