Twinkle (Lynn Ripley), who sadly passed away last week, was a one-hit wonder of the 1960s. Her main claim to fame is a self-penned song about a lovers’ quarrel which culminates in Terry, the wronged boyfriend, riding off into the night, accelerating to his death, while she cries out in fright ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it!’
Her only consolation as she asks him to wait for her at the gates of heaven, is that one day he will know how hard she prayed for him to live.
Terry, which was released at the end of 1964, ticks the right boxes of teenage tragedy, and it should have more impact and resonance than it does. The problem, I think, lies in the relationship portrayed in the song, and also in Twinkle’s persona.
A shadowy male figure can be very effective, but Terry is a) practically invisible, and b) completely unbelievable. He wants to be near to her, close by her side, never out of her sight.
That should be passionate and dramatic and obsessive, like Heathcliff, but in this case it’s just lame. As for the quarrel and her cheating on him — well, there’s a story there, but we don’t get to hear it.
Vroom with a view
It’s baffling that such a bland song was banned by the BBC and other broadcast stations. When we sang it on the way to school (you did that, didn’t you? some of you?) we added some biker vroom-vrooms to create more drama, clearly feeling that the song needed some hyping-up.
As for Twinkle, she was such a Posh Girl and so removed from the world of rockers with greased-back hair and mean machines, and sang so lifelessly, that she didn’t manage to create the authenticity that might have made the song soar. Apparently, she wrote Terry when she was at school, during a particularly tedious French class. And you know what? That’s what it sounds like #cattyschoolgirlface.
Leader of the Pack by the Shangri-Las came out in 1965 and deals with the same subject matter, but with a million times more drama and depth.
From the opening spoken dialogue, we are plunged into a teenage soap opera of doomed love, class divisions, teenage rebellion, the generation gap, parental opposition, all the familiar stuff of plays and novels and films condensed into a three-minute single.
We know from the first lines that Betty has crossed a line by getting involved with Jimmy, a boy from the wrong side of town. Is she really going out with him? Her friends gasp in a mixture of envy and disapproval.
Is that his ring she’s wearing? It must be great riding on the back of that bike. And he picks her up after school! Oh, but uh-uh, he won’t be picking her up today…
Candy is dandy
The beginning of the love story isn’t auspicious. Betty met Jimmy in a candy store, which sounds innocent enough, but candy stores weren’t the sweetshops of our youth, they were more like coffee bars, with soda dispensers and juke boxes and magazine racks, and gangs sometimes used them as their headquarters.
So did Betty drop in to the store for the equivalent of a bag of sherbet lemons? Whatever her reason for being there, one smile from him, the leader of the pack, and she is a lost girl.
So she goes out with him. She takes him home, but poor Jimmy doesn’t go down so well with her folks. They put him down. They say he isn’t suitable. She argues with them. He isn’t bad, he’s just sad, she says. That’s why she fell for him — she could see into his soul. You can just imagine those conversations with her parents.
She understands his internal angst, he’s misunderstood, she knows what he’s really like, they need to give him a chance – but no, her father puts his foot down. She’s got to finish with him. (You can’t help feeling that Betty’s constant references to ‘leader of the pack’ don’t help her case.)
Here’s the surprising thing — Betty agrees. She doesn’t run off with Jimmy, she doesn’t defy her dad. She doesn’t arrange to meet her boyfriend in secret. This is not Romeo and Juliet. Except that Jimmy does die.
Hurt and rejected, he drives off into the rainy night to meet his end. And Betty is still the object of attention at school, crying in the corridors, a tragic figure braving the stares she encounters as she weeps in memory of Jimmy, the leader of the pack.
Betty likes the idea of being a leader’s girl. When she gets over Jimmy, maybe she’ll end up with a business tycoon or similar, and be a corporate wife, to her father’s great relief.
Sound of speed
The record sounds fantastic. There’s a compelling mixture of speaking and singing, of conversational rhythm and tone, and gritty, raw vocals.
The backing vocals echo significant lines and phrases — ‘down, down’, ‘find somebody new’, climaxing in the repeated ‘no no no’.
The drama is intensified by sound effects of screaming voices and screeching tyres, rumoured to be created courtesy of a sound engineer’s Harley Davidson.
The whole production is a theatrical tour-de-force, created by the combined talents of the group, notably lead singer Mary Weiss, and producer George ‘Shadow’ Morton, who co-wrote the song with legendary Brill Building composers Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry.
Like Terry, Leader of the Pack was refused airtime by the BBC, possibly because of the 1964 clashes between Mods and Rockers. It made it into Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, sneaking in at number 454, claiming its place as a great tragic teen song, an unforgettable mixture of melodrama and authentic emotion.