Tom Lohr is a fan of surf music. He has seen the Beach Boys 12 times in concert. He has also caught three Jan and Dean concerts.
Cry Me a River
The '60s had several genres of music, but for many, it was the tearjerkers that toyed with their emotions the most. A slew of those sad songs involved deadly car and motorcycle crashes; what better to get the tears flowing than a gory vehicular accident?
For music lovers, there really is no in-between for the tearjerker category; they either love them or hate them. For those that can't look away from a car wreck, these are the top ten car crash songs of the '60s.
- "Deadman's Curve" by Jan and Dean (1964)
- "A Young Man Is Gone" by the Beach Boys (1963)
- "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson (1960)
- "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (1964)
- "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-las (1964)
- "Carroll County Accident" by Porter Wagoner (1968)
- "BJ the DJ" by Stonewall Jackson (1964)
- "Terry" by Twinkle (1964)
- "The Beginning of My End" by the Unifics (1968)
- "Condition Red" by the Goodees (1968)
1. "Deadman's Curve" by Jan and Dean (1964)
This J&D hit detailed a tragic street race between a Corvette and Jaguar XKE, the two premiere sports cars at the time. After a challenge, they tear up Sunset Boulevard at full throttle. The original challenge from the XKE driver was supposed to cease at the end of the strip, but the Corvette jockey wanted to race all the way to Deadman's Curve. Taking the turn at high speed . . . well, it didn't end well.
The irony of the song is that Jan Berry, half of Jan and Dean, would himself be involved in a Corvette crash a few short years later that left him permanently brain-damaged The site of his accident was very near the Deadman's Curve mentioned in the song. A made-for-TV biopic of the duo was also titled Deadman's Curve.
2. "A Young Man Is Gone" by the Beach Boys (1963)
Sung in acapella, this song really highlights the tight harmonies of The Beach Boys at the apex of their careers. The piece is a tribute to James Dean and specifically mentions the crash that took his life. It is one of the few car crash songs about actual events. Dean died when his Porsche sports/racing car collided near head-on with a truck that was making a turn. Dean died at the scene.
3. "Tell Laura I Love Her" by Ray Peterson (1960)
A classic teen “tearjerker,” this song was a hit in 14 countries. It speaks of a young man who wants to get married to his gal Laura. He has no money for a ring, so he enters an auto race with plans to use the prize money to put a rock on her finger. Unfortunately for the young lad, the race didn't end the way he planned. As he lies dying in the wreckage of his car, he utters his last words . . . "Tell Laura I love her."
4. "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (1964)
Kid takes his girl out on a date in his dad's car. I doubt he was texting in 1964, but he didn't see a stalled car on the road and plowed into it. He regains consciousness long enough to hold his dying sweetheart in his arms and give her one “last kiss.” The lyrics in this song weave together more than most of the car tragedy songs. I bet his dad was really pissed when he found out his car was totaled.
5. "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-las (1964)
A textbook case of a teenage girl falling for the bad boy. Of course, all bad boys ride motorcycles. At least they did in the '60s. Off to a torrid romantic start, the girl next door's parents put the kibosh on her crush. Their little girl was not going to date a hoodlum. She breaks the news to her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. He doesn't take it well and speeds off on his scooter, ending in the inevitable crash.
6. "Carroll County Accident" by Porter Wagoner (1968)
Songs that end in gory automotive death are not the private domain of rock-n-roll; a few country songs suffered accidents as well. While debunked as being based on a true story, it tells the tale of a single-car wreck involving a man and woman. Both were married, but not to each other. In the '60s, that was scandalous.
The man dies, and the woman makes some lame excuse as to why they were in the same vehicle. Even more suspicious is the man was not wearing his wedding ring. Upon further investigation at the scene, the ring is found hidden in a matchbox (for those born after 1990, it was a small box with actual matches in it) among the wreckage. That explains why they were together.
The man who finds the ring in a box tosses it in the river to keep the details of their affair hidden forever. I guess that is what you do when you find out the man killed in the wreck on the way to cheat on his wife is your dad. Tell me that doesn't have country music hit written all over it.
7. "BJ the DJ" by Stonewall Jackson (1964)
You might wonder why a Civil War general was writing weepy songs in the '60s. It turns out it wasn't THAT Stonewall Jackson—just a country singer using the same name. Poor BJ was trying to make it in the music world as a DJ. As many disc jockeys did in the '60s, they spun records on the air for their radio station and made some side money doing the same at local sock hops.
BJ was burning the candle at both ends doing both, getting little sleep in between. Plus, his mom was always nagging him about the condition of the junker he drives, claiming it was unsafe. It turns out mom was right. After oversleeping from a late night at a sock hop, he speeds to the radio station for his shift. As you probably guessed, he doesn't make it.
8. "Terry" by Twinkle (1964)
This is basically the UK's version of “Leader of the Pack.” Terry has a much richer sound, though, and more compelling lyrics. The scenario is the same: girl meets bad boy, parents hate bad boy, parents tell girl to break up with bad boy.
How similar are “Terry” and “Leader of the Pack?” Let's just say Twinkle was damn lucky she wasn't sued. But she did catch strife from the BBC, who refused to play her hit. Apparently, it did not meet the BBC's standard of “good taste.”
9. "The Beginning of My End" by the Unifics (1968)
You don't normally associate soul music with tearjerkers of the '60s, but the Unifics cut one. When a song starts out, “Up drove the hearse,” you know it isn't ending well for someone. It's a common tale: boy and girl have a fight, girl screams off in their car really pissed. Later, while watching TV, guy gets a call from the hospital saying there had been an accident. Naturally, the girl does not survive.
10. "Condition Red" by the Goodees (1968)
The song starts with lyrics of a girl's parents deriding her bad-boy boyfriend who . . . wait for it . . . rides a motorcycle. If you want to know how it ends, listen to “Leader of the Pack” or “Terry.” The '60s had a thing for tragic, fatal motorcycle accidents as a result of boy/girl/parents drama. I think the whole point of 1960s music was a public service message the reads: “Don't ride your motorcycle after a breakup.”
Bonus: "I Want My Baby Back" by Jimmy Cross (1965)
Think all of that teen drama involving deadly car crashes was a little sappy? Sappy enough to be made fun of? Apparently, so did Jimmy Cross. His song “I Want My Baby Back” really socks it to the genre.
He, too, loses his girl in a car wreck, but he can't live without her and wants to be with her. So he chooses the simple solution: He digs her up and shuts himself in her coffin. Who said car crash songs don't have happy endings?