Dead Man's Curve

Album: Dead Man's Curve (1964)
Charted: 8


  • This is about a real stretch of road in Los Angeles. It is on Sunset Boulevard near the UCLA campus.
  • 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 three 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 three 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 T-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."
  • The made-for-TV movie Deadman's Curve aired in 1978 and 1979 on CBS 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.
  • The Carpenters covered this song on their 1973 album Now & Then.

Comments: 18

  • Geoker from FloridaJon Scott from Mountain Home, Ar - - - Jon, adding one tail light to each side of a Vette was a popular modification "in the day", there is plenty of room for it. It would be a stock light just like the existing ones. I currently own and drive a mid years Vette (1963- 1967) and was in high school when the song came out. Yup my Vette has 4 tail lights, two are brake/stop lights and two back up lights. A 327 wound up really tight - - - great - -- the sound I remember yet - - and no mine doesn't get see those rpms - - - but there was a time - - -
  • Julian from LondonFurther to that last (my) comment- I have just watched a Dean Torrence interview and he says that the actual 'Deadman's Curve' was taken by driving East from the beach along Sunset and not West as per the song.

    The curve is actually on Sunset Bld, just northeast of where De Neve Drive joins to Charles E Young Drive north. Go to Google maps and take the ride east.

    Dean advises that, contrary to the song (where heading west would take you uphill) the 'badge of honour' was to speed downhill around the bends and when you reached this left hand downward curve there was a crown on the road forcing you right, into the UCLA playing field. He continues by saying that they have now 'banked' the curve as per a raceway so you are not forced right (or more accurately straight on) and you 'can' easily take the curve.

    So, from the song's perspective I believe the curve is at Sunset and Cory Avenue heading west (which fits the streets and chronology mentioned) but the actual curve is coming the other way down hill alongside De Neve Drive and you can look at both and see the banking on the bend as it turns left, just as Dean states..
  • Julian from LondonI realise that a number of people have looked for Deadman's Curve along Sunset Blvd and most suggest that it is a 90 degree turn just past Whittler heading west but taking the lyrics and the distance between Doheney and that location don't make sense.
    Have a look at the map and the bend where I believe the song is referencing is at Sunset and Cory Ave. No, I realise that this may not be where locals called Deadman's curve and yes, of course, the 90 deg bend to the right is more dangerous but ' He passed me at Doheney and I started to swerve, but I pulled her and there we were at Deadman's curve.'

    He doesn't say, he passed me at Doheney and I started to swerve but I pulled her out and drove another mile and a half to Deadman's curve.
    If he started to swerve at Doheney and just manages to recover then he is at the bend at Cory immediately.

    Yep- I know I probably don't know what I am talking about but find street map and ride Sunset and pass Doheney with a swerve and see where you would be!!

    And though we dive on the opposite side I have enough US Road miles under my belt (over the last 15 years) to know which side of the road they were on heading west!

    Just a thought, but DO have a look!.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaDarrell, now you know why I won't set foot in a Corvette either. They are nice looking but I saw one that hit a stop sign going 5 miles an hour and it looked like a crumpled up cardboard box and elephant sat on. Nope not this child.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaThat story is interesting but what sounds so CRAZY is that they are bleeding like mad from an accident, but still are ok to just sit down and write a song. HUUM OK?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 16th 1964, Jan & Dean performed "Dead Man's Curve" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the song was in its second week at #8 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, and that was also its peak position on the chart, it stayed on the chart for 14 weeks...
    Between 1959 and 1966 the duo had twenty-four songs on the Top 100 chart; six made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, "Surf City" for two weeks in 1963...
    They just missed having a seventh Top 10 record when "Honolulu Lulu" peaked at #11 in 1963.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 30th 1953, the first Corvette was produced at the Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan...
    Sticker price was $3,250!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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).
  • Elmer from Westville, OkDead 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.
  • Jon Scott from Mountain Home, ArI 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?
  • Coy from Palestine, TxThe 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.
  • Chomper2011 from Honesdale,, PaThis 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.
  • Andrew from London, United KingdomSorry, 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 !
  • Thomas B. Buckley from Lacey, WaDead 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.
  • Steven from Los Angeles, CaJan was alone in his Corvette, and it struck a parked, unoccupied gardener's truck. Jan was the only injured party in the crash.
  • Reed from New Ulm, MnI 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!
  • Darrell from EugeneI 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.
  • Ben from Fairfield, CaThis song was mentioned in the movie High Fidelity. Jack Black's character names it for a 'Top 5 songs about death' list
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders

Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and Black Star RidersSongwriter Interviews

Writing with Phil Lynott, Scott saw their ill-fated frontman move to a darker place in his life and lyrics.

Thomas Dolby

Thomas DolbySongwriter Interviews

He wrote "She Blinded Me With Science" so he could direct a video about a home for deranged scientists.

Glen Burtnik

Glen BurtnikSongwriter Interviews

On Glen's résumé: hit songwriter, Facebook dominator, and member of Styx.

Grunge Bands Quiz

Grunge Bands QuizMusic Quiz

If the name Citizen Dick means anything to you, there's a chance you'll get some of these right.

Curt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets

Curt Kirkwood of Meat PuppetsSongwriter Interviews

The (Meat)puppetmaster takes us through songs like "Lake Of Fire" and "Backwater," and talks about performing with Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged.

Randy Newman

Randy NewmanSongwriting Legends In Their Own Words

Newman makes it look easy these days, but in this 1974 interview, he reveals the paranoia and pressures that made him yearn for his old 9-5 job.