Songs about death and teen tragedy are nearly always sad, frequently unsettling, and sometimes masterpieces of the artist’s craft. We’ve assembled five of the most interesting songs in this teen tragedy and the deathrock genre for your listening enjoyment. Also, we’ll take a dive into the origins of the songs selected.
Other names for this genre include death discs, tearjerkers, and splatter platters. These and other colorful descriptions can usually be attributed to DJs who played these songs in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sad songs about death and their meaning
Some experts consider this genre the quintessential teen rebellion music — the only escape from parental control was via death (that’s a hard take on that era’s parenting). While others look at more basic motives like the fact that the words die, cry, and goodbye rhymed. And, another point could be made that songwriting was influenced by “the day the music died.” The day the music died, per Don McLean, happened in 1959 when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson), and Ritchie Valens passed away in a plane accident near Clear Lake, Iowa.
We start with a classic teen tragedy song titled, “Last Kiss.”
1.) “Last Kiss” by J.Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
This song tells the story of a young couple who are out on a date and their car crashes. The male driver initially blacked out from the force of the impact, comes to and goes to comfort his girl. Holding her in his arms, he gives her one last kiss before she passes away. Tragic and sad, the haunting lyrics put the listener right at the scene.
The chorus speaks volumes in four short lines,
Well, where oh where can my baby be?
The Lord took her away from me.
She’s gone to heaven, so I got to be good,
So I can see my baby when I leave this world.
Initially released by Wayne Cochran in 1961, but it didn’t initially strike a chord with audiences. However, when revived by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, the song seemed to fit well the other teen tragedy songs of the era. Could there be a sadder ending to a song that highlights literally the last kiss between two young lovers?
Songs about death based on a true story?
There were some reports that the song lyrics were based on an actual accident in rural Georgia where two 16-year-olds tragically died. Per the legend, the two teens’ car hit a tractor-trailer while out on a date. A local gas attendant was asked to help with the recovery of the bodies and apparently didn’t recognize that one of the victims was his own daughter. Cochran, who wrote the lyrics, lived just 15 miles from the crash site. The problem with this account is that the accident took place after the first recording of the song. So, the true inspiration for the song may never be known.
Cochran named the song, “Last Kiss,” because it was the climax of the sad story. The song’s title also took advantage of another popular song by Floyd Cramer called, “Last Date.”
J.Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers: one-hit wonders
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers worked all afternoon on their version and finally wrapped things up on the take number 64. The song became a national hit in the fall of 1964 and eventually reached #2 on the charts and sold over one million copies. J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers were one-hit wonders. Wilson, who died of alcoholism at the age of 49 had been cheated out of the earnings of his sole hit by his label and manager.
“Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
Pearl Jam’s Cover
A Pearl Jam version of the “Last Kiss” reached the #2 spot in the U.S. in 1999.
“You can try album after album to write a hit and spend months getting drum sounds and rewriting lyrics, or you can go to a used record store and pick out a single and fall in love with it,” said Pearl Jam’s guitarist Stone Gossard. Pearl Jam’s vocalist Eddie Vedder had done just what Gossard described. He found an old record featuring the song and talked the band into performing it.
2.) “Tell Laura I Love Her ” by Ray Peterson
Ray Peterson overcame childhood polio and put his four-octave voice to good use. Although he had a string of modestly successful songs, he gained most of his fame from two notable two songs. His first hit was “The Wonder of You” which charted in Billboard’s Top 40. The song was later covered by Elvis Presley.
In 1960, “Tell Laura I Love Her,” became a Top 10 hit. The song, another teenage tragedy, was written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh. The original lyrics to the song didn’t focus on a car race, but rather a rodeo. However, the record label RCA insisted that Barry rewrite the lyrics in order to leverage the car-theme of the #1 song at the time, “Teen Angel.” Ultimately, “Tell Laura I Love Her” peaked at #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Songs about death – controversy
The song was not without controversy. Many radio stations banned the song from being played out of public concerns that listening to it may cause teens to commit suicide. Nonetheless, the song was a hit in 14 countries. An answer song to this was recorded by Marily Michaels and titled, “Tell Tommy I Miss Him.” Skeeter Davis also recorded the same song.
Later in life, Peterson worked as a Baptist Church minister and played the golden oldies music circuit. He died of cancer in 2005. Peterson was inducted into the Rockability Hall of Fame.
Ray Peterson’s “Tell Laura I Love Her” video
3.) “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning
Mark Dinning’s sister, Jean, along with her husband Red Surrey wrote this ballad that tells the story of the tragic death of the narrator’s girlfriend when her car, unfortunately, stalls on railroad tracks. Her boyfriend, the narrator, rescues her, but she runs back to the car to retrieve her high school class ring — Jostens would be proud.
