Not long ago, I wrote quick blurbs about the subset of the songs to hear before you die, which I said shouldn’t be played around young children.
At some point after that, someone pointed out to me that, despite already having written two separate entries about songs inappropriate for children, I missed “Big Balls,” by AC/DC.
That got me to thinking. I remember when that song came out. If I was older than my older (7-year-old) son at the the time, it wasn’t by much. And I heard the song. I didn’t understand it, but I heard the song. It’s filled with double-entendres and is arguably written to push the boundaries of what could be deemed acceptable (not unlike, say, The Gong Show, and other staples of the late 70′s / early 80′s). But if anyone asks, a ball is nothing more than a fancy party, right? That’s what this song really is about and if someone too young to “get it” asks, that’s what you tell them.
The only real chance for my kids (in the here and now, anyway) to hear any of the 150 songs from my list of songs to hear before you die, is when they’re in my presence. That’s true without regard to how “appropriate” it is for them. What follows is a list of songs that I have no inherent problem with them hearing — although in a couple of these cases, there will be limitations. That said, there are some who might disagree with me completely about their propriety around children.
Close to the Borderline, by Billy Joel
Billy Joel, as a musician, has definitely had highs and lows in his career. Back in the late 80′s, a book came out about the worst rock and roll songs of all time. This book was published around about the time his song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was getting a fair amount of airplay, and Joel got the dubious honor of being the worst musician of all time in that book. (I disagree. Sting gets that honor.) That said, I really think the highlight of his career was the pair of albums Glass Houses and The Nylon Curtain. This song is a fun song that has a tongue in cheek attitude. (“I’d start a revolution but I don’t have time.”) This song is included in this list because of the line “I shouldn’t bitch / I shouldn’t cry” which precedes the comment above about starting a revolution.
(Damn These) Hungry Times, by Cousteau
Cousteau is a jazzy band that released two albums in rapid succession shortly after the turn of the century. Most people who know them, know them because of the song “The Last Good Day of the Year,” which was sampled in a commercial for Nissan around about 2002 or 2003. That commercial is one of the few examples of advertising that co-opts a song I like, without making me start to dislike the song. Still, there are several songs of theirs that are even better, including this one. Some of the hyper-religious might object to the use of the word “damn.”
Big Balls, by AC/DC
I think I pretty much explained myself on this song in the introduction to this blog post. A few years ago, I was talking with a coworker who was listening to this song during downtime in a Catholic school when he was younger. The nuns confiscated it and he used the argument that “it’s about parties. What are you thinking if you hear something else in it?” I’m sure that didn’t curry a whole lot of favor with them, but there’s a truth to the observation that it can certainly be interpreted completely innocently.
Lost in the Flood, by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen may be one of the greatest live performers out there today. He engages the audience, talks about how he came to write the songs he performs and generally gives the audience a real show. And he’s been doing it since the 70′s. I am a big fan of a lot of his earlier work, and am of the opinion that his Greetings from Asbury Park may be one of his most underrated albums. This song tells three separate stories (one from each of the three main verses) involving people who probably weren’t thinking as clearly as they should have been, when they made certain decisions, questioning whether or not the people involved were “lost in the flood”. I’ll never forget the first time I heard this song. I literally felt the hairs on my arms stand on end in the second verse, which tells the story of a race car driver who died spectacularly after driving directly into a powerful storm: “Junk all across the horizon, a real highwayman’s farewell.” This song makes this list because of the word “bitch,” to refer to the car being raced in that same verse.
Locomotive Breath, by Jethro Tull
I debated for a long time whether or not this song actually belongs in this sub-set of songs I feel as though you should hear before you die, or if I should defer it to another list in the future. There are two lines in this song that have the potential for having children raise uncomfortable questions: “His woman and his best friend in bed and having fun” and “And the all-time winner has got him by the balls.” Like the song “Big Balls,” these lines have a fair bit of innuendo to those who understand the lyrics, but if you don’t quite see the innuendo, what does it mean? (I envision his woman and best friend playing games on the Wii…) I have heard this song — completely unedited — on the radio. If it’s good enough for the radio, then it’s good enough for my kids.
