Laura and Tommy were lovers
He wanted to give her everything
And most of all, a wedding ring…
He saw a sign for a stock car race
A thousand dollar prize it read
He couldn’t get Laura on the phone
So to her mother, Tommy said…
Tell Laura I love her
… I need her
… I may be late
I’ve something to do that cannot wait…
A teenage tragedy song, “Tell Laura I Love Her” was written by Jeff Barry and Ben Raleigh. In 1960, it was an American Top Ten popular music hit for singer Ray Peterson on RCA Victor Records. Moreover, it reached no. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Later that same year, the song was recorded and released by Ricky Valance in the United Kingdom, where it went all the way to the no. 1 spot in the UK Singles Chart. To note, “Tell Laura I Love Her” has been a hit in 14 countries, and has sold over seven million copies.
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. Nonetheless, it peaked at no. 7 on the national record charts in August 1960.
This was Jeff Barry‘s first big pop hit. He went on to write many more with his wife Ellie Greenwich.
Behind the song: A tragic story
“Tell Laura I Love Her” is the tragic story of a teenage boy named Tommy who is desperately in love with a girl named Laura.
Although they are only teenagers, he wants to marry her, so he enters a stock car race, hoping to win. He hopes to use the prize money to buy Laura a wedding ring.
However, the second verse tells how the boy’s car overturned and burst into flames. Tommy is fatally injured and his last words are “Tell Laura I love her… My love for her will never die.”
In the final verse, Laura prays inside the chapel, where she can still hear Tommy’s voice intoning the title one more time before it fades out.
The original recording
Originally, the lyrics of “Tell Laura I Love Her” concerned a rodeo, not an automobile race, as composer Jeff Barry was an aficionado of cowboy culture. However, at RCA‘s instigation, Barry rewrote the song, in order to more closely resemble the no. 1 hit “Teen Angel“.
On the original recording, the personnel included Al Chernet, Charles Macy and Sebastian Mure on guitar, Lloyd Trotman on bass, Andrew Ackers on organ, Bob Burns on sax and Bunny Shawker on drums.
In England, Decca Records decided not to release Ray Peterson’s 1960 recording on the grounds that it was “too tasteless and vulgar.” Hence, they destroyed about twenty thousand copies that had already been pressed.
Released by EMI on the Columbia label, a cover version by Ricky Valance, was no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks.
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. However, it went to no. 1 in the UK in September 1960. Moreover, it remained there for three weeks.
In addition, the song 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.
On the other hand, 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.