Teenage Death Songs: “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson

Part two of a grisly series.

“Tell Laura I Love Her” is one of the most famous teenage death songs.  When I was a very young kid in the late ’70s, my playmates and I would sing the opening lines…

Laura and Tommy were lovers,
He wanted to give her everything,
Flowers, presents, but most of all, a wedding ring.

…to make fun of whoever had a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” at the time, of course substituting for the names “Laura” and “Tommy.”  I doubt any of us had ever heard the song, and I’m pretty sure we had the melody completely wrong, but it’s still some sort of signifier of how much the song had permeated the popular culture that little kids were singing variations on it nearly twenty years after it was released.

“Tell Laura I Love Her” is the sad tale of Tommy, who enters a stock car race to win a $1000 prize so that he can buy that wedding ring for Laura.  For reasons unknown, his car overturns and bursts into flames.  As he is pulled dying from the flaming wreck, he sings the chorus:

Tell Laura I love her,
Tell Laura I need her,
Tell Laura not to cry,
My love for her will never die.

The end finds poor, heartbroken Laura alone  in a chapel, praying for Tommy.

The song was a number seven hit for Ray Peterson in 1960.  Ray Peterson’s best-known other works include the highest-charting version of “Corrina, Corrina,” and the original version of “The Wonder of You,” subsequently transformed into an epic by Elvis Presley.  He later became a Baptist minister and died in 2005.

“Tell Laura” was written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh.  Jeff Barry went on to marry fellow songwriter Ellie Greenwich, and the two wrote a number of girl-group classics, including perhaps the most famous teenage death song of them all, “Leader of the Pack.”  They also discovered Neil Diamond.  Ben Raleigh also had other hits, but his most famous composition other than “Laura” is almost certainly the theme to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

In 1961, the delightfully-named Skeeter Davis released an answer record, “Tell Tommy I Miss Him,” which lets us know what Laura was saying in that prayer in the chapel.  (It’s really just the same song with different lyrics.)

Other posts in this series below the fold:

Teenage Death Songs: “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning

Teenage Death Songs: “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes

Teenage Death Songs: “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las

Teenage Death Songs: “The Water Was Red” by Johnny Cymbal

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3 Responses to Teenage Death Songs: “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson

  1. jordan says:

    ……..that many yrs ago these were my torch songs…I just new this would happen to me…as in Splender in the Grass(movie)…it didn’t bet I felt it did…enjoyed the article and reviviting my drama queen yrs…..

  2. [...] tyranny, here is “The Wonder of You,” originally performed by Ray Peterson of “Tell Laura I Love Her” fame.  It’s not one of Presley’s more subtle works, going instead for a [...]

  3. Laura says:

    Great post about a great song. I was about 15 when I heard “Tell Laura I Love Her” for the first time (years after its release), and I cried like a baby. Jeff’s written a few teenage death songs, including “Leader of the Pack” (another cool post by you) and also “Give Us Your Blessings,” also recorded by Ray Peterson. He’s one of the legends of the Brill Building era – and a super nice guy. Believe it or not, my name is Laura and I run Jeff’s official fan site. Talk about a coincidence. :)

    Never realized that Ben Raleigh co-wrote the ‘Scooby Doo’ theme song … thanks for the info!

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