26) Mark Dinning – “Teen Angel”

“Teen Angel” marks the third #1 in a row devoted to the depiction of dramatic deaths.   The antihero of “El Paso” is shot in a revenge killing, while the young starcrossed lovers of “Running Bear” commit suicide to escape their earthly separation.  The death in “Teen Angel,” though, is so idiotic, and the characters so nondimensional, that it’s impossible to muster up any sympathy for the dead girl or her surviving boyfriend.  The car driven by the narrator and his girlfriend stalls on the railroad tracks.  Heroically, he manages to pull her from the car in time – yet the girl runs back to the car and is smashed to smithereens when the train plows through her.  Why’d she do it? The remains of her corpse are discovered clutching his class ring.  Ostensibly, she’d gone back in to rescue it – because trains’ll slow down in time for teenagers to grab crap out of a car, class rings are irreplaceable, and her boyfriend would rather have the ring than have her alive.  It’s supposed to be romantic, I guess, but it makes no sense.  And if she loved him so much anyway, why wasn’t she wearing his ring?

If the song’s story so shoddy, then you can count on the rest of the song not being brilliant either.  The lyrics are mawkish and weirdly self-centered (“Are you somewhere up above/And am I still your own true love?”), the arrangement is toothless and Mark Dinning’s quavery vocals are hammier than Easter dinner.  The fact that this isn’t rating a 1 should serve as a worrying portent of the depths the Hot 100 will plumb later in 1960. 2

Liner Notes

  • “Teen Angel” unfortunately paved the way for other hits about dead teenagers, including “Tell Laura I Love Her,” “Last Kiss” and “Dead Man’s Curve.” What was happening in the early ’60s that made these songs so popular? I suspect it has something to do with backlash from the growth of teenage culture and the accompanying independence of adolescents.

Hit #1 on February 8, 1960; total of 2 weeks at #1
26 of 963 #1’s reviewed; 2.70% through the Hot 100



Filed under 02, 1960

4 responses to “26) Mark Dinning – “Teen Angel”

  1. I suspect it has something to do with backlash from the growth of teenage culture and the accompanying independence of adolescents.

    Y’know, I’d never given any thought to why teen death ever became a trendy song theme. That’s an interesting theory.

    As a songwriter who isn’t getting any younger, I sometimes feel intimidated by youth culture, fearing I’ll be left behind entirely. But I’ve never killed any young people off in my songs. I’m feeling rather proud of that right now, thankyew. 😉

  2. Teenagers have it tough enough without musicians trying to kill them off through song.

  3. GeorgeL

    This is a horrible record! I mean the kids in this song were so stupid. The girl went running back to get a stupid high school ring which caused her to lose her life? I always thought that the “I’ll never kiss your lips again they buried you today” line was pretty creepy. Oh & whey did he have to pull her out of the car. And couldn’t they have put the car in neutral & pushed it off the tracks? Yeah I know I’m getting too analytical.

  4. Marc Rettus

    Maybe it was the first generation that it was common for teens to borrow the parent’s car. Just speculating.

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