(DILLON BEACH, CA) — I’m writing this from Elephant Rocks, a rock formation that looks just like it sounds. It’s on the hill above Dillon Beach, a ways up Highway 1 from San Francisco. Since I last wrote you I’ve been in Santa Barbara, Monterey, Berkeley, San Francisco, and now up here. I’m slowly but surely heading toward Seattle.
A couple days ago I visited the site where James Dean crashed his car and died in 1955. I realized that I’d never seen a James Dean movie, so I watched East of Eden later that night. Not an easy movie to watch but very well made.
The whole James Dean experience made me think of songs about car crashes. There are several that made it up the pop charts.
“Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan & Dean
The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson had a hand in the writing of this song, which describes a car race that starts on Sunset Boulevard and eventually ends up North Whittier Drive. There’s a 90-degree turn there, although not everyone agrees that this is the actual curve mentioned in the song. The song hit #8 on the Billboard charts in 1964, just two years before Jan Berry of Jan & Dean would almost die in a car accident on the very same road.
“Leader Of The Pack” by the Shangri-Las
Turns out that the teen tragedy song was all the rage in 1964, because this song shot up the charts the same year as “Dead Man’s Curve.” And yes, this is about a motorcycle crash, not a car crash, but I’m counting it. I think of this as a West Coast song, but it was written by a guy from Brooklyn and recorded in Manhattan, so what do I know?
“Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning
Here’s a song radio stations considered so sad that many initially wouldn’t play it, and it took most of 1959 for the song to do a slow climb up the charts before eventually hitting the top spot. Jean Dinning wrote the song and it was initially performed by her brother Mark. “Teen Angel” came into the spotlight again in 1969 when Sha Na Na played it at Woodstock.
This is a weird question, but have you got a favorite teen tragedy song? Let me know!