“When buying a used car, punch the buttons on the radio.
If all the stations are rock and roll, there’s a good chance the transmission is shot.”
– Larry Lujack
Since Elvis Presley burst on the scene, the recording industry has been built around the musical whims of teenagers. Because nothing fascinates teens more than themselves, here are our Top 11 Songs About Teenagers.
- I’m Eighteen by Alice Cooper
I’m Eighteen was Alice Cooper’s first success, a No. 21 hit in 1970. “You hear people all the time say, ‘Boy, I’m Eighteen came out when I was 18,'” Cooper told New Times. “‘I was confused, I was a mess, and this and that. And when you said, “I’m 18, and I like it,” it was like saying, “It’s OK to be 18, and it’s OK to be mess, because when you’re 18, you’re allowed to be a mess.”‘ You’re not alone. You’re on the lunatic fringe, and it’s OK to be on the lunatic fringe.”
In 2014, Cooper explained in Riffyou how he now performs the song. “You get a song like Eighteen, which is a straight-ahead rock anthem and you go, ‘What is this song about? Eighteen – I’m eighteen and I like it.’ Now, that was extremely valid when I was 20, 21 years old. I’m 58 now – I’m in better shape now than I was when I was 18. When I was 18, I was a wreck. But I think, ‘How would Alice do this now? He’s sort of the warrior. He’s been through every war there was.’ He’s still a villain. Alice would do it with a crutch. ‘I’m eighteen,’ and he’s got this crutch. There’s a certain sense of humor to that – He’s 18 and with a crutch, now what’s he going to do with a crutch?
“Well, it’s a machine gun, it’s a prop, it’s something that he swings at the audience – a crutch could do a lot of things. But, it’s also such a funny juxtaposition of a guy saying ‘I’m eighteen’ and he’s leaning on a crutch. To me, I think all of those things go into what happens on stage.”
I’m Eighteen by Alice Cooper
- All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople
By 1972, British rockers Mott the Hoople had split up, discouraged by their inability to crack the charts. Frontman Ian Hunter told Uncut that when bassist Pete Watts auditioned for David Bowie‘s band, he learned they had a famous fan.
“Pete Watts went to audition for Bowie and David’s like: ‘What are you doing here? Looking for a gig? You can’t do that, you’re Mott the Hoople, you’re great,'” said Hunter. Bowie offered the band Suffragette City, but they turned it down. At a meeting at his publishing company, Bowie played All the Young Dudes on acoustic guitar. “When he played Dudes, I could see how we could go to town and really do a number on it. I’m a peculiar singer but I knew that I could nail it.”
Bowie agreed to produce the song, which reached No. 37 in 1972 and became a glam-rock anthem. “Bowie was a breath of fresh air in the studio,” added drummer Dale Griffin. “He knew exactly what he wanted, but he was also very easygoing, great with people. Everything he did worked, and worked very well. He really understood musicians.”
All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople
- Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran
In 1958 Eddie Cochran was a 17-year-old singer in search of a hit. Cochran and his manager/co-writer Jerry Capehart struggled to come up with something that would catch on with teens. “We were looking for a hit that would give Eddie some identity,” Capehart recalled in a 1958 interview cited in Deep Roots.
Capehart had an idea: “‘You know, Eddie, there’s never been a blues song written about the summertime. Let’s write a song called Summertime Blues.’ And he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this new riff on the guitar.’ And he went, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, you know, that was the new riff. Forty-five minutes later it was all over – those lyrics just rolled out. Had the song as you hear it today.”
The tune, about the eternal struggle between a teenager and his parents, his boss and his congressman, featured Cochran’s vocals and raw guitar work. Cochran also provided the bass vocals of the adults who thwart his attempts to have some vacation fun. The song has been covered by the Beach Boys, Blue Cheer and the Who. Summertime Blues was a No. 8 hit for Cochran, who died in a car crash less than two years later.
Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran
- She’s Leaving Home by the Beatles
She’s Leaving Home, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, was inspired by an article in Britain’s Daily Mirror. McCartney spotted the story of 17-year-old Melanie Coe, who left a note for her parents and ran away from home. “We’d seen a story in the newspaper about a young girl who’d left home and not been found, there were a lot of those at the time, and that was enough to give us a story line,” McCartney recalled in Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. “So I started to get the lyrics: she slips out and leaves a note and then the parents wake up … It was rather poignant.
“While I was showing that to John, he was doing the Greek chorus, the parents’ view: ‘We gave her most of our lives, we gave her everything money could buy.’ I think that may have been in the runaway story, it might have been a quote from the parents.”
