Okay, seriously, pop musicians: what the fuck?
When we decided to dedicate our new Dystopian Dance Mix to songs about sex with minors, we knew that it would be an easy playlist to populate; what we didn’t know was just how goddamn easy it would be. I swear that I have had to trim this track listing more than any other playlist in our history. More than the one about food, even! So again, pop musicians: what the hell is wrong with you?
Look, I realize that rock and roll and its stylistic descendants are inherently genres of, shall we say, dubious character. I get that the ’60s and ’70s were a different time. But that still doesn’t excuse the fact that sex with children–yes, children, because that’s legally what a “minor” is–has been one of the longest-enduring themes in the last 60 years of popular music: right up there with booze and cocaine. And that’s not even getting into the numerous recording artists–many of whom represented here–who are, literally, known sexual predators. I don’t really know where I’m going with this anymore, except to say: shame on you, people. So, please, don’t take this dance mix as an endorsement; take it as a call-out for (at least!) 20 artists to fix their fucking lives. And maybe, if we’re lucky, in 60 more years we’ll struggle to come up with 20 songs about statutory rape. You know–the way things should be.
1. Aaliyah: “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number”
(from Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, 1994)
“Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” the debut title track by Detroit‘s late, great “Princess of R&B” Aaliyah, was a cute song about how, even though she was only 14 at the time, she could still sang just like a grownup. I mean, that’s clearly what a song with that title would be about, right? …Wait, you’re telling me it’s actually, per Wikipedia, a “story of a girl wanting to date an older man, saying that their age difference is irrelevant if the feelings are strong enough?” Well, that’s kind of weird… Oh, what was that? You’re saying that the song was written and produced by none other than R. Kelly, the notorious R&B singer with a long, disgusting history of preying on young girls, most famously when he was indicted for (“allegedly”) videotaping himself urinating on his own 14-year-old goddaughter? Wow, that’s really disturbing. …Wait, what? Now you’re telling me that R. Kelly and Aaliyah actually eloped in August of 1994, when the singer was just 15 years old? Uh, you know what? I don’t actually want to listen to this song anymore. I think I’ll just put on something else.
2. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap: “Young Girl”
(from Gary Puckett and the Union Gap featuring “Young Girl,” 1968)
Oh, I know: let’s put on some oldies. Just good, wholesome pop music, from back when family values were still mainstream and you could let your kids listen to the radio without having to make up an explanation for what “eat the booty like groceries” means. Why, here’s wholesome Idaho boy Gary Puckett, with…okay, seriously, what the fuck. “Young Girl,” which is about exactly what you think it’s about, is somehow even creepier than “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.” I mean, at least we knew R. Kelly was a sexual predator; Puckett is just some Peter Tork-wannabe schmuck, dressing like a Civil War reenactor and flashing a cheeseball grin on his album cover and, oh yeah, crooning this genuinely disturbing piece of quasi-British Invasion schmaltz about a girl “with all the charms of a woman” who is “just a baby in disguise,” and warning her to “Get out of here, before I have the time to change my mind / ‘Cause I’m afraid we’ll go too far.” Now, to be fair (and in case Mr. Puckett’s lawyers are reading this), Puckett didn’t actually write “Youg Girl.” It was penned by professional songwriter and record producer Jerry Fuller–who, at least to my knowledge, was also not a sex offender. But still. This was a #2 hit single in 1968, people. There isn’t enough brown acid in the world to justify that.
3. KISS: “Christine Sixteen”
(from Love Gun, 1978)
Well, we made it this far; might as well wallow in the muck, am I right? And what band could be better-suited for a muck-wallowing soundtrack than KISS, who should have been in everyone’s top five list of Artists Who Would Totally Write a Song About Sex with Minors? True to form, the Knights in Statutory Service didn’t just write any old song about sex with minors; they wrote arguably the mother of all jailbait songs, and then they put it on an album tastefully entitled Love Gun. I’m not sure what gives me the most willies about “Christine Sixteen.” Is it the lines, “She’s been around / But she’s young and clean,” sung by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley in close Beatlesesque harmony, as if they’re proud of writing that contemptible shit? Or is it Simmons’ spoken-word interlude, which begins, “I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age, but when I saw you coming out of school that day…” For Christ’s sake, Gene! That is one sentence that you should never, ever finish! Or start! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over here dousing myself with bleach.
