The loco motive
Last week I wrote about some much-loved but hopelessly schlocky songs of my youth. Though I didn’t expect it, I got a lot of feedback from my fellow Boomers. As a result, I decided that since you can’t get enough of a bad thing, I’d devote this week’s column to rock oldies’ worst of the worst.
Before I go any farther, let me say I’d never claim I could judge the worst song of the ’60s. Anyone who’s met me for a mere five minutes can tell you my two most noticeable features. One is my stunning blue eyes; the other is my overwhelming modesty. So I will not say the following song is THE worst. However, I will say it’s sure there among them.
The song is “Teen Angel,” sung by a never-to-be household name, Mark Dinning.
Giving the song its due, the music is pleasant enough. But beyond that, it is philosophically, psychologically, socially and lyrically a train wreck, if you’ll pardon my unfortunate use of that metaphor.
Before I talk about the song itself, I need to clarify something: Namely, I was not an exemplary child. Thankfully, I never had what it took to end up in the juvie home; on the other hand, I was, to use an old-timey phrase, nothin’ to write home about. I wasn’t scholarly, athletic, musical or artistic, and would’ve been labeled “mediocre” if anyone had noticed me in the first place.
However, one thing I was was anti-authoritarian. I never acted out, because while I may not have been very smart, I was smart enough to know that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. But though I never confronted authority head-on, when away from it, I rarely obeyed its strictures … with one noticeable exception: I never played on the railroad tracks.
If there was one thing all of us had drilled into our heads by every adult in any position of authority it was this: STAY OFF THE RAILROAD TRACKS! That was all there was to it, and there were no exceptions.
OK, I went on the tracks, but only for one reason — to flatten pennies. And even then, I did it in the middle of a straightaway so I could see if a train was coming. And no doubt in some of my adventures, my pals and I hiked by the side of the tracks. But even then, if we heard a train we hied away from the rails themselves.
The making of an angel
All that said, let’s talk about “Teen Angel.”
Here’s the scene: A high school couple are out for a drive when the car stalls — you guessed it — right on the tracks. They, like every other kid, know enough to leave the car and get away from the rails … at least for a bit. For suddenly she runs back to the car just in time for a train to steam ’round the bend and send both babe and Buick to their respective Great Beyonds.
What could’ve compelled a perfectly normal and obedient lass to disobey THE fundamental rule of youthful survival? I’ll let the lyrics tell you:
What was it you were looking for
That took your life that night?
They said they found my high school ring
In your fingers tight.
So that was it — his school ring.
Now, this wasn’t just a stupid death; it was a twice-stupid death.
The second stupidity was running back to the car, which would never have happened, if not for the first stupidity.
And what, you ask, was the first stupidity?
It wasn’t just a stupidity so much as an ur-stupidity, and one that no girl of my generation would’ve even considered, much less made: She let his class ring, the ultimate high school love token, out of her hands.
Who ever heard of such a lapse? Not me, that’s for sure.
When a girl had a boy’s class ring, she also had his head, his heart and his hormones. It meant they were going steady, something I knew about only from afar, but whose overwhelming gravity I understood full well.
Going steady meant the couple was In Love Forever. It was no mere high school thing; in fact, high school was only the start. They’d get married and stay married til death do ’em part. I’ve no doubt that as soon as their going steady was declared, they’d already picked out their rings, their china, and their kids’ names.
And because the class ring was the physical symbol of their undying love, it was guarded with more vigilance than the crown jewels of England. Forget it ever being out of sight of the future bride — it was never off her person, and it stayed attached in only one of two accepted ways. The first was on a chain around her neck. The second was worn on her finger — usually after having wrapped a dozen or so yards of yarn around it so it fit her delicate digit.
But a girl letting that ring hang loose, somewhere in her b.f.’s car? It happened once, and once only — in the lyrics of “Teen Angel.” And thus the essential crappiness of that song, since it flew in the face of all recorded history. But that wasn’t the only crappy thing about the song.
Let’s check out the chorus:
Teen angel, can you hear me?
Teen angel, can you see me?
Are you somewhere up above?
And am I still your own true love?
All right, I’ll grant you I find such hopeful religiosity reassuring among a teenager, especially given the heathens running amok today. But still, asking if he’s still her own true love? Good grief, whose else COULD she be? She’s just a little kid — it’s not like she left a long trail of broken hearts before she shuffled off this mortal coil. Raising that question is about as silly as asking her how’s the weather up there.
Some hope for the future
But the last verse isn’t just silly — it’s downright stupid, not to mention it’s having a whiff of wannabe necrophilia.
Just sweet 16, and now you’re gone,
They’ve taken you away.
I’ll never kiss your lips again,
They buried you today.
As a kid, I thought that was a horrible way to end a song, especially one that was written for the Golden Youth of America. It was so gloomy, so dark, so downright hopeless. All I could think was that kid’s life was ruined … forever. The poor sod would never laugh, love or lust again.
Now I know better.
The kid would do all right in life, even have another True Love — but only if the rescue squad had done two things.
One was return his ring.
The other was keep their mouths shut.