The wisdom of pop songs – It’s hard being young

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
teen 1
So you’re a teenager, eh? Can I see some ID please?

Young love manifests itself in song all the time and varies over the decades only by dint of the apparent level of innocence. When teenagers were first labelled as such in the 1950s they hit the world like a new species, and yet they seem, in retrospect, pathetically grateful to be acknowledged.

Teenager in Love, a 1959 hit for Dion and the Belmonts, sounds as if the title was written first and the song built around it (more of which next week), but like many a ditty featuring teenagers, it was written by professional songwriters well past puberty – in this case Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (Save the Last Dance for Me, Sweets for my Sweet, Suspicion et al).

Too Young was a hit in 1951 in the US for Nat ‘King’ Cole and in the UK by Jimmy Young, both of whom seemed too old rather than too young to be bleating about this.

They try to tell us we’re too young
Too young to really be in love

It has always been the teenager’s most cherished wish to be accepted as an adult and allowed to do ‘adult’ things, while refusing to get out of bed before midday and have a shower unless they have a date with the love of their embryonic life.

Longing for the day when all will be enabled has resulted in some beautiful songs, and none is more poignant t hanRuby and the Romantics’ highly emotional yet controlled Our Day Will Come, with its primitive, surging organ (the musical instrument, that is). Such is the majesty of the song that it has been recorded by scores of artists since, such as Bobby Darin, Brenda Lee, The Supremes, Fontella Bass, Isaac Hayes, The Carpenters, Dionne Warwick, K D Lang, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse.

You can listen to it via the link at the end.

Hey Ruby! Give the guys the slip and meet me round the back, okay?

Puppy Love, written in 1960 by Paul Anka and recorded by him and others including Donny Osmond, falls on the mawkish side of the fence, but that didn’t bother millions of youngsters who moped tearfully around their bedrooms, hopelessly in love with some dork at school.

The magic age is 16, which coincidentally is the age of consent in many places. After all, if you’re that obsessed with somebody there is a fair chance that you’re going to end up with their tongue down your throat, and we all know where that leads.

In the mid 1960s it was still just about acceptable to openly lust after underage girls, as in blues songs such as Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, with its none-too-subtle declaration, “ I wanna ball you all night long”. Some people were seeing sense, though, or possibly seeing a prison sentence on the horizon. Gary Puckett and the Union Gap worried themselves sick in 1968 with Young Girl.

With all the charms of a woman
You’re just a baby in disguise
And though you know that it’s wrong to be alone with me
That come-on look is in your eyes

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You can’t be arrested for wearing civil war gear, more’s the pity

It was a sentiment that still bothered pop stars in 1979 when Abba asked Does Your Mother Know: same scenario, hormone-driven young girl looking for trouble.

Meanwhile, the broader concept of teenagerism had been aired in the early 1970s with Alice Cooper’s Teenage Lament ’74 and T Rex’s Whatever Happened to the Teenage Dream.

Brief teen sensations Alessi, two  cute twin brothers who could actually sing, brought dignity to the genre with their elegant, jazz-inflected 1976 smash Oh Lori, in which the action moves swiftly from wanting to ride his bicycle with her on the handlebars to recalling having her dance for him in her bare feet one afternoon when her feet weren’t the only things that were revealed. But that’s a teen-teen thing, and the world is more tolerant of that.

You can listen to it via the link at the end.

Omigod, girls, his button’s come undone! Oops!

The Police raised the age-old problem of girl-fancies-teacher with Don’t Stand So Close to me, while Aerosmith merely strutted and lusted in true 70s rocker style on Walk This Way.

Even Steely Dan, well old enough to know better, found themselves in an age-gap romance on Hey Nineteen. Although 19 is probably old enough to do whatever you want in 99% of the universe, here it was the cultural differences proving troublesome.

Hey Nineteen, that’s Aretha Franklin
She don’t remember the Queen of Soul
There’s hard times befallen the soul survivors
She thinks I’m crazy
But I’m just growing old

Sensible as he is, the narrator resorts to tequila and cocaine to gloss over the problem

The Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing

The Ramones, never ones to let us into their troubled psyche, motored through Teenage Lobotomy, while British rock-popsters Supergrass poked fun at their junior selves with Alright.

We are young, we’ve gone green
We’ve got teeth nice and clean
See our friends, see the sights
Feel alright

Ah, youth! It’s a minefield and we all do well if we get through it unscathed.

Our Day Will Come:

Oh Lori: