“It was of its time.” We hear that defence all the time, whether it’s some of the language uttered by Santino Corleone in The Godfather or if it’s some of the books issued by Agatha Christie. But like some of the dialogue in The Godfather or the books about murder, there are pop songs that haven’t aged like the fine wine they intended them to be.
We’ve whittled it down to ten numbers, but there could be far more added to the list. The Beatles ‘Run For Your Life’ was in the running, but we discounted it on the grounds that John Lennon largely disowned it in later years. We could also make a case for ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, but the song is meant to be set during the 1950s, so the characters acted accordingly. And as an Irishman, I’m going to allow Elvis Costello the chance to walk away with ‘Oliver’s Army’, considering the words he used in the song were the words Cromwell used to describe the Irish population.
But it’s much harder to defend the following ten songs, each of them grubby in their own way, and all of them hard to make a case for. They range from a rollicking Led Zeppelin rocker to a more sedate Guns N’ Roses tune that uses a number of slurs that are unacceptable in Britain and Ireland.
The ten tunes chosen have merit- the Megadeth song is brilliantly presented and produced – but there’s no saving the sentiment or the fact that none of them would make it onto the airwaves today. And if you do feel sick by the end, blame the songwriters, not Far Out.
10 songs with lyrics that have aged badly:
10. ‘Sick Again’-Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin author Bob Spitz was hopeful that Robert Plant would speak to him for his book. It looked likely, but then the Metoo movement started, and the band were less anxious to spill their secrets. Jimmy Page’s dalliances with younger women have been notarised, but Plant might well have some skeletons in his cupboard too. Take exhibit ‘Sick Again’, bolstered by the presence of a groupie who has followed the band since she was “13” and waits for the day she will turn that sacred “16”.
The number is deeply sonically sultry, but the undertone – that of a grown man waiting for the day a girl will be old enough to sleep with – is more than a little insidious to listen to. Plant closes out the tune with a series of scintillating moans, which might indicate what his intentions are.
9. ‘You’re All I Need’- Mötley Crüe
Mötley Crüe have long courted controversy, but there’s something a little too nasty about ‘You’re All I Need’, which is likely to offend listeners who are sensitive to femicide. Bassist Nikki Sixx later admitted that the song came from some genuine real-life impulses he felt, demonstrating an eagerness to communicate to his girlfriend through song. “I took the cassette over to her apartment, and I didn’t say anything. I just had a little cassette player, and I just played it for her, and she started crying, and I walked out the door,” he admitted to Rolling Stone. “I was like, ‘Well now, that’s that.'”
The song details the perspective of a man who kills his girlfriend to preserve her beauty. Disguising the sentiment is Vince Neil’s lovelorn vocal, capturing a genuinely impressive performance that starts low, escalating to an out and out scream during the coda. It’s a wonderful performance, but the words are a bit rote.
8. ‘One In A Million’- Guns N’ Roses
Like Nicky Wire, Axl Rose enjoys trolling fans, but this tune made his bandmates uncomfortable. The song contains not one but two slurs, the first geared at members of the Black community, the latter at members in the LGBTQ+ commune. We will not be printing the slurs, but you can always listen to the track to hear them if you wish.
In Roses’s defence, it’s hard to call someone who enjoys Queen and Elton John homophobic, and as he pointed out, one of the band members – Slash – is bi-racial and would have refused to play on it if he thought it was created with genuine racist intent. However, Rose’s experience does not speak for us all.
But there’s no denying that the tune uses the words for shock value, making it virtually impossible to play the song unedited on the radio. At one point Rose asks the listeners to ignore their primal whims and excuse him because he’s a “small-town boy”. Duff McKagan later admitted he was uncomfortable with the track but hit the roof when Rose opted to sing a number penned by Charles Manson on their 1993 effort, The Spaghetti Incident?
7. ‘Jeanny’- Falco
Austrian vocalist Falco is best known internationally for ‘Amadeus’, released on the heels of the regained interest in Mozart’s work. Still, there was a more experimental side to the singer, as can be heard on this probing tune, encapsulating the horrors and the excitements of a kidnapping. It’s sung in German, but the sentiment is apparent from the off-set, not least because of the cackling vocal style. The song similarly features a news broadcast that details the kidnapping, complete with a collection of damning headlines.
The tune is rarely heard on radios these days, perhaps because of the tune’s raw content. It’s unlikely that a rock artist would release a song written in such a way today, but the song feels crisp, keeping in check the realities and perspectives of the story in question. Then again, The Killers wrote ‘Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine’, which is regularly heard in concerts, so maybe they would?