Coma White, by Marilyn Manson
This song is a fascinating one on several levels. This song — off of his Mechanical Animals album — was written at least partially in response to any backlash Manson might have received because of his perceived influence over the two shooters in the Columbine High School Massacre. This song is undeniably powerful. In addition to the power of the song itself, the video that he released alongside of it generated more than a little bit of controversy in its own right: it was a re-enactment of the assassination of JFK, with him as JFK and Rose McGowan (his then-fiancee) as Jackie.
Although I will let my children hear the song (they don’t need to know the background of the song at this time), I will not let them watch the video yet.
Holiday / Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Before I get into my thoughts on these two songs I want to acknowledge that these two songs are unique in that they are separate songs and I included both of them in my listing of songs to hear before you die. The reason for this is simple: when I bought the album American Idiot from iTunes, it seemed that each unique track consisted of two songs. Unable to segregate them, I have no qualms about choosing both of these songs. Now that that’s out of the way, both of these songs are powerful statements of a disaffected youth and offer a degree of empowerment to those who might seek it out. Both songs have a single example of a word that I would just as soon not have my kids repeating (“Holday” uses the word “fag” and “Boulevard” uses the word “fuck”.) In the case of both words, though, you really need to listen in order to hear them. They’re both kind of swallowed up within the greater lyrics and the background music. If my kids start repeating the bad lines, I’ll have a little talk with them, but I don’t have a major problem with at least allowing them to hear the songs.
Get A Little, by Folk You Harder
If you feel as though this song is inappropriate for children, then you’re judging a book by its cover. Between the suggestive title and the almost-profane band name, you would be completely wrong for thinking that there’s anything wrong with this song. There is no profanity, no thinly veiled sexual innuendo, no nothing. (Although I suppose the line “it’s been hell of a long cold lonely night” might raise some objections from people who probably wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place). It’s actually a kind of a sad song with a certain intensity of melody, about the ups and downs of a lot of relationships.
I was unable to find a YouTube video of this song, but you can download an mp3 of the song and read the lyrics here
I Want You, by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
I can think of quite a few songs whose titles are “I Want You”. The statement is an overt expression of interest in a potential lover and therefore has the potential to be unreciprocated even outside of the world of music. This song is simultaneously the most powerful and the most creepy way of handling this expression of this natural (and admittedly, not always welcome) emotion. Although there’s nothing overly objectionable to any specific lines of this song, the song as a whole could give a young, impressionable mind that it’s all right to say things like this. The joke about the line “I’m afraid I won’t know where to stop” is to respond by saying “About two verses ago.”
Away, by Athenaeum
This is a song of empowerment. Sung to and about people who might recognize themselves in a bad relationship in the hopes of giving them the chance to get out and not looking back and having regrets. At the purest level, this song is not appropriate for children due to the line “She’s always taking his shit but I swear it’s going to change.” But the way the word ‘shit’ is sung, you can barely tell that’s what the word is. It’s a beautiful song all the same.
I was unable to locate a video for this song, but here are the lyrics.
The Becoming, by Nine Inch Nails
I suspect that there are some people who would almost instinctively put any song by Nine Inch Nails on a list of songs that are inappropriate for children, and, in fairness, a significant percentage of songs off of the first three NIN albums use language that probably should not be played around young children. I consider The Downward Spiral to be the second best album of the 90′s (only behind Tori Amos’s Under the Pink). And this is an album with a song called “Me and My Fucking Gun.”
“The Becoming” is a song about trying to break out of our own heads and find a way of escape from pain, suffering, and distractions. It is intense, powerful, and sometimes overwhelming. And amazingly, the only profanity in the song is ‘Goddamn this noise inside my head!’ I am including this song in this post because of the “goddamn” line, for the same reasons as my inclusion of “(Damn These) Hungry Times” by Cousteau.