#1009: Teen Angel by Wednesday

Peak Month: June 1974
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #10
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart

“Teen Angel” is a teenage tragedy song written by Jean Dinning and her husband, Red Surrey. It became a hit for Jean’s brother, Mark Dinning, in 1959. “Teen Angel” was released in October 1959. The song was not an instant success, with radio stations in the U.S. banning the song, considering it too sad. Despite the reluctance of radio stations, the song continued to climb the charts. In the last week of 1959, the single jumped from #100 to #50 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It went on to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1960. In the UK it climbed to #37 on the UK Singles Chart, despite being  banned from being played by the BBC. At the end of 1960 Billboard ranked it as the #5 song of the year.

The song is about a girl and her boyfriend who go out for a ride together. He pulls her to safety when their car is stalled on a railroad track in the path of an oncoming train. But then she runs back to the car, and is killed in the collision. When her body is recovered, the narrator’s high school class ring is in her hand, apparently the reason that she ran back. The last verse ends with the lyrics: “I’ll never kiss your lips again/ They buried you today.” The final line in the coda asks the Teen Angel to: “Answer me, please.”

Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh
That fateful night the car was stalled, 
upon the railroad track.
I pulled you out and we were safe,
but you went running back.

Teen angel, can you hear me?
Teen angel, can you see me?
Are you somewhere up above?
And I am still your own true love?

What was it you were looking for, 
that took your life that night?
They said they found my high school ring,
clutched in your fingers tight.

Teen angel, can you hear me?
Teen angel, can you see me?
Are you somewhere up above?
And I am still your own true love?

Just sweet sixteen, and now you’re gone,
they’ve taken you away.
I’ll never kiss your lips again,
They buried you today.

Teen angel, can you hear me?
Teen angel, can you see me?
Are you somewhere up above?
And I am still your own true love?
Teen angel, teen angel, answer me, please.

“Teen Angel” and its two predecessors at the Hot 100’s top spot back in 1960, “El Paso” by Marty Robbins and “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston, continued a string of pop tunes in which someone dies tragically.

In the early 70s a group from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, called Wednesday were getting a good reputation as they played covers of contemporary hit songs at gigs across Ontario. The band formed when high school friends Mike O’Neil and Paul Andrew Smith decided to start a band. O’Neil played guitar and banjo, while Smith played guitar and keyboards. Both were singers. They auditioned for a drummer and got Randy Begg, and they soon got bass player John Dufek to round out the band.

In 1973 they showed up at Toronto’s Manta Studios in Toronto and made some demos. These included a cover of “Last Kiss” originally recorded by Frankie J Wilson & The Cavaliers. Wednesday’s version climbed to #1 in Vancouver, Saint John (New Brunswick), Buffalo (NY), Oshkosh (Wisconsin), Rochester (NY), Tulsa (OK) and Chicago.

Wednesday’s debut album, Last Kiss, soon followed with five cover versions of hit songs from the past. These included “Gloria”(Them),  “Tell Laura I Love Her” (Ray Peterson) and “Teen Angel” (Mark Dinning). “Teen Angel” became their follow up single to their Top Ten cover hit “Last Kiss”. Wednesday chose to alter the songs lyrics than being a remake of the original, the storyline of the 1974 version provided a sequel narrative for what happened to the boy after Mark Dinning’s telling of the story. After losing his girlfriend some time before, the 16-year-old boy loses his life in the same manner as the girl in the 1960 song. In Wednesday’s version, the song is narrated by a group of the boy’s friends.

Teen Angel by Wednesday

Teen angel, teen angel,
teen angel, ooh, ooh

That fateful night the car was stalled
upon the railroad track.
We pulled him out and he was safe
but he went runnin’ back

Teen angel, can you hear us?
Teen angel, can you see us?
Are you somewhere up above?
He’s on his way, your own true love.

What was it he was looking for
that took his life that night?
They said they found your picture
clutched in his fingers tight.

Teen angel, can you hear us?
Teen angel, can you see us?
Are you somewhere up above?
He’s on his way, your own true love.

Just sweet sixteen and now he’s gone,
they’ve taken him away.
And now you’ll kiss his lips again,
we buried him today.

Teen angel, can you hear us?
Teen angel, can you see us?
Are you somewhere up above?
He’s on his way, your own true love.

Teen angel, teen angel, answer us, please.

 

But in 1974 teen tragedy and songs about murder were not topping the charts. Ray Stevens sang about “The Streak“, Paul McCartney had his “Band On The Run” and Carly Simon told radio listeners “Haven’t Got Time For The Pain“. If there was any nostalgia for oldies it was Grand Funk Railroad’s new version of the dance tune “The Loco-motion“. And the Jackson 5 sang about their “Dancing Machine“. Wednesday’s cover of “Teen Angel” did best in Sacramento (#7), Sudbury, Ontario, (#6), Hamilton (#3) and in Vancouver at #10. It stalled at #15 in Toronto and fared less well across Canada and not well at all in the USA.

Their debut album and follow up album both became gold records. Wednesday followed up with more single releases in 1977 that were covers of songs from the early rock ‘n roll era, with Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red” and Dion’s “Ruby Baby”. However, their was little interest among record buyers in covers of old pop tunes during the height of the disco craze. Financial woes were plaguing Skyline Records and they became insolvent. Wednesday had changed its name to Wenzday, but it was no use. Within a few years the band broke up.

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