There is an unspoken rule among my friends to never utter the word “patches,” or any variation of it, in my presence lest they have to sit for a miserable (for them) three minutes while I screech-sing the true classic song “Patches” by Dickey Lee at them. (Never to them, because when “Patches” is on, I go to a world of my own. Since they don’t appreciate the majestic beauty of “Patches” they have to bear silent witness to its timeless wonder.) If you’re wondering why it’s an unspoken rule, well, the answer is obvious—if they speak it, they will say “patches” and I will start warbling it.
Look, I will never stand up and say “Patches” is a good song. Want to know why? Because it is a GREAT song—an unnecessary tragedy about a dude who ghosts a lady named Patches because his parents think she’s not good enough for him, so she throws herself in the river and drowns, then the dude finds out via a neighbor telling his parents which bums him out. Then, twist—he vows to join Patches in her watery grave that very evening. Deep stuff.
This is the best kind of song because it combines two of my favorite things—wholly avoidable situations and teen tragedy songs, which is the best genre of music, hands down.
In fact, I discovered “Patches” via a teen tragedy website that catalogued as many songs in the genre as possible, which I first stumbled upon sometime in the early ’00s. Here’s how the site (which you should definitely visit even if it hasn’t been updated in about 11 years) described my beloved “Patches”:
Patches - Dickie Lee. Not quite sure what the deal with this one is. It seems like they want to get married, but his parents said no. It sounds like she is too poor and not good enough for him. For some reason, not stated in the song, she drowns in a river and he is ready to kill himself to join her. For some reason, I linked to the wrong version of Patches, the one by Clarence Carter, still a bad song, but a dead dad song with the teen having to take over.
A reader wrote about the right version “in the song Patches, by Dickie Lee, she kills herself because she thinks he doesnt love her any more. ‘Patches must think, that I love her no more’”
Sorry, I still don’t get it. Is there nobody that can get a message to her, don’t kill yourself, my parents hate you, wait a few years and I’ll be 18 and I won’t have to listen to them anymore, don’t kill yourself. Did his parents chain him to the house. Can he send her a letter or something. I know in teen death songs, it has to be now or never, but can’t they wait a bit for true love.
Look, if you don’t think a 19-year-old Kate Hudson wouldn’t rush out to discover the magic of “Patches” based on that description, then you haven’t been paying attention much because that has all the hallmarks of a perfect song.
Naturally I prefer the original Dickey Lee version which I embedded above—the remastered is a little twangy for my taste, see for yourself:
Then, for the true “Patches” fans amongst us (which you all better be…) is this cover, which is spectacular in its own way, if a little less mainstream:
That guy sings the song as if he’s a mini-Andy Williams/Mario Lanza hybrid and I’m here for it.
The thing about “Patches” is, I have it 80 percent memorized. I can start very strong with the opening line “Down by the riverrrrrrrrr the flows by the coalll yarrrd” and then? Well, there’s definitely a point where I just start to scream-mumble while sharply pointing at whoever is in the room with me to sit still and let me finish my performance come hell or high water. If I get a little intoxicated then it’s game on. I’m gonna go through at least three variations of that song in a 10-minute span.
I have also been known to embed versions of Patches into unrelated videos and send them to my friends, and then laugh when they angrily text me back because I can’t help it if they don’t have good taste in the finer things in life like I do. Have I mentioned yet that it’s pretty hard to get “Patches” out of your head once it’s in it?
If you’re really (un)lucky, after performing “Patches” I’ll launch into another good song of Dickey Lee’s which is about a motherf*cking ghost that basically ends with a shrug, so, uh, hello—this song should have won a Nobel Peace Prize for being awesome but life is unfair like that:
I don’t know any of Dickey Lee’s other songs because as far as I know, he doesn’t have any other teen tragedy songs, which again, is my favorite genre (although yes, I do see he covered some excellent teen tragedy songs of his record in the header image, but “Teen Angel” belongs to Mark Dinning and Mark Dinning only.) Now, I could stay true to form and end this post with “Patches” again (and again…) because have I mentioned that I play this song over and over and it really irritates everyone around me, to the point that they will no longer say “patchwork” or “patch of grass” because they know when I stop what I’m doing and take a deep breath that they’re about to get three minutes of magic, but I won’t do that today. Not because I don’t carry “Patches” in my heart always (I definitely do) but because I’ve mentioned teen tragedy songs so much, I have to leave you with the finest this genre has to offer (a song I 100 percent know all the words to, and can definitely do the accents in the spoken word part.) Enjoy—