Teenage Death Songs: “The Water Was Red” by Johnny Cymbal


So there’s this young guy, and he meets a girl on a lonely beach. They fall in love, and go back to the beach where they met every chance they get.

One fateful day, they are swimming at the beach and all of a sudden a shark kills the girl! The boy brings her body back to shore.

After laying her dead body on the beach, the boy grabs a big knife and goes back into the water and kills the shark!

And he comes back to shore clutching the shark’s severed fin!

This is the awesomeness that is “The Water Was Red” by Johnny Cymbal. Johnny Cymbal (believe it or not, his real name) was discovered at the age of fifteen, when he cut a couple of tracks for MGM, including “The Water Was Red.”

How this wasn’t a smash hit, I’ll never know, but it wasn’t. I know that if I had been a DJ in 1960, I would have played it non-stop. (Perhaps there’s a reason I’ve never been offered a paying gig as a DJ.) Johnny had his first hit a couple of years later with the incredibly infectious “Mr. Bass Man,” a fairly well-known song that ought to be even better known.

Although ultimately Cymbal had more success as a songwriter than as a singer, he did not write “The Water Was Red.” It was written by Jeff Barry, one of the folks behind previously-covered teenage death classics “Leader of the Pack” and “Tell Laura I Love Her.”

I put this video together myself, illustrating it with artwork from shark movies. Lots of straight-to-video shark movies over the past few years for some reason.

Although I couldn’t find an image of the 45 sleeve for “The Water Was Red,” I’m happy to use the great “red” poster for Jaws 2 instead. I think it’s one of the coolest movie posters of all time.

Other posts in this series below the fold.

Teenage Death Songs: “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning

Teenage Death Songs: “Tell Laura I Love Her” by Ray Peterson

Teenage Death Songs: “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes

Teenage Death Songs: “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las


One Response to Teenage Death Songs: “The Water Was Red” by Johnny Cymbal

  1. Terry Lee Bozeman says:

    I also wonded why this song never charted. I’m not a DJ, but am a musician, and played for many years with quite a few of the Teen Idols. Ray Peterson, Johnny Tillotzon, Ronnie Dove, and Ray Stevens.

    Johnny Cymbal should have had
    a huge hit with ‘The Water Was Red’. If my memory serves me, here are some of the lyrics:

    A boy met a girl on a lonely beach, and soon they were holding hands,
    They fell in love on that lonely beach, and kissed on the silver sand;

    They came/went to the beach whenever they could, and stayed till the moon was high, and once they were swimming where the water was deep, the white fin came into sight. (I remember some of the chorus, but aren’t sure enough to post them)

    Terry Lee Bozeman
    Inducted into the
    Traditional Country Hall
    Of Fame, Sideman Category

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