The Top 50 Tragic/Heroic Figures in 60’s Pop Music

Show Title: Tragic/Heroic Figures in 60’s Pop

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There were enough narrative pop songs of the 50’s and 60’s about dying young that eventually a sub-genre arose to categorize these songs as “death rock.”  Jody Reynolds got the ball rolling with “Endless Sleep” in 1958 and death rock snowballed in 1960 with three consecutive #1s: “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston and the inspiration behind all the teen car tragedies to come, “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning.  As popular as wayward driving tragedies were—three of them crashed this list’s top 15—they were not tied to the most common calamity to befall figures in 60’s songs.  That distinction goes to gunplay, whether sanctioned or illicit, with seventeen songs in this category among the Top 50.  Drownings accounted for four other tragedies (three by suicide), and one each from freezing to death, a mining mishap (no, not the Bee Gees’—their “New York Mining Disaster” fell outside the Top 50), a plane crash, a poisoning and a stabbing.  Eight figures among the 50 were both tragic and heroic—soldiers, most of them—while three others—all dads—earned tributes from serenading sons praising their father’s personal attributes.

More about the Top 50 tragic/heroic figures in song:

  • Twelve reached No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s weekly pop charts; the top 16 hit either No. 1 or No. 2.
  • Six acts placed two songs each among the 50: the Bee Gees, Jimmy Dean, Tom Jones, the Kingston Trio, Dickey Lee and the Shangri-Las.
  • In a reflection of the social turbulence of the times, 16 songs come out of the 1968-69 period.
  • Story-telling was the mode of expression for half of the 50 while another eight rendered death either ambiguously or in general terms.
  • Love—lost or unrequited—is the main factor in 17 tragedies; four of the top 10 songs are tales of young love gone awry.

The cutoff to qualify for the Top 50: Song No. 1526 from the playbook, Ranking the ’60s.  To view sample pages from Ranking the ’60s, click on the flipbook below.  If you like what you see, an Add to Cart button is provided for eBook purchase and download.  RT60s with an added 50-page song title index is also available for purchase in print at Amazon.

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