4. Cheap Trick: “Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School”
(from Cheap Trick, 1977)
Let me preface this by saying that I never thought I’d be describing a song about a sexual predator as a “breath of fresh air.” But here we are: this hard rocker from Cheap Trick’s self-titled debut does come as a relief, simply because it treats its pedophile protagonist with irony rather than creepily earnest identification. You know you’re supposed to see him as a despicable character when frontman Robin Zander sings lyrics like, “I’m 30 but I feel like 16 / I might even know your daddy / I’m dirty but my body is clean / I might even be your daddy.” That’s more than I can say for any of the other songs on this playlist so far, and a good amount of the ones to come as well. So thanks, Zander and songwriter Rick Nielsen, for actually creeping us out in a good way.
5. Rick James: “17”
(from Reflections, 1984)
Remember that list I mentioned of Artists Who Would Totally Write a Song About Sex with Minors? Well, much as it pains me to say it, my boy Rick James is definitely on it, too. This is, after all, the man who was put on trial for trapping a 24-year-old woman in his home, tying her up, and forcing her to perform sexual acts while burning her with the hot end of a crack pipe; do we really think he was checking the I.D. of every prospective “super freak” that crossed his path? In the end, though, the main thing that’s surprising about James’ “17” is how conflicted he is about pursuing the “little girl” of the title: “This young girl, this sweet thing / I just can’t wait,” he wails, “No, I mustn’t do this / She’s almost jailbait.” In the end, though, James’ prodigious id predictably comes out on top. “Come here, young girl!” he crows toward the end of the song, a funky jheri-curl number pretty much literally copied from his 1983 hit “Cold Blooded.” But hey, like I said: at least he had to think about it first.
6. Hi-Five: “I Just Can’t Handle It”
(from Hi-Five, 1990)
At this point, it’s important for me to note that not every victim of statutory rape is female; plenty of boys are taken advantage of by predatory older men and women alike, but the social dynamics of masculinity mean that they often have difficulty presenting themselves as victims. This is the subtext of “I Just Can’t Handle It” by teenage Teddy Riley disciples Hi-Five, as lead singer Tony Thompson–only 15 years old at the time–tells the story of a 25-year-old “cutie” who “tried to blow my mind.” When she takes him home, he knows he’s in over his head: “She started to undress, as I looked at her thighs / I can’t pass this test, ’cause this girl is so fly.” But, he asks, “What am I gonna do?” It’s an interesting portrayal of the rarely-discussed dilemma of a teenage boy who isn’t ready for sex, but nevertheless feels pressured by the societal expectations of living up to a man’s sexual role. And hey, it’s not even the most exploitative song on Hi-Five’s debut album: “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)” is way creepier in its seemingly chaste exploration of teenage sexuality.
7. ABBA: “Does Your Mother Know”
(from Voulez-Vous, 1979)
But really, no matter how you slice it, it’s an unavoidable fact: men do bad things to girls (and boys) much more frequently than women do to boys. And so, here we are again with boy-girl Europop megastars ABBA, and the creepily-titled “Does Your Mother Know”: one of the few songs in their discography to be sung by Björn Ulvaeus rather than the usual duo of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Like “Young Girl” and “17,” it’s written from the perspective of an adult fending off the advances of a precociously sexual teenage girl–though, to co-writers Ulvaeus’ and Benny Andersson’s credit, the lyrics are at worst uncomfortably paternalistic rather than shamelessly leering: “I can see what you want / But you seem pretty young / To be searching for that kind of fun,” Ulvaeus admonishes, before adding, “girl, you’re only a child.” I’m not sure I agree with his conclusion that he can still “dance” and “flirt a little” with her, but honestly, at this point I’ll take whatever shred of decency I can get.
8. Motörhead: “Jailbait”
(from Ace of Spades, 1980)
…Are you fucking kidding me? Actually, in all honesty, this dirty-as-all-get-out album track by British heavy metal trio Motörhead doesn’t disturb me as much as it probably should. Maybe it’s an issue of expectation: not that it’s any excuse, but nobody would look at frontman Lemmy Kilmister‘s mutton-chopped, bewarted, ageless-but-not-in-the-good-way visage and think, “Yep, he looks like a fine, upstanding gentleman who would never proudly have sex with an underage girl.” And maybe it’s also that the song is so ridiculous, Lemmy so intent on getting into, as he charmingly puts it, “that young stuff,” that it’s hard to muster up any genuine outrage against it. “I don’t even dare to ask your age,” Lemmy croaks, “It’s enough to know you’re here backstage.” Sure, buddy, but be honest: at this point, isn’t an age-inappropriate partner for you closer to 30 than 17?