6. ‘Lemon Incest’- Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Serge Gainsbourg was never shy to shock people. Whether it was telling Whitney Houston that he wanted to “fuck” her or writing an organ tinted work that presented the tune in a carnal fashion, the artist was always happy to stir up controversy. But nobody expected ‘Lemon Incest’, an angular pop tune he recorded with his 12-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Before she starred in a series of incendiary films, Charlotte recorded the tune with her father that was laced in innuendo and intrigue.
If the title wasn’t overt enough, the video also features the two singers in bed together, Serge’s naked top visible to the public. Charlotte recognised the song was tinted with outrage, but she has reclaimed the tune in recent years to say, “It’s my song too.”
5. ‘Brown Sugar’- The Rolling Stones
Now, this one’s tricky. Despite featuring a jaunty riff, and a soaring vocal line, the song itself is about a white enslaver raping an enslaved Black person. And in the wake of Black Lives Matter, alongside a more general cultural awakening for much of the population, the song no longer feels appropriate.
It certainly perplexed Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who said, “I don’t know. I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they’re trying to bury it.”
Vocalist Mick Jagger was more reasonable, stating that the band may perform it again in the near future. But while it lasted, the song both entertained and cautioned listeners to the dangers of slavery and to treat everyone fairly. The song features one of Jagger’s most committed vocals, but they’re right to drop the song from their list.
4. ‘Family Tree’- Megadeth
Megadeth are known for controversy, whether it’s Dave Mustaine’s tighter vocal display, or the torrent of band members who have clocked in and out of the band. But what they do boast is a desire to write and rock to their hearts’ content, which likely explains why they have dealt with such offbeat themes as rape and incest with the same dalliance as they do love and lust. In this tune, Mustaine’s character tells his victim not to feel guilty because it’s “part of the family.”
Considering Dave Ellefson‘s chequered history, the tune sounds much grimmer in 2022 than it did in 1994. Judging the tune solely as a work of art, it’s probably the most accomplished to make this list, but given the central dissertation, don’t expect Classic Rock FM to play it anytime soon. The production is wet with guitar hooks, bellowing into the work, pummelling and playing out with great effort and abandon.
3. ‘Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon’- Neil Diamond
This is the tune that inspired this list. Many of you will remember it from Pulp Fiction, as Uma Thurman prepares herself for intercourse to the sounds of Neil Diamond’s sultry tune. The recording isn’t Diamond, but Urge Overkill, who throw themselves into the recording with great enthusiasm and imagination. The tune fits into the danger Quentin Tarantino intends for the scene, but listening to the song on its own, it’s frightfully seedy.
Consider the lyric, “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon; Soon, you’ll need a man..” written with one sultry element in mind. Sex washes into the song, and everywhere we turn, there’s another reference to the day the woman will be old enough to engage in sex. It’s hard to write it off as a ‘song of its time’ when it was re-recorded in the 1990s.
2. ‘Night Shift’- Siouxsie and The Banshees
We’ve had rape, incest, murder, but we’ve yet to hit necrophilia. Well, good old Siouxsie Sioux is here to add that particular outlet to this growing list of filthy endeavours. If you feel like a cold shower by the end of the list, then you won’t be alone. The song also features a number of “fuck’s”, no hollow metaphor, but the epithet rising through the singer’s garbled voice. It’s a fiery performance, put to a collection of sparkily produced guitars.
The barrelling drums enter, cascading the backdrop with a series of angular riffs and pummelling under the weighty riff; the tune breathes new life into the song, presenting a new character for the singer to inhabit. Where the song is strong is in its performance, as the band throw themselves into the tune, like a bullfighter risking everything for the ultimate thrill.
1. ‘Blurred Lines’- Robin Thicke
There could only be one winner. The most disgraceful one-hit-wonder holds a chorus that made virtually everyone feel uncomfortable when it was released in the summer of 2013. Weirdly, the song was co-written by Pharell Williams, who would go on to compose the jauntily written ‘Happy’ in 2014. But if there’s anything upbeat about this piece, then it takes a sick listener to find it.
The lyric “I know you want it” is definitely questionable, and unlike Dave Mustaine, Robin Thicke doesn’t have the good grace to admit that his intentions are far from pure. And no matter the sticky central hook, the tune is an almost direct lift from a Marvin Gaye piece. Poor show, poor show.