Jun 04

RICKY VALANCE – “Tell Laura I Love Her”

Popular11 comments • 3,583 views

#107, 1st October 1960

Death ballads aren’t really about the unfortunate who dies. Listen to Valance’s pallid, picky enunciation; listen to the way he caresses every detail – “he was the youngest driver there”; “as they pulled him from the twisted wreck” – the way he almost licks the word “flames”. Valance’s graveside manners are those of a voyeur, sighing and wringing his hands as the guillotine falls. This morbid fascination with youth cut down recurs whenever youth is admired – only the circumstances change, from Little Nell through the gilded boy poets of 1914 to teenage lovers whose deaths prove their passion. There was always a Valance in attendance, to paint, sculpt or sing the pitiful details.

(Of course the dead didn’t have to be real, often weren’t, though it’s interesting that the death ballad in Britain stopped selling well in the 80s, when tabloid reporting of real death became more intrusive and more sentimental. The goggle-eyed pieties of the balladeers could hardly compete.)

The form is ghoulish, then, but the records can be good – indeed grand. The fatal climaxes of the Shangri-La’s hits are some of the most effective constructs in all pop. Even so they still seem a bit camp now – it’s hard somehow for death songs not to. Ricky Valance is no Shangri-La, though his “Tell Laura” leaves a (somewhat clammy) imprint on you even so.

Postscript: Joe Meek heard the American original of this and recorded not only another version but also a Brit-clone of the answer song, “Tell Tommy I Miss Him”. Both flopped, but Meek wasn’t finished with death songs and within a year would have released the best example ever to top the British chart.



  1. 1
    Joe Williams on 29 Aug 2005 #

    4???? This is an incredible record. Admittedly it’s years since I heard it, but I’m sure I’m right.

  2. 2
    Keith W on 21 Mar 2008 #

    I think it’s got a great, well known chorus. Listening to it for the first time for a long time, I was surprised that I barely even recognised the verses, which are pretty weak. I’d say they drag the song down to a 4.

  3. 3
    Billy Smart on 7 Feb 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Just one UK TV appearance listed for Ricky, and it doesn’t survive;

    THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS: with Petula Clark, The Big Ben Trad Band, Ricky Valance, Danny Davis, Frank Ifield, Rose Brennan, Gene Vincent, Peter Noble (1961)

  4. 4
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #


    Merfyn Turner, campaigner (1962)

    Frank Bruno, Boxer (1993).

  5. 5
    Victoria on 15 Aug 2011 #

    The verses might be a bit weak but that chorus is so catchy and splendidly morbid I would’ve upped it a little to a 6 at least.
    He’s no Shangri-La but really who is?

  6. 6
    enitharmon on 7 Aug 2012 #

    And this one’s for the Queen of the Velodrome at London 2012 …

  7. 7
    Cumbrian on 9 Aug 2012 #

    She’s going out with Jason Kenny apparently (at least that’s what she’s saying on Twitter). A bit previous perhaps but…imagine any kids they have. Get them on a bike and see what happens.

  8. 8
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Nov 2013 #

    Hopefully Popular will eventually get to discuss the other Valance. There’s definitely some light to be shed on this: in a gaffe even worse than that magazine’s Marvin Gaye one (see Boombastic), a Q journalist once asked her “How do you feel about being a masturbatory aid for teenage boys?”

    Bizarrely, I used to confuse this with “I Want My Baby Back” by Jimmy Cross.

    I think The Top 10 of Everything 1996 put the former as the worst song of all time voted on Kenny Everett’s radio show, and TLILH as one of the top 10 best-selling ‘banned’ BBC records along with, :cough: Max Romeo “Wet Dream” and George Michael “I Want Your Sex” and in the 10-year-old me, this caused adolescence, damned adolescence and statistics.

    I can’t get into this, sorry – 4/10. I’ve been listening to every number 1 since the start on Spotify, this the one I’m up to now, and also every single from March 1960 (as far as the OC archives go back), and it’s sweet and heartfelt, heard this theme, structure and ambience a thousand times before. It’s probably great if you’re on a Dreamboats and Petticoats nostalgia fix, but I’m dying for Joe Meek, the Beatles, and all the new brooms about to sweep clean just around the corner.

    IWMBB, in its own morally dubious way, does send up these limitations brilliantly as if the singer had been whacked over the head with terracotta piping.. a British radio station lambasting something as “crap” when it’s obviously a parody (and by someone from Alabama!) makes “Americans don’t get irony” as lazy as the “thick Irish” jokes of the seventies. I do like it for obviously sending up Leader of the Pack a lot, which also sounds (in the opening lines) EXACTLY like Common People, something nobody else seems to mention (though they’re oddly much more vocal about Disco 2000 cribbing from Laura Branigan’s Gloria.)

    I’ve soon got plenty of new light to shed on Tom’s top 100 1990s singles (my other Top 40 listening project has made it to August 1999, starting in January ’88, but won’t bunny myself too much. Thanks to me, we will, however, soon get to talk about S*M*A*S*H again. Do S*M*A*S*H even talk about S*M*A*S*H down the pub these days?)

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 29 Jul 2014 #

    Ricky Valance has a great voice that helps to sell the somewhat corny material although the relentlessly cheerful ‘bom-bom-bom-BOM’ undermines the solemn mood.
    Some early popular ballads seem to treat death as an inevitable fact of a (probably) short life. Jimmie Rodgers chirped cheerfully about his TB and assorted train wrecks. Perhaps as people’s life expectancy increased such sudden ends seemed more cruel – perhaps as songs began to reflect or project a teenage world view this was an early form of Emo.
    Andy Warhol did a series of paintings in the early 1960s based on newspaper stories of car crashes that focus on gruesome images of twisted metal and flesh so there was also a sense of modernity to these deaths. JG Ballard would go on to explore the latent eroticism in ‘Crash’ which in turn inspired ‘Warm Leatherette’ by The Normal.

  10. 10
    enitharmon on 12 Jun 2020 #

    So we say farewell to Ricky Valance. Hands up all of you who didn’t know he was still alive.

  11. 11
    Gareth Parker on 9 Jun 2021 #

    I’d just about stretch to a 5/10 here.

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