Thursday, November 19, 2009

TELL LAURA I LOVE HER 18x + 2 Answer Songs

There were two big "Teen Tragedy" car wreck songs in 1960. First, "Teen Angel," hitting #1 in January. Second, "Tell Laura I Love Her," which reached #7 in June.

"Teen Angel" sung by Mark Dinning is an ode to his high school sweetie. Their car stalls on a railroad track, he pulls her to safety, but she runs back and gets crushed to angel dust. Turns out she'd gone to retrieve the ring he gave her, which must've been dropped amid the Kleenexes and Trojans in the back seat.

"Tell Laura I Love Her," wailed by Ray Peterson, tells of his pal Tommy, who was too young to enter a stock car race, but did it anyway to earn enough prize money to wed his beloved Laura. Crushed and burned when his car speeds out of control, he painfully screams his last words: "TELL LAURA I LOVE HER...Tell Laura not to cry. My love for her will never die."

Huge hits, both. Melodramatic, sentimental and ridiculous, both. But...
Only one of them has spawned dozens of cover versions.

The likely reason is that "Tell Laura I Love Her" gives a singer a chance to emote; starting out as the observer, ending up voicing the anguish of the main character. "Teen Angel" is just a traditional (written by Dinning's big-band singer sister) love ballad, wimpy and sweet even though the theme is morbid.

Dinning shows little emotion in "Teen Angel," but Peterson is anguished, histrionic and adenoidal. In fact, he was apparently too emotional for England, where the "tasteful" and gentle Ricky Valance version went #1 on September 29th, 1960. Jeff Barry, co-author of the tune, is not so sure that the choice of Valance was anything but record label "politics."

The morbid the merrier: in order to stay within Rapidshare's comfy and speedy 100MB, you get 17 covers (as well as Ray's original). Among them: Dickey Lee, John Leyton, Jody Wayne, Ken Levy, Albert West, J. Frank Wilson, Johnny Tillotson and The Rocking Boys. You get foreign language takes by Rex Gildo, Richard Anthony, Italy's Michele and Chile's Ray Palaviccino. There are even some fairly recent versions such as a campy-gay cover from Nessie And Her Beard and a foreign language parody version from Rhodes Rockers, chosen over the more common Billy Connolly live parody version (which you can see for yourself on You Tube).

Back when singles were so much more popular than albums, and radio play was vital, it was also fairly common for "answer songs" to try and cash in on a hit. Yes, you get the two "answer song" versions: "Tell Tommy I Miss Him" from singer/impressionist Marilyn Michaels and one with lyric variations by country crossover queen Skeeter Davis.

Jeff Barry wrote many great hits with the late Ellie Greenwich. This isn't one of them. Before he married her in 1962, Jeff worked with Ben Raleigh. Together they wrote "Lonely Lips," which 20 year-old Jeff recorded himself on RCA.

It was RCA label-mate Ray Peterson (April 23, 1939 – January 25, 2005) who got to sing "Tell Laura I Love Her." Peterson had one last hit ("Corrina Corrina") in 1960, though he continued to sing and make nightclub appearances for decades. Even at the turn of the century, he was not averse to taking part in an oldies show once in a while and singing his teen hit. He was also a Baptist minister in Tennessee.

The cover versions down below are many, and amusing, but even with all the competition, that song still belongs to Ray Peterson. Doesn't it?

TELL LAURA, TELL TOMMY 20 Tunes in your zip file.

Update- As with many files on this blog, Rapidshare deleted it for not having enough downloads within a specific time limit. OK, this blog doesn't throw around Rihanna and Adele stuff, but jeez! Have some respect for minorities! Old and odd "Tell Laura" versions re-upped via another company:

TELL LAURA I LOVE HER, TELL TOMMY I MISS HIM Once again available for download.


Gerard said...

Thanks for the cover versions

Anonymous said...

There definitely was record company politics behind Ricky Valance getting the number one in Britain. Valance was on EMI's Columbia label. Meanwhile, Joe Meek gave the smaller label Top Rank via a lease deal, the John Leyton version. Top Rank was run by a certain Dick Rowe. Just as Leyton's version came out, Top Rank collapsed and was bought out by... EMI. So, EMI now found themselves with two versions on their books.

Since Leyton had been recorded independently by Meek - this was just before Meek moved into the famous 304 Holloway Road - and Valance had been recorded in an EMI studio with an EMI producer, EMI pushed the Valance disc whilst ignoring Leyton's. Sure enough, Leyton died a death and Valance bagged the hit.

Joe Meek never forgave Dick Rowe for this and held a grudge against him for the rest of his life. It was when Top Rank collapsed that Rowe moved to Decca, so Meek avoided Decca whenever possible. One would had thought Meek would be more indignant with EMI... but Joe Meek was always a peculiar chap anyway!

Ill Folks said...

Thanks for the scholarship on the dueling Leyton-Valance versions in the U.K.

Looks like Peterson was destined to lose to somebody over there. Sadly most would probably agree, after downloading and comparing, that the Leyton version had more to offer than Valance.

Neither are as over-the-top as the anguished Peterson original.

Anonymous said...

You're right that Peterson's is by and far the best version, and the John Leyton version is definitely better than Ricky Valance's drippy take. I think that was down to Joe Meek's production. Earlier in the year there was a song called "The Heart Of A Teenage Girl" and it was a battle between George Chakiris and Craig Douglas. Douglas was supremely drippy, and his version is rather sparse with a country flavor.

Chakiris' version - again, produced by Joe Meek - is an epic overblown production that for 1960 Britain is pretty dramatic. And guess who had the hit version? Craig Douglas. And guess what label Douglas was on? Top Rank... the very same label that sank when Leyton did "Tell Laura!"