9. Jerry Lee Lewis: “Teenage Letter”
(1963 single, available on The Original Sun Recordings Part 2)
Coming from most artists, “Teenage Letter” would be pretty innocuous stuff: just some vaguely horny jive-talking from a rock’n’roller eager to prove his love to the object of his desire. But let’s recall that Jerry Lee Lewis is infamous for marrying his first cousin once removed, Myra Gale Brown, who was only 13 years old at the time. Suddenly that line about how he’s “a-got to wait” doesn’t seem so innocuous anymore, huh? And is it any coincidence that the equation Lewis randomly drops in the third verse–“Four and four make eight, five and five makes ten”–adds up to the legal age of consent? I guess maybe he figured he’d avoid another child-bride controversy by working on his math.
10. The Rolling Stones: “Stray Cat Blues”
(from Beggars Banquet, 1968)
The Rolling Stones‘ reputation as the World’s Most Debauched Rock ‘n’ Roll Band precedes them, so it should come as no surprise that at least one of them was known for liking ’em young. What may be surprising, however, is that it wasn’t Mick or Keith, or even that depraved poon-hound Charlie, but ever-stoic bass player Bill Wyman. Wyman is said to have bedded over 1,000 “women” in his storied career as a dickhead; I put “women” in quotes, of course, because he is also infamous for having married pop singer Mandy Smith in 1989, when she was 18 and he was 52. But that’s above the legal age of consent, you say; well, just keep in mind that the pair had been “dating” since she was 13 and he was 47, with Smith later confirming that she and Wyman started having sex when she was just 14 years old. All of which makes “Stray Cat Blues,” a sleazy rocker from the Stones’ 1968 classic Beggars Banquet about hooking up with a pair of 16-year-olds for a threeway, that much skeevier. Now, to be fair, we are talking about the Stones here: skeeviness was kind of the point, which was why Mick adjusted the girls’ age to 13 in the live version on 1970’s Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!–all the better to live up to their bad-boy reputations and make their audiences’ parents clutch their pearls. But still…come on, Bill. Save that stuff for the stage.
11. Led Zeppelin: “Sick Again”
(from Physical Graffiti, 1975)
In an interview about aforementioned serial statutory rapist R. Kelly, veteran rock journalist Jim DeRotagis–perhaps Kelly’s most consistently vocal critic–said that, while plenty of other popular artists have done terrible things, he could still stand listening to them, because unlike Kelly’s, their art “very rarely talks about these things. There are not pro-rape Led Zeppelin songs.” Well, Jim, I get where you’re coming from, but that’s not exactly true. Case in point: “Sick Again,” a 1975 ode to a 15-year-old groupie with “lips like cherries and the brow of a queen,” who “said you dug me since you were 13.” Lead singer Robert Plant later explained to then-teenage-journo-wunderkind Cameron Crowe that, if one listens to the song, “the words show I feel a bit sorry for them. ‘Clutching pages from your teenage dream in the lobby of the Hotel Paradise / Through the circus of the L.A. queen, how fast you learn the downhill slide.’ One minute she’s 12 and the next minute she’s 13 and over the top. Such a shame.” But not such a shame, presumably, that Plant’s bandmate Jimmy Page would refrain from effectively kidnapping one of those “L.A. queens,” 14-year-old Lori Maddox, and keeping her behind closed doors for several years in order to avoid being caught by the police. I mean, sure, the teen groupie scene was a real bummer, but what else were the biggest and wealthiest rock stars on the planet going to do–have sex with grown women?
12. Boogie Down Productions: “13 and Good”
(from Sex and Violence, 1992)
Phew, thank goodness, a BDP track. Surely a sage, conscious M.C. like KRS-One can help us make sense of this cultural disease! And…nope, it’s just another song about being duped into having sex with a 13-year-old who “looked to be about 26.” Now, to be fair, even if KRS is a little too eager to insist on how “good” his accidental tryst with a middle-schooler was, this song at least makes a point of establishing that it wasn’t the right thing to do. But it makes that point in literally the most juvenile, homophobic way possible: the girl calls her police chief father, who doesn’t punish the narrator as expected, but promises, “You can see my daughter anytime, anywhere / But it’s you that I want to be mine / The price tag is your behind.” So remember, guys: don’t have sex with teenagers–not because it’s an objectively awful thing to do, but because her dad might make her your sex slave in exchange for butt-raping you. Thanks for the lesson, Teacha!
