She only had a couple of hits, but one of them remains among the most affecting of all the so-called “death songs” that clung to the charts in the early 1960. Lynn “Twinkle” Ripley was just sixteen when “Terry” brought her a 1964 British hit, but the depths of emotion she conveyed in that one song were deeper than many others have mustered in entire careers – and that despite most commentators, then and now, writing it off as little more than a “Leader of the Pack” copy.
At least when they weren’t howling for it to be banned on grounds of bad taste – and then celebrating when it was. The BBC dropped the single from the playlist, but “Terry” was on his way to number four, mangled motorcycle and all.
“Golden Lights,” Twinkle’s follow-up, was a less successful condemnation of the showbiz lifestyle; the Smiths later covered it, in suitably lachrymose style, but even Morrissey could not muster the same depths of disillusion that already shone through Twinkle’s vocals.
Despite her youth, she had very firm ambitions (and abilities) that her label, Decca, seemed determined to chip away. A fabulous songwriter, Twinkle was nevertheless led towards cover versions for the remainder of her time with the label – an English language version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son”; Reparta and the Delrons’ “Tommy”; Skeeter Davis’s “End of the World” and PF Sloan’s “What Am I Doing Here With You?” All were beautiful performances, but they failed to chart and, by 1965, Twinkle had retired, unwilling to compromise another inch. She was eighteen.
She returned in 1969, signed to Andrew Oldham’s Immediate label’s Instant subsidiary, and working with Mike D’Abo. But “Micky,” written for her boyfriend, actor Michael Hannah, disappeared without trace, while a clutch of later songs likewise recorded under Hannah’s influence were abandoned when he was killed in an aircrash in 1974. Just one single, “Days,” leaked out in 1974 – the remainder were left unissued until 2003 brought the CD Michael Hannah: The Lost Years.
And that was it for Twinkle’s musical career. In 1975, she recorded another flop 45, “Smoochie,” with her father Bill; but she was married now, raising a family and enjoying a private life that had little interest in stepping back into the limelight. Neither the Smiths cover nor the 1993 Golden Lights compilation of her Decca material (and more) prompted her to make a comeback, and her passing, from cancer on May 15, perhaps came as even more of a shock as a consequence.
In our minds, and the popular image, after all, Twinkle remains the slender teenager, with a warm, wonderful voice, magnificent blonde bangs, and a permanent place in the Beatles-beat era Hall of Fame. Other memories… “the girl who said no to Mick Jagger (but yes to Peter Noone)” is probably the best-known one… flicker, too.
But most, and best, of all, Twinkle was Twinkle. And may she always continue to do so.