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Dead Man's Curve

by

Jan & Dean



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This is about a real stretch of road in Los Angeles. It is on Sunset Boulevard near the UCLA campus. See a photo and learn more in Song Images.
On April 12, 1966, Jan (Jan Berry), crashed his Corvette into a parked truck just blocks away from Dead Man's Curve. He spent months in a coma and remained mostly paralyzed. Berry suffered permanent brain damage in the crash, but did recover well enough to resume performing with Dean Torrence starting in 1978. He died of a seizure on March 26, 2004.
The credited songwriters are Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Jan Berry, Roger Christian (a DJ and car enthusiast who wrote "Little Deuce Coupe" with Wilson) and Artie Kornfeld, who later helped organize the Woodstock festival. In 2009 on Artie Wayne's Blog, Kornfeld explained:

One day, Brian and I were chilling and trying out this tiny Honda that the company had sent him as a thank you for writing the Hondells "Little Honda." (the song was not yet released, but Wilson had already written it for a Honda commercial) We were cruisin' about 3 miles from his ex-wife, Marilyn's mom's house. Brian, as he was known to do, was pushing two hundred pounds way over what a 60 cc Honda could handle. I said Bry you should slow down, as in Santa Monica there is a lot of sand on the streets. We went over and the bike and were torn apart. We carried half a Honda each 3 miles, bleeding like crazy, to an open door in an empty house. We noticed a piece of blank paper on the piano and Bry sat down and I pulled up a chair and, I guess because of recent events I wrote down the words, "Dead Mans Curve."
Brian started a two four piano rhythm but I don't have any idea for the lyric…except I always envied Jan's Corvette, sang to Brian's chords" I was crusin' in my Sting Ray late one night and an XKE pulled upon the right…" Bran repeated what I wrote down with the melody and I almost finished the lyric in about 30 minutes with me writing the words, some with Brian, as being a New Yorker after I put us on Sunset Blvd.
I had no idea what landmarks we would pass to that curve after Doheny where it turns right and heads into Beverly Hills.
We were laughing and Brian said, lets hear what we have, laughing at the whole trip and tripping on our wipeout still. I jumped up and said Brian stop, "I think we need an accident here". He responded "you are nuts Artie", but stopped and hit a chord, for some reason at that moment I thought of Robert Frost Poem about two roads in the woods and went metaphoric putting in an accident.
In my mind symbolic with the point we make those decisions that may change or end our lives. I wrote something like it says on the record and Brian Started a Kick Ass chorus. In walks the ever great loving talented Jan Berry who with Bry and a little me worked out the complete song. As Jan tightened up the song for a Jan and Dean Record, he was already hearing a finished product. Jan sat down at a table, hardly touched the piano, except to find the changes and as only Jan with Brian there could do…wrote out the entire arrangement, that as I remember, and was not a note off when we went in with it to play for Lou Adler. It just seems like moments but it was really days later when we went in and recorded it. The reason we had to put DJ Roger Christians name on the song, Lou Adler would know more than I.
The musicians on the date included Glen Campbell, then a tough tee shirted ass kicker on guitar, and Leon Russell (wearing a suit). Then there was Earl Palmer and Hal Blaine, the only drummers you could put together, and it came out great.
Of course being about 19 or 20 I could not help but notice Lou's Fiancée Shelly Faberes, in a very tight sweater. Dean did not show. I did stand behind Bry to get a falsetto sound that was a little different.
When the record came out it was the B side to "New Girl in School."I guess I did my first promotion as for reasons so few know I reversed the Charts and "New Girl in School" stopped shooting up the charts and "DEAD MANS CURVE" RULED! Brian, Jan and I all lived "Dead Mans Curve" in our separate lives.
In the liner notes for the Jan and Dean collection The Complete Liberty Singles, this version of the story appears: "For the next Jan and Dean disc, Jan reworked a Drag City album cut, 'Dead Man's Curve,' into a California car crash of epic proportions. After an opening fanfare of alarming horns, the Greek tragedy builds on a pounding drum track underpinning Jan's lead which was framed, in turn, by a heavenly high-toned chorus in a breathtaking arrangement crafted by Jan. Roger Christian had lobbied for a less deadly conclusion, but Jan insisted that the song end catastrophically. The fourth credited writer (then Screen gems writer and future Woodstock producer) Artie Kornfeld, had recently collaborated with Jan on 'I Adore Him' by The Angels, and they teamed up again when Artie temporarily moved into Jan and Don's Occidental Blvd. apartment. Don Altfeld recalls how Art, Jan and Roger wrote the song on a restaurant napkin, and then left it on the table, returning later to dig through the trash for it." (thanks to Kent Kotal at Forgotten Hits)
The CBS-TV Movie Deadman's Curve aired in 1978 and 1979 and chronicled Berry's valiant fight to regain his ability to function normally. Jan & Dean started their comeback after the special aired.
The cars described in the song were the ones owned by Jan Berry and his co-writer Roger Christian - Jan had a Stingray and Roger had a Jaguar XKE. Roger wanted the song to end with the racers finishing in a tie, but Berry insisted it end in a fiery crash.
The real Dead Man's Curve was so dangerous because it bows to the outside, and centrifugal force draws cars coming down the hill into the oncoming lane if they're moving too fast. Mel Blanc, who was the voice of Bugs Bunny and many other Looney Tunes characters, was seriously injured in a crash there on January 24, 1961. Roger Christian was a huge fan of Blanc, and his injury gave him the initial idea for the song.
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Comments (12):

