The Sixties definitely start out on a somber note. The cowboy gets killed in “El Paso,” The Indians die as they try to cross the raging river in “Running Bear” and now we have a girl who goes running back to a car that is stalled on the railroad tracks to retrieve a high school ring and becomes a “Teen Angel.” Four deaths in three songs. And three consecutive number ones. I think that’s some kind of record. There would be more as the Sixties progresses, songs like Ray Petersons “Tell Laura I Love Her” in 1960, The Everly Brothers “Ebony Eyes” in 1961, J Frank Wilsons “Last Kiss” in 1964 and The Shangri-Las “Leader of the Pack” also in 1964. Death would haunt the Sixties now and again for several years.
Mark Edward Dinning was born in 1933 in Oklahoma, the youngest of nine children. He comes from good stock and good influences. His sisters were the Dinning Sisters who were an Andrew Sisters look-a-like singing group in the Forties. They were quite popular in their day. Mark couldn’t help but end up in the music business. His babysitter when he was little was Clara Ann Fowler or as we know her today, Patti Page. One of his sisters, Jean Surrey wrote “Teen Angel” for Mark. Because of an agreement between Jean and her husband Red Surrey, both names are listed as the writers of the song.
The family pressed the record themselves and started peddling it around to disc jockeys. Some liked it, some wouldn’t play it at all because of its morbid theme. One record company said that “there was blood in the grooves.” But some did play it and the record finally broke into the Hot 100 in late December, 1959 and into the Top 40 in January of 1960.
The writer, Jean Surrey and her husband divorced at some point and he gave Jean full rights to “Teen Angel” in the divorce thinking the song was a has-been and not much would be made from it in the future. Then it was featured in the movie American Graffiti in 1973 and Jean was glad she owned the song.
“Teen Angel debuted in the Top 40 on January 4, 1960 and spent two weeks at number one. It was the only hit Mark Dinning ever had. Mark dies of a heart attack in 1986 at the age of 52.