Sunday, January 30, 2005

Ray Peterson and the Teen Tragedy Song

In reading through the Sunday obituary page today, I found out Ray Peterson died of cancer last Tuesday at age 65 or 70 (some say he subtracted five years from his age for publicity purposes). Born in Denton, Texas and raised in San Antonio, Peterson had his biggest hit in 1960 with the teen tragedy epic, "Tell Laura I Love Her."

In the song, Tommy is an earnest young man who desperately wants to buy Laura a fancy wedding ring, so he enters a stock car race to win a $1,000 jackpot (remember, this is 1960). Instead, Tommy flips his car and it bursts into flame. With his final breath, as the rescuers pull his charred, twisted, dying body from the blackened wreck, Tommy says to tell Laura he loves her. In the third and final verse, Laura tearfully prays alone in the chapel and Tommy's disembodied voice comes to her to profess his love one more time.

"Tell Laura I Love Her" wasn't the only blockbuster teen tragedy song with Texas roots. San Angelo's J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers had a number two hit in 1964 with the woeful car crash tale, "Last Kiss." Written by Wayne Cochran, the song was based on a real-life tragedy where three teen couples were killed after their car collided with a truck in Georgia. While promoting "Last Kiss," Wilson and his band were in a car wreck themselves that claimed the life of their manager. Shortly after the wreck, Wilson appeared on "American Bandstand" and lip-synced the song on crutches. While "Last Kiss" was Wilson's one and only hit record, he did rack up an impressive eight marriages before dying in 1991 at the age of 49.

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