Jean Dinning was part of the act, “The Dinning Sisters,” who gained national exposure on the NBC Radio Show titled “Barn Dance.” The Dinning Sisters most popular song charted at #5 and was titled, “Buttons and Bows.”
Mark Dinning, born in Drury, Oklahoma, in 1933 learned to play guitar at the age of 17 years old. There were nine Dinning siblings in all. He earned a contract with MGM when he was 24 years old. “Teen Angel” was a one-hit-wonder. The song charted at #1 in 1960 the United States, but only after a sluggish start. It only made it to #37 in the UK because many British DJs refused to play it. They considered it too morbid.
The song was featured in the 1973 popular film, “American Graffiti,” which was set in 1962. Also, notably, Sha Na Na performed the song at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel” Video — songs about death
Check out these Songs with Celebrity Names in the Lyrics.
Famous songs about death
4.) Leader of the Pack by the Shangri-Las
“Leader of the Pack” was written by Jeff Barry, George “Shadow” Morton, and Ellie Greenwich. Barry also wrote, “Tell Laura I Love Her.”
The song tells the story of Betty who is asked by friends if indeed she is dating the leader of a motorcycle gang named Jimmy. After Betty breaks up with Jimmy at her friends’ urging, Jimmy crashes and dies on a rainy surface while riding his motorcycle.
The Shangri-Las — All-Girl Group from Queens
The Shangri-Las group was formed in Queens, New York and composed of two sets of high school sisters: The Weiss’s and the Gansers. Mary Weiss was the lead singer. The name Shangri-Las comes from a restaurant in Queens. The group had a “tough girls” theme which set them apart from more traditional all-girl groups. The bad-girl reputation apparently helped them fend off advances from men while they were touring.
To record the song and to add some realism to the production, a real motorcycle was driven into the recording studio. No one was arrested, but a ticket was issued according to legend. Another account of the motorcycle engine sound origin suggests that it was taken from an effects record. (I like the first account better.)
Wherever the engine sounds came from, that revving noise helped drive the song to the #1 position on the charts in November 1964. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song as the #447 song in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. The song was featured in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Many recording artists and bands — from Amy Winehouse to Pink Floyd — have cited the Shangri-Las as influencing their music.
The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” Video — songs about death
Popular songs about death
5.) “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean
This classic tells the story of a street race gone bad. The narrator, driving his Corvette, pulls alongside a Jaguar and challenges him to a race. The conclusion of the song features the narrator recounting his memories of the race to a doctor.
The writers of this song are the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Jan Berry, Roger Christian, and Artie Kornfeld. Kornfield went on the help produce Woodstock.
In real life of April 1966, Jan Berry actually crashed his car, a Corvette, into a parked truck very near Dead Man’s Curve. He spent months in a coma but recovered enough to perform with Dean Torrence. Dead Man’s Curve is a stretch of road on Sunset Boulevard near the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, California.
The song inspired a made for TV movie about Jan and Dean that was broadcast first in 1978. The Carpenters did a cover version of the song.
Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” Video — songs about death
Teen Tragedy Songs List
- The Water Was Red by Johnny Cymbal
- Patches by Dickey Lee
- The Prom by Del Shannon
- Moody River by Pat Boone
- Chapel Bells Ringing by Gene Summers
- B.J. the D.J. by Stonewall Jackson
- The Hero by Bernadette Carroll
- A Young Man is Gone by The Beach Boys
- A Young Girl of Sixteen by Noel Harrison
- Timothy by The Buoys
- Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks
- Run Joey Run by David Geddes
Common themes to teen tragedy songs & songs about death
These types of teen tragedy songs were most popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and there appeared to be a certain formula for success. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Each of these songs generally included:
1.) A tragic accident resulting in death.
2.) The romantic love of a young couple.
3.) Sung from the perspective of the dead person’s lover.
4.) Instrumentation and sound effects to add drama and set the tone.
5.) A narrator’s sad expression of unending love to his’ or her’s lost sweetheart.
The songs are sad, and even at times morbid, and yet still very compelling to music lovers of that era and beyond.
— Mike O’Halloran
Mike is a music enthusiast, writer, and co-founder of Listcaboodle.
You’re on the Classic Songs About Death And Teen Tragedy page.
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What are some songs that talk about death? ›
- Bob Dylan, “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” (Hot 100 Peak: No. ...
- Jimi Hendrix, “Hey Joe” ...
- Cutting Crew, “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” ...
- The Band Perry, “If I Die Young” ...
- Ke$ha, “Die Young” ...
