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Written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh, this death rock ballad was recorded in the US by Ray Peterson on RCA Victor and in the UK by Ricky Valance on EMI-Columbia, both in 1960. Many radio stations banned this and other death rock ballads such as "Last Kiss
" or "Endless Sleep
," fearing they would incite teens to commit suicide. However, it reached #7 on the national record charts in August, 1960.
The Ricky Valance cover came about when Decca Records in England picked up the original recording and broadcast a sample on the BBC. An apparent moral panic ensued and Decca executives decided the record could not be released, saying it was "too tasteless and vulgar for the English sensibility." 25,000 copies had already been pressed, and were all destroyed. EMI-Columbia promptly recruited Valence, a Welsh RAF veteran recently signed to the label, to cover the song. The BBC immediately banned it, citing a recent series of fatal road accidents, but it went to #1 in the UK in September 1960 and remained there for three weeks.
At about the same time, John Leyton recorded a cover on Top Rank records, but the label was in the process of being taken over by EMI which had just released Valence's recording. Leyton's version was withdrawn from sale.
Valence was the second Welsh singer (after Shirley Bassey) to have a #1 song on the British chart. He performs it in concert to this day. He chose his stage name independently and it is not related to Ritchie Valens.
Peterson is also known for having recorded "The Wonder of You" (later covered by Elvis Presley), "Missing You," and "Corinna, Corinna." Peterson began singing as a child, when he contracted polio. He would sing in the hospital to entertain the ward. He was known for his phenomenal four-octave range. He was also a Baptist minister. He died of cancer in 2005.
This was Jeff Barry's first big pop hit. He went on to write many more with his wife Ellie Greenwich.
This was covered by Dicky Lee in 1962, by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers (best known for "Last Kiss") in 1964, by Johnny T. Angel in 1974, and by the Boppers in 1978. There have also been numerous parodies.
Marilyn Michaels recorded an answer song to this, "Tell Tommy I Miss Him", also in 1960. It was covered by Laura Lee and Skeeter Davis. (thanks, Ekristheh - Halath, for all above)
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