13. Ted Nugent: “Little Miss Dangerous”
(from Little Miss Dangerous, 1986)
An advocate of “family values” even back before his days as a celebrity spokesperson for the extreme American right wing, the beloved “Motor City Statutory Rapist” Ted Nugent had a unique solution to the problem of how to dip his wick in underage wax without getting the jail time he richly deserved. Apparently determining that Jimmy Page’s kidnapping solution wasn’t fucking insane enough, in 1979 he opted to make himself the legal guardian of his 17-year-old paramour, Pele Massa–because banging a teenager is wrong, but banging your adopted teenage daughter is apparently A-OK? Nugent wrote the title track to his 1986 album Little Miss Dangerous about Massa, who was blessedly well above the age of consent by that time. But that doesn’t stop the song’s lyrics from being creepy as hell: “High heel sneakers, head to toe in lace / Such a dangerous body, with a little girl’s face.” But please, Ted, tell us more about how “man-on-man sex” is “against nature!”
14. Gary Glitter: “What Your Mama Don’t See (Your Mama Don’t Know)”
(1980 single, available on The Hey Song (Rock & Roll Part 2): The Greatest Hits)
Let’s not mince words here: plenty of the artists on this list are, unquestionably, terrible human beings. But disgraced glam rocker Gary Glitter, born Paul Francis Gadd, is arguably the worst of them all. For one thing, he’s the only one on the list to actually be convicted of sex crimes: first in Britain, where in 1999 he was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment and registered as a sex offender for downloading thousands of pornographic images of children; then in Vietnam, where in 2006 he was convicted of “committing obscene acts” with two girls aged 10 and 11; then back in the U.K. again, where in February of this year he was sentenced to another 16 years in prison, after new evidence against him was uncovered in the probe against late BBC presenter and fellow pedophile Jimmy Savile. All of which is to say that, assuming it was ever okay for anyone to write and perform a song entitled “What Your Mama Don’t See (Your Mama Don’t Know),” it definitely wasn’t okay for Gary Fucking Glitter to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take that bleach I was dousing myself with earlier and just take a nice, long bath in it.
15. Chuck Berry: “Little Queenie”
(from Berry is On Top, 1959)
Like “Teenage Letter” by Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” is a rock’n’roll anthem that only really becomes problematic when you consider the source. Yes, the line about how “she’s too cute to be a minute over seventeen” is a little troubling, but hey: rock ‘n’ roll was primarily marketed to teenagers, so Berry was probably just writing for his audience, right? Well, maybe. Soon after the release of “Little Queenie,” however, Berry would be arrested and sentenced to 20 months in federal prison for violating the Mann Act: which is to say, for taking a 14-year-old girl across state lines for allegedly “immoral purposes.” Now, to be fair, it was far from unusual for Black men to be indicted on such charges under false pretenses–see, for example, the case of boxer Jack Johnson–and Berry maintained that he had taken the girl, who he’d met in a bar in Juarez, Mexico, back to St. Louis for a legitimate offer of employment at his nightclub. But I’m hesitant to give the man who wrote “My Ding-a-Ling” a pass–especially considering the fact that he was later sued by some 60 women for videotaping the women’s bathroom in the Wentzville, Missouri restaurant he owned, which sounds an awful lot like “immoral purposes” to me. Let’s just call this one heavily suspect.
16. Tyga featuring Boosie Badazz: “Pleazer”
(from The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty, 2015)
The most recent popular musician to raise eyebrows for dating below the legal age of consent is (soon-to-be-former?) Young Money rapper Tyga: his (literal) girlfriend Kylie Jenner just turned 18 years old today, but the pair have almost certainly been dating since she was 16. Which explains why pretty much everyone felt icky when they heard “Pleazer” from Tyga’s recent, commercially disastrous Spotify-exclusive album The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty, in which the 25-year-old father raps about a girl who “likes dick, dick, dick, and nothin’ but else but dick,” even noting that he’s ” ’bout to catch a felony for it.” After the inevitable social media uproar, Tyga claimed that the song predated his relationship with Jenner, and said that if he were to make a song about her, “it would be way more special & classier.” Both of these claims are kind of hard to accept, however, after you hear guest Boosie Badazz’ verse about sticking “that Kardashian pussy”–Jenner, of course, being the youngest member of the Kardashian reality TV dynasty. Stay classy, guys!
