The teenage years – the hinterland between childhood and adulthood, where many find their voice, start to shape their own future and begin to form their musical and cultural tastes. The whole idea of the teenager, though, has changed over time, frequently thanks to cultural shifts and trends, and often there is an image of rebellion.
Quite how I’ve never covered this subject before I don’t know, and I’m sure there will be some obvious songs I’ve missed. But here are ten songs that epitomise, for me, anyway, life as a teenager.
Teenage Kicks itself doesn’t appear here as it has featured previously in 072: Lust, by the way.
A Teenager in Love
By 1959, the word teenager had barely been around for a decade, but already these newly dubbed teens had been at the heart of the rock’n’roll boom, both as the consumers/fans and also, crucially, as the subjects of so many songs, that detailed love, joy, fun and tragedy – basically the first time that youth had it’s own soundtrack. I don’t think those of us who grew up in later decades could ever quite comprehend how much of a cultural seismic shift this must have been at the time.
This song, though, is not rock in the slightest, instead a gentle doo wop sweep that articulates the conflicting rush of emotions a teenager experiences so brilliantly, the protagonist clearly in love but lamenting the difficulties – the ups and the downs – that being in love brings.
The thing that it’s important to remember about Ash when 1977 was released was that they were still teenagers themselves. So the songs about teenage love, families, girls from other planets, and yes, martial arts films, were all from their own experiences, and Tim Wheeler had that uncanny knack of making it sound like yours too – at least for people my age, seeing as they were only a year older than us!
The most affecting song, though, is the slower-paced Goldfinger, a song that is a maelstrom of emotion, where the giddy rush of young love powers through it, where trysts are as discreet as possible and the world ahead of you looks and sounds amazing, where anything is possible and the reality of the grown-up world hasn’t kicked in yet.
In Your Car
At The Club
A gang of teenagers from Sunderland at the time of the release of their first album, like Ash they were another band that sung from raw experience and did a similarly brilliant job of articulating it. Their take on life included getting lashed, sneering at too-cool musos, singing about the benefits of PVC clothing…and this glorious blast of punky guitars, girl-gang harmonies and the wide-eyed innocence of teenage lust.
Light & Magic
Ladytron offer an outlook as icy as their electronic pop frequently is on the teen years. Here, they take the youthful look of a seventeen-year-old as the peak, as ‘when you’re twenty-one, you’re no fun’. The video seems to suggest that they are talking about modelling, but I’ve always seen this as a rather wider look at society, where youth offers potential and zest (particularly to anyone selling something), but as one heads into jaded adulthood, for many things that’s that. Speaking as someone who is twenty years on from this, I’d beg to differ…
I Was A Teenage Werewolf
Songs the Lord Taught Us
Of course, not all teenage concepts are real, and The Cramps provide a distinctly sleazy soundtrack to a song that is more likely inspired by shlocky horror B-movies than anything else, but details those issues that a teenager who happens to be a werewolf might experience…There is the modern-ish goth update, too, by Killing Miranda – their equally silly I Was A Teenage Vampire (‘pretty fly for a dead guy!’)
I can’t believe I’m featuring this song, but really, on this subject they have to be included. One of those songs that is so ingrained in popular culture that mention the title and pretty much anyone will be able to recall the refrain, maybe it’s success was down to the fact that men old enough to know better (Brendan Brown, the lead singer, was twenty-seven when this came out) managed to articulate the tough life of the outsider at school so well. For many of us into alternative culture, of course, at school we were the outsiders, and elements of this resonate, for sure.
The Facts of Life
The Facts of Life
Where Sarah Nixey dishes out some realities of teenage life, taking in adolescent fantasies, the rules of youthful engagement, small town dating, and even what might be termed sex education, all delivered in a sultry, seductive tone that probably had more than a few teenagers at the time of release playing rapt attention to that voice. Actually, many adults too – I’d happily listen to Nixey reading the phone book in that tone.
‘Since I was born I started to decay’
With a hook like that, it’s it any surprise that Placebo attracted a certain type of obsessive fan (I should know, I was one of them)? Another band who were a bit older than teenagers when they came to prominence, but this song in particular resonated for many. Their early material had the feel of a singer, especially, who had dealt with the difficulties of growing up being ‘different’ – rebelling against parents and authority figures in various ways and this album detailed much of those troubles in compelling detail. Hints here abound of experimentation in so many ways, of frustration, and of hope.
Kids Are United!
Yeah, so the original is Sham 69’s (and this liberally samples it), but back in their brutal, hell-raising early days, this was ATR heading into a rather more positive song than usual. Rather than wanting to tear the world around them down, here they are celebrating the kids, the teenagers that still have the time to make a difference to their futures. Sadly the message didn’t go far enough, with recent economic troubles leaving many countries with rampant youth unemployment and little in the way of positivity for their futures, while in the UK, our government are seriously looking at removing benefits for those under 25.
Finally, the end of teenage years for many just sees them hurl themselves into University or working life, and end up in the routine of working drudgery. But for all-too-many teens in the late-sixties US, there was a shocking loss of innocence as hordes of them were drafted for the war in Vietnam, a war that has left deep scars in the American psyche ever since, particularly as many of those teenagers never returned. Paul Hardcastle’s legendary mid-eighties electro track did little more than use a host of samples from a documentary about the war, over a fairly primitive electro hook – the result was a monster of a hit everywhere but the USA.