10 Songs About Dirty Old Men (And One Woman)
It is a time-honored rock 'n’ roll tradition to sing lusty songs about the opposite sex. After all, the term rock 'n’ roll was originally slang for sex. It is also a time-honored tradition that we ignore the fact some of those songs are being sung by adults to teenagers. In the beginning, rock fans were referred to as “teenyboppers,” but Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were no teenyboppers. (Jerry Lee in particular would make this point abundantly clear.) Ranked in order from creepy to yuck to completely ick, here are 10 songs about rock n’ roll’s secret shame: It gets older, and the girls stay the same age.
In this Steely Dan classic, a baby boomer enters the ‘80s lamenting the fact his romanticized counterculture youth elicits little more than a shrug from the 19-year old he’s wooing. Though the chorus indicates he knows this relationship is wrong, by the final refrain, he’s numbed his conscience with top-shelf tequila and fine coke. Or worse, he numbed her resistance to his middle-aged charms. Shudder.
When Mike Patton joined Faith No More in 1988, the band had already written and recorded the music for their next album. With only a month to write lyrics and record his vocals, Patton expedited the process by treating each song as a character study. For the loungy 'Edge of the World,' he inhabited the skin of a sleazy lothario who insists “It’s not the point that I’m forty years older.” Patton offers the object of his desire everything from lies, candy and comfort to to the promise he'll kill his own mother to be with her. All because, as he creepily entreats in the song’s final moments, “Let me see those pearlies. I’ll do anything for the little girlies.”
Befitting an album that would inspire the '00s emo movement, this song could be considered the most benign on this list, as the narrator only has what Jimmy Carter referred to as lust in his heart. But it’s also the only one based on a true story, which adds the necessary “ew” factor. During a particularly harsh, lonely winter while Rivers Cuomo was attending Harvard and struggling to write a follow-up to Weezer’s debut, he received a letter from a young Japanese fan. This letter proved a lifeline, as Cuomo fell in love with her and pined for a would-be faraway lover, even though he notes “I could never touch you. I think it would be wrong.” Alas, he sees how her writing has affected him the same way his songs have affected her, and he comforts himself with the line “I’ve got your letter. You’ve got my song.”
You might call this song the Rosetta stone of rock ‘n’ roll lechery. First recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1937, it’s one of those blues standards of mysterious origin that’s been passed down and covered a million times by everyone from the Yardbirds to Rod Stewart to the Grateful Dead. For the most part, the song sounds like an innocuous declaration of passion, except for that unnerving opening and ending where he asks if he can come home with her. And also, if her parents should object, just explain that he “once was a schoolboy, too.” There are lots of versions of this, but Muddy Waters does the definitive one.
This is another entry that might skirt close to reality, as Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting, did spend some time as an English teacher before his band took off. This is the one case here, though, where the adult is trying to resist temptation from a Lolita-like schoolgirl with a crush. It's a literary reference Sting hammers home none too subtly by comparing himself to the character in “that book by Nabakov.” Whether or not he succumbs is unclear, as he appears to catch hell from the other teachers, and her friends fume over her status as the teacher’s pet. Either way, just the sight of her is enough to leave him a libidinous mess.
Lemmy Kilmister is not a man to mince words. Unlike Sting’s conflicted school teacher, Lemmy is a man of appetites, and he's not ashamed to satiate them. So he’s not going to ask your name or age. It’s enough that you came to the show and are willing and able. So don’t let his beauty marks disconcert you. Lemmy’s just an “open-book with well-thumbed pages” who “loves that young stuff.”
Up to this point, our suitors have largely attempted to romance or manipulate the young fillies they’re after. Cheap Trick take it in another direction as they depict a pervert who’s been lurking around the local high school and ickily claims “I’m 30 but I feel like 16. I might even be your daddy.” That’s enough to get the skin crawling before he apologizes for gagging her because he “had to have you.” And what does he want to have? Something “more than a kiss. Whip me, spank me, grab me!” Yikes.
No other songwriter in recent years has managed to find empathy for scoundrels and reprobates better than Patterson Hood. He’s capable of elucidating the motivations and humanity behind any louse, including -- unbelievably -- the teen-napping protagonist of 'Belvedere.' He fantasizes about a “high school girl, long legged and fine” riding beside him in the titular car as he takes her away from her daddy. While that might seem purely malicious, the narrator notes ruefully he’s “sad how her mom and dad don’t ever understand,” “sad how her friends talk” and bummed about “the hateful things they say.” For a moment it sounds as though his intentions are good, until he ominously confirms “she ain’t coming back.”
Serge Gainsbourg may be the only person on this list who could be considered a professional dirty old man. Gainsbourg’s louche French pop unabashedly celebrated his sexual exploits from Brigitte Bardot (“Initials BB”) to Jane Birkin (“Je t'aime… moi non plus”) to the supposedly pseudo-autobiographical epic dirty old man classic Histoire de Melody Nelson. He’s the type of man that doesn’t sleep with a woman or make love -- he beds them. And if there was any taboo left for him to transgress, he found it with 'Lemon Incest,' his mid-’80s duet with his then-12-year old daughter Charlotte. As she sweetly intones “I love you more than anything,” he describes her as “naïve as a painting by Henri Rousseau, adding, "Your kisses are so sweet.” Then comes they capper, as they sing “The love we'll never make together is the most beautiful, the rarest, the most disconcerting, the purest, the headiest.” You can pick your jaw up off the floor now.
It takes a special kind of lady to make Lemmy Kilmister seem tactful and Serge Gainsbourg restrained. But Kate Bush is nothing if not a special kind of lady. On this track from her first No. 1 album in Britain, Bush details how as she’s putting a child to bed, the kiss goodnight sends her “body tingling,” and she sees “a man behind those eyes.” She knows everyone will think it’s wrong but can’t help wondering “Who’s there in this baby? You know how to work me.” In the end, Bush fights to hide her bizarre baby ardor but feels the “barriers are all going. It’s starting to show. Let go, let go.” Maybe Ginger Rogers was right: There really is nothing a man can do that a woman can't do better in heels.