I have no idea how this one came up. A particular song was mentioned in the pub on the Monday night of Whitby last month, and all of a sudden five or six of us were coming up with a long, long list of songs along the same lines.
The idea of sexual attraction to or sexual involvement with people under the age of consent – or at least eyebrow-raising younger than the protagonist, in some cases, but not necessarily underage – is something that goes back to the earliest days of rock’n’roll (Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his thirteen-year-old cousin, for a start), and has much more recently gone to unconscionable extremes (Ian Watkins of the Lostprophets never wrote songs about it, but instead acted upon his unpleasant desires), and over the fifty years between these two events, an awful lot of songs have been released that skirt around the subject, or take it head-on. And not all of them feature younger women/girls, and older men.
It perhaps goes without saying that in some cases, context is king, and how different people interpret a song can drastically change its meaning of it. And indeed, some artists deliberately muddy the waters to make it difficult for the listener. And, not to mention, that a songwriter – or the musician/vocalist – will take the part of someone else, or some fantastical/fantasy figure, to fit the subject of a song.
Or, in other words, no allegations of actual impropriety are intended with this Tuesday Ten, particularly as some of these songs have some difficult subjects and events in them.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/A Question of Time
Actually one of Depeche Mode’s greatest eighties singles, in my eyes – that propulsive monster of rhythm and an irresistible synth hook do the work – but the lyrics are worth challenging. Martin Gore is writing – and Dave Gahan is singing – about a girl of fifteen, and a desire to protect from worse people…except that there is another desire on display, too. It’s the lascivious delivery, in particular, that adds the creepy edge here (You’re only fifteen / and you look good – the emphasis to the delivery is key), while it is admitted later that his instincts are frankly predatory: I know my kind / and what goes on in their minds.
/Don’t Stand So Close to Me
I’m kinda surprised that more songs about schoolgirl/teacher relationships weren’t suggested in the initial list, but this one stood out as an obvious candidate to feature here. One of the band’s best-known and biggest hits, it is a curious cross between reggae and post-punk influences, but at the heart, it is the tale of classroom flirting followed by a clandestine relationship that gets found out. Interestingly the story of the inspiration behind it has changed over the years, perhaps a reflection of the times?
/Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon
/Just For You
Best known nowadays for the Urge Overkill version used in Pulp Fiction (and this is the version I’ve used here on the playlists), this makes more sense when you think it was originally written in the late 60s. But either way, it’s a bit troubling. The title suggests, perhaps, a man who is lusting after a virginal, (much) younger girl to “make” into a woman, and not to mention his admission he’s been “misunderstood all his life“. Uh-huh.. It is remarkable to think, actually – how many of these songs would be able to be released nowadays, I wonder? Something I discovered after writing this that the NME blog asked the same question a few years ago.
You know, I really didn’t know just how popular Foreigner was. I know the ubiquitous I Want to Know What Love Is, of course, but little else. But this…christ. Initially, this rather plodding rock track is not much more than a leering come-on to a woman, until the bridge, at which point it becomes clear that the protagonist has an inkling at least that the woman he has in mind is more of a girl, and of questionable age. “Are you old enough? Will you be ready when I call your bluff? / Is my timing right? Did you save your love for me tonight?“. Sheesh.
It is also notable for being one of the (seven) songs sampled to provide the base of Tone Lōc’s Funky Cold Medina.
/Lust For Life
A man of thirty, at the time, going mad at the bar for the sixteen-year-old in leather boots. But then, this was Iggy Pop, who had practically invented punk with The Stooges, spent much of the seventies in the company of David Bowie and Lou Reed and consumed most of the drugs and booze on offer, so pretty much nothing about him around that time would surprise me (as Lust For Life itself suggested along other lines too). See also, Big Star’s Thirteen, which is really dodgy.
/Get The Knack
The Sharona of the title was the seventeen-year-old girlfriend of the then twenty-five-year-old vocalist Doug Fieger, and while it was an undeniably catchy song (and a massive, massive hit in the US in 1979), the lyrics were more than a little creepy (I always get it up / For the touch of a younger kind), a feeling not helped by quite a few of their other songs also being about sex and teenage girls (see also Good Girls Don’t in particular). Songs about horny teenagers are, let’s face it, nothing new, but there is something rather unpleasant under the skin here.
/Blackout in the Red Room
One of the LA rock bands to emerge in the late 80s, the downright unpleasant sleaze of a lot of their material is perhaps not entirely surprising as a result. But it still doesn’t excuse it, particularly this. Two minutes of so-so glam-infused metal, that I couldn’t pick out of a line-up, but the key hook is jaw-dropping, even for the genre they came from: “Met a little girl / just thirteen / she’s a knock-down blue-eyed slut psycho-virgin tease“.
/Kisses On The Wind
/Raw Like Sushi
After some of that trash, some social realism from Neneh Cherry, on one of the lesser-known singles from her breakthrough album (which had the monster hit of Buffalo Stance on it): which appears to detail the teenage life of a girl who is lusted after by boys (and men) rather older than her, and it is hinted at that things progress rather further than that. The feeling here, though, is one of resignation by Neneh Cherry, as she observes someone growing up way too fast.
/The Midnight NAMBLA
The first time, I think, I’ve ever featured Turbonegro, and not, I suspect, a serious song, but then I’m not convinced too much with Turbonegro is. A Norwegian rock band with one of the best-organised and well-known fan clubs going, I was certainly more aware of that than what the band actually sounded like! Anyway, the profane lyrics here take the piss out of a pathetic man who likes younger boys, backed with a fuzzy punk rock rush that concludes with a kick-ass guitar solo.
It is perhaps notable that many of the songs this week are quite old – perhaps reflecting the distinct change in attitudes in recent decades (and the slew of abuse cases and/or controversies involving underage participants). So it could be said that Travis was rather ahead of the curve with their anthemic early single – before they descended into radio-friendly wallpaper music – that suggests ill-advised adventures with girls that aren’t as old as they seem on tour. As the hook goes, “So make sure that she’s old enough / Before you blow your mind…“. Quite.