On June 30th 1953, the first Corvette was produced at the Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan...
Sticker price was $3,250!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
On February 3rd 1978, the made-for-TV movie "Dead Man's Curve" aired on the CBS-TV network...
The song entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart fourteen years earlier on March 1st, 1964; and on May 3rd, 1964 it peaked at #8 (for 2 weeks) and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
The record's B-side, "The New Girl In School", also chart, it reached #37 (for 1 week) on April 5th, 1964 and stayed on the Top 100 for 8 weeks...
R.I.P. William 'Jan' Berry (1941 – 2004) and 'Dean' Ormsby Torrence will celebrated his 74th birthday next month on March 10th (2014).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Dead Man's Curve is still a cool Jan & Dean hit. Back in the early Sixties, I became a Jan & Dean fan with such hits as Surf City, Linda, Baby Talk, Honolulu Lulu, Drag City, Popsicle, etc. And don't forget that Jan Berry was a multi-talented rock star. There was even a TV bio-pic in the late Seventies titled "Dead Man's Curve" that chronicled Jan & Dean's stardom & the aftermath of Berry's auto crash. The duo had a wild sense of humor too. The picture-sleeve that "Dead Man's Curve" came in had a zany photo of the duo clothed in ill-fitting clothes (tight jeans too)! And I too believe that Jan & Dean deverse to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With the RRHOF widening their nomination process this year, that may happen some day.
- elmer, westville, OK
I don't know that much about the origination of this song. But I do know that no stock Corvette ever had "six tail lights" ! I have been wondering about that gaffe since first hearing the tune, what 50 years ago. Any ideas anybody?
- Jon scott, Mountain Home, AR
The song is almost a paean but ends up a tragedy. It's a shame that Jan and Dean aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jan Berry was the only artist I know of who: wrote, arranged, produced and sang on his own records.
- coy, Palestine, TX
This song , like "Leader of The Pack" ( by The Shangri - Las ), "Last Kiss" ( by Duane Cochran ), and "Tell Laura I Love Her" ( by Dickie Lee ), are what was called in the 50s and 60s era as a "Death Song.. It was and still is one of the most popular songs of the 60s.
- Chomper2011, Honesdale,, PA
Sorry, but Artie's recollection just isn't accurate.

1 - although The Beach Boys did record a commercial for Honda, "Little Honda" wasn't it. The song was recorded April 10th, 1964, released September 21st.

2 - Brian & Marilyn weren't even married by summer (December 7th was the date).

3 - her parents house is about ten miles from Santa Monica, not three.

4 - summer 1964 Brian didn't weigh anywhere near 200 lbs.

5 - the album version (the one Brian's on - he had nothing to do with the re-recorded single version) was recorded November 11th 1963, released January 6th 1964, so according to Kornfeld's story, he, Brian & Jan Berry managed to write and record it some months after it was released !
- Andrew, London, United Kingdom
Dead man's curve is a real place in West Los Angeles, located less than a mile east of I-405 (San Diego Fwy) on Sunset Blvd. What makes this a dangerous curve is, that it has a negative camber going both ways E&W bound. East bound traffic deals with a right turn with the road leaning to the left, and west bound traffic with a left turn having the road lean to the right. Add to the fact the roadway is made of concrete and has been polished after 40 years of traffic it's also very slippery, add rain grooves and it's real bad.
- Thomas B. Buckley, Lacey, WA
Jan was alone in his Corvette, and it struck a parked, unoccupied gardener's truck. Jan was the only injured party in the crash.
- Steven, Los Angeles, CA
I always thought it was cool how they mentioned the street names in this:"Sunset and Vine"...& the phrase- "i flew past LaBrea, Schwabs and Crescent Heights".."he passed me at Doheney".
It just made you feel as if you were really there even more so. What a great, great song!
- Reed, New Ulm, MN
I am an expert on old sports cars, and because the XKE Jaguar had a very fragile body that rusted easily (I once saw a 1964 XKE coupe that someone had put a Chevy small-block V-8 in, and the owner proceeded to drive the car until the frame was destroyed by vibrations and too much power), and when the fuel tank (which is under the trunk floor) is hit from any angle, especially by a very powerful car like a Corvette Stingray (I assume that the Jag was rear-ended), the Jag will almost certainly crumple, and anyone inside will almost certainly die a fiery and painful death, just like the song.
- Darrell, Eugene
This song was mentioned in the movie High Fidelity. Jack Black's character names it for a 'Top 5 songs about death' list
- Ben, Fairfield, CA
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