“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
- “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