Just before Christmas 1962, teenagers Jeanette Clark and J.L. Hancock died when the car they were travelling in hit a tractor on a rural road in Barnesville, Georgia. It was just a damn unlucky accident. Nobody was driving drunk, nobody was drag racing, nobody was tired of life or mortally wounded by love, and nobody was a leader of the pack.
White R&B singer Wayne Cochran, who lived nearby, was working on a song about the many accidents he had seen on the road, with a sneaky view to adding to the canon of crash songs that were popular at the time. The story goes that the 1962 crash prompted Cochran to write the song that would be known as Last Kiss for Jeanette Clark. The flaw with that story is that the song was first released in 1961 on the Gala label, a year before Christmas 1962 (a re-recorded version came out in 1963). Moreover, Cochran didn’t write the song on his own. Even if he has the sole writing credit, apparently he composed it with bandmates Joe Carpenter, Randall Hoyal and Bobby McGlon.
Cochran’s version was not a hit, but a cover by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers reached the US Top 10 in 1964. In a cruel irony, Wilson was seriously injured in a car crash a year later that killed his manager Sonley Roush, whose idea it was to record Last Kiss.
In 1994 Last Kiss was covered by Pearl Jam as a fundraiser for Kosovo. It brought in some $10 million and reached #2 on the Billboard charts.