Long before it was a Top 40 radio station in the nation’s capital, Ottawa’s CFMO was an easy-listening station. My parents often chose it — not because they liked the music, but because they could never agree on a station. My mom liked conservative talk or Top 40 and my dad liked CBC or big-band jazz. So CFMO got played whenever they were in the kitchen together. Compromise: One of the many secrets to a marriage which lasted more than 60 years.
It was a weary summer afternoon in that kitchen where, as my mother read a recipe magazine and my father clipped coupons, I first heard Young Girl. Gary Puckett & The Union Gap’s hit soared from the single speaker of the kitchen AM/FM radio like a deathbed confession: “Young girl / Get out of my mind / My love for you is way out of line / Better run, girl / You’re much too young, girl. It’s a song about a teenage girl who wore lots of perfume and had “the charms” of a woman and “led me to believe she was old enough to give him love.” I’ve never heard them called charms before.
There are plenty of songs about sexual attraction, of course. But I got to thinking about some of the ones in my collection from a bygone era where it was seemingly acceptable to at least sing about girls who were way too young to sing about. For example, I got a targeted Google clickbait Beatles thing recently which basically teased: ‘The one line in I Saw Her Standing There that Paul wanted to change.’ It’s not a new-to-me story, but it is pertinent. The story is how the song used to start with the lyric “she was just 17, she was no beauty queen.”
Yeah, that’s cringey and lame. Paul and John both wanted it changed, but swapping “you know what I mean” makes it cringey in an entirely different way. Paul was 20 when he wrote that, Lennon 22. The age of consent at the time was 17 in the U.K. and is 16 now.
Sometimes, a singer’s songs take on new meaning when you know a little bit about their personal life. For example, Jerry Lee Lewis’s third marriage was to his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown. This happened on Dec. 12, 1957 but had to be re-done on June 4, 1958 because Killer had not managed to get properly divorced from his second wife before the ceremony. Kind of makes songs like 1957’s High School Confidential feel off: “Well open up, honey. It’s your lover boy me that’s a knockin’.” He was 22 years old at the time.
Speaking of putting lyrics in context, R. Kelly used to be a singer, songwriter and producer. But, thanks to other stuff he was also doing at the time, he is now a convicted sex offender. In 1994, he married Aaliyah while she was underage. The title track from her debut album is Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Thirty is also just a number. That’s how long he’s in jail for — so far. Another trial starts in August.
Mick Jagger has had a lot of ‘splainin’ to do throughout his long career. You’ll have some questions for him too after listening to Stray Cat Blues on 1968’s Beggar’s Banquet. “I can see that you’re 15 years old / No I don’t want your ID / You look so restless and you’re so far from home / But it’s no hanging matter / It’s no capital crime.” True, Mick, but you could be looking at 14 years in jail, though.
Two years earlier, Neil Diamond had a hit with the creepy Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon. Urge Overkill had a hit with it in 1994 after it appeared in the movie Pulp Fiction. Similarly, The Knack’s first and biggest hit My Sharona finds Doug Fieger admitting “I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind.” There are also two hit versions of Walk This Way — the Aerosmith original and the Run-DMC collaboration which resurrected the band’s career. There are more than a few sly references in it (kitty in the middle) but it also speaks primarily of young girls: “Schoolgirl sweetie with a classy kinda sassy. Little skirt’s climbin’ way up the knee.”
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley have penned plenty of gross lyrics for KISS songs. Christine Sixteen from Love Gun is hella gross because not only is it about a 28-year-old man drawn to a “so clean” 16-year-old girl who has “been around” and is “hot every day and night” — but it also contains a vomitous spoken-word section: “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age / But when I saw you coming out of the school that day / That day I knew, I knew / I’ve got to have you, I’ve got to have you.” I wonder what Cher thought of that? And even that might not be as creepy as this line from Gene’s Goin’ Blind: “I’m 93 / You’re 16.”
There are just so many songs about 16 year olds. It’s awful — Both Ringo Starr and Johnny Burnett had hits with You’re Sixteen, You’re Beautiful (and You’re Mine). Lips like strawberry wine? Neil Sedaka sang “Tonight’s the night I’ve waited for because you’re not a baby anymore,” in the song Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen. I’m sure she would have much rather got a card. Sixteen Candles by The Crests has a similar narrative. Even Canadian rockers Goddo are in the club, thanks to their signature song Sweet Thing, which sports the opening line: “A young girl, sweet 16 / A perfect picture for my warm wet dream.” Ick.
The first album I ever bought with my own money was Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police, partly because of the song Don’t Stand So Close To Me. It’s about a teacher pursued and tempted by one of his students — “This girl is half his age.” Sting, who used to be a teacher, says the song is a work of fiction. But, that’s still no excuse for rhyming “shake and cough” with “Nabokov.”
Does anybody like Ted Nugent? Honest question. I sell used vinyl as a side-hustle and I always end up giving away the Nugent stuff. Nobody wants it for anything other than crafts. No shock that the Nuge has a song which fits into this article — called, appropriately, Jailbait (not to be confused with identically titled songs by Motörhead, Aerosmith, Wishbone Ash, Andre Willams and others). Anyway, back to the Ted talk: “Well I don’t care if you’re just 13,” Nugent says. “You look too good to be true / I just know that you’re probably clean / There’s one lil’ thing I got do to you.”
What is with these dudes’ obsession with “clean” girls? I guess they’re referring to a person who doesn’t have STDs? Safe bet the men are far from “clean” themselves.
Anyway, after reading all these lyrics, I think I need a shower.
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check out him out on Discogs.