- Bob Marley, “I Shot the Sheriff” ...
- The Notorious B.I.G., “Ready to Die,” ...
- Elton John, “Candle in the Wind”
- Eric Clapton - Tears in Heaven.
- Sarah Mclachlan - In The Arms of an Angel.
- The Beatles - Let It Be.
- Paul McCartney - Here Today.
- Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On.
- Faith Hill - You're Still Here.
- Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men - One Sweet Day.
- Puff Daddy ftr.
And before 1960 ended, Marilyn Michaels recorded an “answer song” called “Tell Tommy I Miss Him.” All reflected the real life car-crash deaths of teen idol James Dean in 1955 and singer Eddie Cochran in 1960.What is a good song to listen to when someone dies? ›
- Missing You by Diana Ross. ...
- You Are Not Alone by Michael Jackson. ...
- I'll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy Ft. ...
- Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton. ...
- My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion. ...
- One Sweet Day by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men.
- Lay Me Down by Sam Smith. ...
- Diamonds by Rihanna. ...
- How Long Will I Love You by Ellie Goulding. ...
- Flying Without Wings by Westlife. ...
- See You Again by Wiz Khalifa. ...
- You Raise Me Up by Westlife. ...
- Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz. ...
- Time to Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.
- "Hurt" – Nine Inch Nails / Johnny Cash.
- "Someone Like You" – Adele. ...
- “Something in the Way” – Nirvana. ...
- “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinéad O'Connor. ...
- “Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton. ...
- "I Will Always Love You" – Whitney Houston. ...
- "Close to You" – Rihanna. ...
- "It's Too Late" – Carole King. ...
- REM – “Everybody Hurts”
- Sinead O'Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
- Eric Clapton – “Tears in Heaven”
- Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You”
- The Beatles – “Yesterday”
- Adele – “Someone Like You”
- Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
- Roy Orbison – “Crying”
- I'll See You Again – Westlife.
- Over the Rainbow - Eva Cassidy.
- Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler.
- Nothing Compares to You - Sinead O'Connor.
- Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd.
|2||"Born to Be Alive"||1979|
|3||"Video Killed the Radio Star"||1979|
Use Shazam or MusicID.
If you've got Shazam on your phone and hear a song you can't identify and don't know anything about, activate the app and hold it toward the audio source and wait for a result. You can also use MusicID or Google Assistant to identify songs that are playing in your environment.
What was the 1 song in 1950? ›
Some basic song themes to not pick for a funeral would include hell, death, abuse, break ups, survival, and celebratory happiness.What are some sad songs about life? ›
- “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty.
- “Away From The Sun” by 3 Doors Down.
- “King Of Pain” by The Police.
- “Adam's Song” by blink-182.
- “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.
- “Basket Case” by Green Day.
- “Mad World” by Tears For Fears.
The music will set the mood of the funeral – happy, sad, uplifting – and can reflect the personality of your loved one. Additionally, some people choose to feature live music during the funeral service, such as singers, soloists or groups. This could be a friend, family member, or professional funeral musicians.Which song is used to mourn the death of loved ones? ›
1. “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton. A reminder that it's okay to cry and grieve the loss of a loved one.What is a good song to celebrate someone's life? ›
- SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW (WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD) by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. ...
- SEE YOU AGAIN by Wiz Khalifa (feat. ...
- DANCING IN THE SKY by Dani and Lizzie. ...
- ANGELS by Robbie Williams. ...
- TO WHERE YOU ARE by Josh Groban. ...
- I CAN ONLY IMAGINE by MercyMe. ...
- YOU'LL BE IN MY HEART by Phil Collins.
- Scared To LiveThe Weeknd.
- everything i wantedBillie Eilish.
- Before You GoLewis Capaldi.
- Truth UntoldBen Wolf.
- Another LoveArash Behzadi, Lika Starinets.
- ButterflyKimberly Polanco.
- FallingHarry Styles.
- FlawsTravel With The Sun.
Sentimental R.E.M ballad Everybody Hurts has been voted the song most likely to make men cry. In a survey by songwriters and musicians group the Performing Right Society for Music, published online, the 1992 hit topped the list of men's top tear-jerkers, followed by Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven at number two.Why do some songs make you cry? ›
The Science of a Music-Induced Cry
The same study also found that sad music brought up feelings of nostalgia, an often "bittersweet emotion" that makes people experience a longing for the past, despite the sadness that might be associated with it.
|2.||"The Twist"||1960, 1961 ( re )|
|4.||"Mack the Knife"||1959|
What's the number 1 song in the world ever? ›
According to Guinness World Records, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" (1942) as performed by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single worldwide, with estimated sales of over 50 million copies.What is the saddest song ever wrote? ›
R.E.M.'s 1992 hit “Everybody Hurts” has been named the “Saddest Song of All Time” according to a recent survey by OnePoll. Sinead O'Connor's “Nothin Compares 2 U” and Eric Clapton's “Tears in Heaven” came in second and third.What is the saddest song in the world 2022? ›
- “In the Kitchen,” by Reneé Rapp. ...
