I have two young children. Harry is seven, and Greg will be five later this year. When I’m driving in my car and either or both of the kids is with me, and a song comes on the iPod with naughty lyrics, I will do one of two things, depending upon the song:
- I might turn the volume down on the radio and make some kind of a noise to drown out the bad words, or
- I might skip the song entirely.
To date, the only exception to this rule has been last year, on what would have been Phil Ochs’s 70th birthday. As the boys get older, I will have fewer reservations about letting the boys hear saucy language, so to speak, but for now, that’s my rule. Eventually, of course, all such reservations will go away.
Looking over my list of songs to hear before you die, there are eight songs that meet these criteria. One of those eight — “Working Class Hero,” by John Lennon — was covered when I wrote my blurbs on songs where the artist died too young.
This post is about the other seven songs.
La Vie Boheme, from Rent
I suspect that this song would go over the heads of a lot of young children, and, for that matter, anyone who might not be all that familiar with the immensely popular Broadway musical from the 90’s. This song is sung after the character Maureen’s performance art/protest. The song begins with the attendees going over to the Life Cafe, at which point one of the main antagonists of the show declares Bohemia to be dead. The song goes on to celebrate iconoclasm in all of its outrageous glory.
Go Fuck Yourself, by Sharon Groom
The title kind of speaks for itself. This is a fun, funny break-up song, if you couldn’t guess that by the title. This song is one of many on the list that I “found” in the 90’s back when mp3.com offered legal free downloads of uncopyrighted music from artists who just wanted to get the name out. And there was more than a few really good songs available there at the time. What makes this song stand out is the two very innocent sounding girls singing the titular phrase that is the reason for its inclusion in this particular subset of the songs you need to hear before you die.
I was unable to locate a video for this song.
Lose Yourself, by Eminem
Eminem (real name, Marshall Mathers) has been a polarizing figure for much of his career, primarily because of some of his stances have come off as either misogynistic, homophobic, or both. But there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s as talented a rapper as you’re going to find out there. The 2002 movie 8 Mile was a slightly fictionalized story of Eminem’s life. It was a compelling movie, and this song was the masterpiece from it, with a message that transcends both the genre and any aspects of his life that are less-than-praiseworthy: that taking a risk in the face of fear is usually a good thing.
Sing, by the Dresden Dolls
Of all of the songs I am mentioning in this particular post, this is the only one that has a safe-for-radio edit. And, in full fairness, I suppose the profanity in this song (“You motherfuckers, you’ll sing someday,” which is repeated more than once, all at the end) isn’t really necessary. Or, at least, it’s not as necessary as the profanity in other songs on this list. But this is such an amazing song, from a post-punk band like the Dresden Dolls, there’s no way I couldn’t include it.
Embedding on this video has been disabled, but here is a link to the song.
Get Your Shit Together, by Beth Hart
Beth Hart had a minor hit in the mid 90’s with the song “L.A. Song”. It came from her second album, Screaming for My Supper. Even if “L.A. Song” is better known, it doesn’t match the raw power, intensity, or passion of this song. I think it speaks for itself. Just watch this clip of her performing it live as proof:
Whore, by Anet
Like Sharon Groom (above), I found Annette Ducharme (also known as “Anet”) on mp3.com in the 90’s. This song is unique among the songs listed in this particular post, primarily because it doesn’t have any words (in and of themselves) that are objectionable. (And I don’t consider the title, in and of itself, a word worth censoring from children; if I did, then the song “Filthy / Gorgeous” by the Scissor Sisters would be in this posting.) But it’s the frank discussions of the use of sexuality in this song that make it less-than-suitable for my kids’ ears. I probably will let them hear this song first, of the songs I have listed here.
I was unable to locate a video for this song, but I was able to find a link to the lyrics of the song.
Love, Love, Love, by Teddy Goldstein
I admit that I wrestled with whether or not this song belongs in this grouping. It’s got a single verse in it that’s inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination. Ironically, that same line is the primary reason why I wanted to include it in the list of songs to hear before you die; it’s just such a powerful statement and one we can relate to on many levels: “Isn’t life just like this / A bunch of roses that smell like shit / And though you see the pricks, you still get pricked.”