Song Of The Day 9/7/2015: The Browns – “Teen-Ex”

The Hidden '60s, Part 1 – Out of all 362 songs I auditioned for this week (yes, 362, that’s a real number, I researched the hell out of this music editorial feature, wouldn’t you love this kind of self-starting determination on your music editorial payroll, you know where to find me) none had quite the resonance as The Browns’ “Teen-Ex” (#47, 1960). The trio of siblings from Arkansas hit #1 in 1959 with “The Three Bells,” the kind of simple tune that skirted sentimentality with its clever construction. The Browns had more in common with old-style folk traditions than many of their Nashville contemporaries, who were just about to slide into more sophisticated, citified arrangements and first world problems.

“Teen-Ex” -- written by Boudleaux & Felice Bryant, produced by Chet Atkins -- is astonishing and truly tear-jerking, and it’s not even two minutes long. At first I was jolted that the subject matter of teenage marriage was broached this way back in 1960, even if the average age of nuptial participants was much younger than it is now. (The median age at first marriage in 1960 was 22.8 for males and 20.8 for females, among the lowest of the century. Now it’s more like 28/26.) The Browns let the details hang in the background and forego the moralizing – the social tragedy of the song is youth being too eager to graduate from innocence, finding themselves on the sad end of experience too soon.

Probably the most heart-breaking part of the song is the idea that they’ll do it again after they graduate, in a real church with a real wedding party: just another remote dream sure to be complicated again before it happens. And the Brown sisters’ two-word phrasing “divorce court” is startling as well. Man. Love hurts. I think Boudleaux & Felice said that too.

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