- “Something in the Orange,” by Zach Bryan. ...
- “Nostalgia,” by Suki Waterhouse. ...
- “Family Line,” by Conan Gray. ...
- “It'll Be Okay,” by Shawn Mendes. ...
- “Fingers Crossed,” by Lauren Spencer-Smith. ...
- “Softly,” by Arlo Parks. ...
- “When You Look at Me,” by Sara Kays.
- “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera.
- “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.
- “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers.
- “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.
- “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, Another Song With Meaning.
- “Firework” by Katy Perry.
- “Let It Be” by The Beatles.
Here are some of the most popular funeral songs:
Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Eric Idle (Monty Python's 'Life of Brian') Time to Say Goodbye – Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. You'll Never Walk Alone – Gerry and the Pacemakers.
Best memorial and funeral songs for a friend
“I'll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, 112. “You've Got a Friend” by Carole King. “That's What Friends are For” by Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight. “Thank You For Being a Friend” by Andrew Gold.
"Blinding Lights" by The Weeknd is the most streamed song on Spotify with over 3.4 billion streams.What is the shortest song to hit #1? ›
The Shortest Hot 100 Hits
While it just misses the second list above, Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs' “Stay” is the shortest No. 1: just 1:38 in length. The classic led the Nov. 21, 1960, Hot 100.
The first number-one song of the Billboard Hot 100 was "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson, on August 4, 1958.How do I find a song if I only know two words? ›
If you can remember any of the lyrics, or something close to what the lyrics might be, simply type them into Google and see what comes up. You can also try a few different variations of these lyrics, or adding descriptors like “female singer”, or the genre of music.
How do I find a song by description? ›
Use a song recognition app such as Shazam or SoundHound. Google the lyrics of the song. Use a digital assistant like Siri or Alexa. Search the video description or read the comments of the video.How can I find the name of a song without words? ›
Use Shazam to identify songs that are playing in the background. Hum the tune to Google or Midomi and they'll search the web to find potential matches. Try describing it on reddit or WatZatSong if an app or search engine can't help you find the song, and someone will help you out.What is a song that symbolizes death? ›
1. “Tears In Heaven” by Eric Clapton. A reminder that it's okay to cry and grieve the loss of a loved one.What songs are rip offs? ›
- “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. ...
- “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison. ...
- “Creep” by Radiohead. ...
- “Come Together” by The Beatles. ...
- “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. ...
- “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. ...
- “Ghostbusters” theme song, by Ray Parker Jr.
"Death Song" or "In Praise of Death", a 1926 song by Korean singer Yun Sim-deok.What is the final song at a funeral called? ›
At the conclusion of the funeral, sometimes as the recessional music begins to play, the officiant leaves the house of worship.What is the classic funeral song called? ›
Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
This famous religious song is often sung at funerals. There are many different versions of Ave Maria, but Schubert's composition is arguably the most famous. Pop artists like Celine Dion and Beyonce have also covered this beautiful funeral song.
- 'You Can Go Your Own Way' – Fleetwood Mac.
- 'Yes' – McAlmont & Butler. ...
- 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' – Joy Division. ...
- 'Dancing on My Own' – Robyn. ...
- 'Back to Black' – Amy Winehouse. ...
- 'I Will Survive' – Gloria Gaynor. ...
- 'Sorry' – Beyoncé ...
- 'Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye' – Leonard Cohen. ...
In one study, the most helpful “cure” tunes were “God Save The Queen” by Thomas Arne and “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club. Others seek out the tune in question, because it is commonly believed that earworms occur when you remember only part of a song; hearing the entire song may extinguish it.What songs has death covered? ›
|Legion of Doom (Mantas cover)||3|
|Black Magic (Slayer cover)||2|
|Death by Metal (Mantas cover)||1|
|God of Thunder (KISS cover)||1|
What was the song in A song to Remember? ›
At the concert, Chopin is playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata when he slows to a stop and bursts into the first bars of his "Heroic" Polonaise, a song for Poland, before slamming the keyboard and leaving.How many songs does music to be murdered by have? ›
It includes the original album's 20 tracks along with 16 new ones. It includes a variety of features, with guest appearances from Skylar Grey, DJ Premier, Ty Dolla $ign, Dr.