It’s all about teenage tragedies this week on
A “splatter platter” or “teen death song” (I think the former is a bit catchier) was a genre that hit its zenith in the 1950s and 60s. In these songs a narrator, usually a sweetheart or the person dying, tells the story of a life cut short. You will not find The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” on my list for two reasons: it’s speculation rather than story, and it’s absolutely terrible. Here are my top ten teen death laments:
A classic good-girl-falls-for-bad-boy-tale, complete with interfering parents and motorcycle gangs. The tale unfolds for the listener as the “leader of the pack’s sweetheart recounts the story of their doomed love for a chorus of friends, from candy shop meet-cute to her final admonition to “go slow.” Who needs the CW when you have sixties bubblegum pop?
2. “Lifetime” – Better Than Ezra
While the genre may have been most popular in the mid-20th-century, it was definitely not confined to that period. This early-aughts tune recounts the death of e teenage girl on her graduation day, from her friends’ point-of-view. They abduct her urn and give her the beachfront send-off she would have wanted to the strains of R.E.M.
3. “Pumped Up Kicks” – Foster the People
The boppy hit of summer 2011 is actually the story of a school shooter when you look at the lyrics. Point-of-view alternates between the shooter himself and a third-person omniscient narrator, outlining an unbalanced kid who has motive and opportunity to rectify some perceived wrongs with a gun from his dad’s closet. Foster the People have stated that they wrote the song in an attempt to process incidents like the ones at Sandy Hook and Columbine.
4. “Who Knew” – P!nk
Though on the surface this tune could be about lost love or lost life, or the singer’s tumultuous marriage, but P!nk herself has said it was inspired by a friend she lost to drugs when she was only fourteen. P!nk is left behind to share her disbelief, anger, and grief with the specter of her friend. Howling into the void.
5. “Billy, Don’t be a Hero” – Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods
A Vietnam-era tune set during the Civil War, depicting a young couple with an omniscient narrator in the verse. Billy’s finacé takes the chorus, pleading with him not to join the war effort, while the narrator follows Billy through the verse to his demise.
The real-life story of the Kent State Shootings, in which two teenagers (and four students total) lost their lives while protesting the Cambodian Campaign of the Vietnam War. The band acts as omniscient narrator for the scene, calling out the “tin soldiers” of the National Guard and President Nixon (both responsible for the shootings) over and over again.
An ex-boyfriend once accused me of listening to “hippie protest music,” I suppose he had a point.
7. “Last Kiss” – Pearl Jam
This early-90s hit keeps the spirit of 50s “teenage death” songs alive by covering a Wayne Cochran record inspired by a real car crash. The singer is the driver, piloting his father’s car, narrating the loss of his girlfriend/passenger.
8. “The Freshmen” – The Verve Pipe
Moody mid-90s meditation on the baseless conviction of teenagers that they have everything figured out, against a backdrop of abortion and suicide.
9. “Adam’s Song” – Blink 182
I was never a huge Blink fan, but there is something about this uncharacteristically somber reflection on teenage suicide coming from a band known for cavorting with socks on their junk and singing about prank calls.
10. “I Drive Your Truck” – Lee Brice
This one is a bit of a cheat, since the inspiration was a man in his 30s, but it’s my list and I’ll cheat if I want to. The songwriter wrote “I Drive Your Truck” after hearing an interview on NPR, in which a father talked about feeling close to his son when he drives the truck he left behind. The man’s son was Medal-of-Honor winner Jared Monti, who was killed in action while trying to save a wounded fellow soldier in Afghanistan. The driver narrates the song, remembering the truck’s owner as he rattles around among the evidence of his life. A Gatorade bottle and a baseball cap. The images it creates are a bit better than the song itself, but I won’t deny that I mist up every time I hear it.