17. Foreigner: “Hot Blooded”
(from Double Vision, 1978)
If it hasn’t already been made depressingly clear how much of a presence underage groupies had in the rock scene during the 1970s (and, let’s face it, later), just listen to this 1978 hit by trans-Atlantic schlock-rock kings Foreigner: among the list of queries frontman Lou Gramm has for his potential backstage “rendezvous” is whether she’s “old enough” and will be “ready when I call your bluff.” Which, I suppose, are questions better asked than not, but yeesh.
18. Iggy Pop: “Tiny Girls”
(from The Idiot, 1977)
There comes a time, unfortunately, when you have to accept that even an artist you love and respect was/is a perv. For me, that artist is Iggy Pop: a seminal figure in Detroit rock and proto-punk, and also a guy who, by his own admission, slept with L.A. “supergroupie” Sable Starr when she was just 13. Starr would go “back and forth” between Iggy and his Stooges bandmates Ron and Scott Asheton, with Ron later telling the delightful story of how the band “would do two sets at the Whiskey and in between sets, Sable would say, ‘Can I suck your dick?’ She was real open about that stuff, that’s what I always liked about her. So in between sets Sable would suck my dick in the upstairs men’s bathroom.”
Given this sordid history, a song like “Tiny Girls” from Iggy’s 1977 solo album The Idiot takes on a fascinating, if still completely fucked-up, new dimension. Pop croons from the perspective of a debauched torch singer who yearns for the emotional simplicity of “tiny girls / Who have got no tricks / Who have got no past.” But he ultimately finds no solace in them: his “tiny girl” “sings for greed / Like a young banshee / And she wants for this / And she wants for that,” leading him to ask himself, “Ah, what did you think?” It’s far from the cautionary tale we should be hearing–Iggy’s problem with young girls isn’t that sleeping with them is morally repugnant, but that they’re annoying. Still, it is an interesting meditation on how the sexualization of children corrupts everything it touches, turning 13-year-old girls into avaricious “young banshees” and 30-year-old men into washed-up, emotionless voids.
19. Neil Diamond: “Desirée”
(from I’m Glad You’re Here with Me Tonight, 1977)
As we mentioned earlier, statutory rape isn’t only committed by men; it’s just that when women do it, we tend to frame it entirely differently. Take, for example, Neil Diamond’s 1977 hit “Desirée,” in which Diamond recounts the day he “became a man at the hands of a girl almost twice [his] age” with a weird combination of swaggering machismo and misty-eyed nostalgia. See, boys? Being preyed upon by a grown-ass woman isn’t creepy at all–it’s a rite of passage! Diamond doesn’t bother telling us who this Desirée was, or what the hell she was doing boning (presumably) teenage boys half her age; all we need to know is that “she was there and gone, without one regret / But she continues on, like the words of a song I could not forget.” All of which leads me to believe that Desirée wasn’t a person at all, but either a succubus or an extremely vivid wet dream. Don’t tell Neil, though; it’ll hurt his ego.
20. Ringo Starr: “You’re Sixteen”
(from Ringo, 1973)
Originally written by songwriting team the Sherman Brothers and recorded by rockabilly singer Johnny Burnette in 1960, the lyrics to “You’re Sixteen” sound even weirder coming out of the month of beloved ex-Beatles drummer and perennial pop music teddy bear Ringo Starr. One thing I will say, however, is that Ringo’s ever-schmaltzy delivery manages to take the potential sexual menace out of the song–even when he’s singing about how she “walked out of my dreams and into my car,” and if you’re anything like me you can’t help but picture a windowless van. Which is good, because I think by now we’ve all had enough sexual menace for one day. “You’re Sixteen” is as toothless, silly, and inconsequential a song about having sex with teenagers as there can be; there’s even a kazoo solo by Ringo’s ex-bandmate Paul McCartney, for crying out loud. So let’s try and forget the fact that Starr undoubtedly had sex with countless actual 16-year-olds during the height of Beatlemania, and just focus on how this song doesn’t make us want to hurl up every lunch we’ve ever eaten. In other words, congratulations Ringo: you are officially less of a creep than Ted Nugent. And that, I suppose, is something to celebrate.
Few institutions are more reliable than the commercial news media at feigning shock and outrage over a situation they are...