Written in 1960, the tragic song has hit the Billboard Top 40 twice, turning two bands into one-hit wonders. The first time was in 1964 by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers.
The second time was ten years later in 1974 when Canadian band Wednesday hit #38 with “Last Kiss” on the Billboard Hot 100.
Twenty-five years later, Pearl Jam took “Last Kiss” to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in the process, notched their highest-charting single of all time.
Think about that: multi-million record-selling Pearl Jam’s biggest hit is a cover of a one-hit wonder for two bands.
First time “Last Kiss” becomes one-hit wonder
Today, we’re talking about the first hit version of “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. And friends, sometimes truth really is better than fiction. Because you can’t make this stuff up.
Listen to “Last Kiss” by J Frank Wilson and the CavaliersLast Kiss - J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
“Last Kiss” was written about three teenagers who were killed in a car crash in 1956. The original version by Wayne Cochran didn’t make the charts and was soon forgotten. But record promoter Sonley Roush heard the song and thought it was perfect for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, a small group he managed.
History tells us “Last Kiss” wasn’t so perfect after all. Perhaps it was prophetic.
Second, when the song was #3 on the charts, the band was on tour and during a trip through Ohio, I’m not making this up, the band’s car ran into a tractor-trailer truck. A tractor trailer truck is the same kind of truck that killed the characters in “Last Kiss” in 1956.
Sonley Roush was driving the band’s station wagon and fell asleep at the wheel. They drifted into the truck and Roush was killed instantly. Lead singer J. Frank was seriously injured with broken ribs, a fractured ankle and lots of cuts and bruises.
Two weeks later, “Last Kiss” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as Wilson sang the song from the stage wearing a cast and leaning on crutches. You can’t script a more dramatic setting than that.
You could argue that the accident that led to writing “Last Kiss” ultimately led to the chart success of “Last Kiss,” which put J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers on the road to support the song, and ultimately led to another car accident that killed manager Roush and injured the singer.
That’s simply bizarre. But it earned the band a Gold record and legendary status as tragic one-hit wonders.