“I heard the song when it came out and thought it was about someone like me but never dreamed it was actually about me,” Coe said in A Hard Day’s Write. “I can remember thinking that I didn’t run off with a man from the motor trade, so it couldn’t have been me! I must have been in my twenties when my mother said she’d seen Paul on television and he’d said that the song was based on a story in a newspaper. That’s when I started telling my friends it was about me.”
She’s Leaving Home by Paul McCartney
- At Seventeen by Janis Ian
At Seventeen was an introspective Top 10 hit for Janis Ian in 1975, a comeback after the success of 1969’s Society’s Child. “I started At Seventeen sitting at my mom’s dining room table,” Ian recalled in Acoustic Storm. “It was after the Stars album had come out and I wasn’t really working a lot yet. I had the support of Sony, CBS then, but I didn’t really have any money and I had had to move back in with my mom for a while ‘til I could get on my feet.
“And I was reading an article in the New York Times, the magazine section, where a girl said that she had learned the truth at 18. It was about being a debutante. And I was playing this ding-di-ga-ting, da-ging-ging, ga-ding-ga-ding samba figure, and ‘at eighteen’ didn’t scan, so it wound up being ‘at seventeen.’ It’s funny ‘cause, I remember just how unattractive and out of place I felt, and I was watching myself on Saturday Night Live a couple of months ago, ‘cause I did all that stuff live so I never heard myself or saw myself on TV before, and I watched myself and I said to my partner, ‘I wasn’t so ugly. I don’t understand why I felt like I was so ugly.’ It was a funny way of looking back.”
At Seventeen by Janis Ian
- You’re Still a Young Man by Tower of Power
Oakland, Calif. band Tower of Power has performed its brand of funk and soul since 1968. You’re Still a Young Man, produced by Steve Cropper and written by TOP sax players Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka, was their first hit single, reaching No. 29 in 1972. “The story line of the song, it’s about a guy that’s going with an older woman and he’s totally smitten with her,” Castillo told Songfacts. “He’s in love as you could possibly be and she loves him too but she says, ‘You’re a young man and there’s so many women out there your age.’
“In other words, she’s thinking by the time they get older he’s going to look at her like some old woman and wish that he had been with a younger girl. So she’s cutting him loose and she’s saying, ‘You’re still a young man, don’t waste your time,’ basically don’t waste your time with me, there’s so many other fishes in the sea at your age.
“It’s based on a true story. I had a girlfriend that was six years older than me. I was 18, she was 24 and that’s actually what happened. She had kind of cut me loose because of the age difference thing and the whole plea in the story is the young guy’s saying, ‘I’m not too young, I’m not wasting my time and I do love you like a man can truly love a woman.'”
You’re Still a Young Man by Tower of Power
- Sugar Mountain by Neil Young
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young has released three live versions of Sugar Mountain, his coming-of-age tale about growing up in Winnipeg. Friend and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell explained the story behind Young’s song during a 1970 concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
“He had just newly turned 21 and that meant that in Winnipeg, he was no longer allowed into his favorite haunt which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you’re over 21 you couldn’t get back in there anymore, so he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends, everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band, could still go there.” Mitchell says in Neil Young News.
“So one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn’t play in this club anymore, ’cause he was over the hill.”
Sugar Mountain by Neil Young
- In My Room by the Beach Boys
Originally released on the 1963 Beach Boys album Surfer Girl, Brian Wilson and co-writer Gary Usher‘s In My Room would reach No. 23 on the charts as the B-side of Be True to Your School. “My room was like the sanctuary where my brothers and me could sing harmony together,” Wilson said in Smashing Interviews. “Then later on we sang In My Room similar to the harmonies that we sang when we were little boys before the Beach Boys was formed.”
In 1990, the Beach Boys reissued the Surfer Girl LP. In its liner notes, Wilson explained, “There is a story behind this song. When Dennis, Carl and I lived in Hawthorne as kids, we all slept in the same room. One night I sang the song Ivory Tower to them and they liked it. Then a couple of weeks later, I proceeded to teach them both how to sing the harmony parts to it. It took them a little while, but they finally learned it. We then sang this song night after night. It brought peace to us. When we recorded In My Room, there was just Dennis, Carl and me on the first verse … and we sounded just like we did in our bedroom all those nights. This story has more meaning then ever since Dennis’ death.”
In My Room by the Beach Boys
- Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan
AllMusic called Hey Nineteen Steely Dan’s “most overtly mean lyric” because it “told the baby boomers that not only were they not kids anymore, but that the kids of 1980 thought they were a bunch of boring old farts.” Released on their 1980 album Gaucho, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker wrote about a man trapped in the Generation Gap. His younger girlfriend doesn’t even know the music of Aretha Franklin: “She don’t remember the Queen of Soul.”
“We were in our thirties and still saddled with these enormous sex drives and faced with the problem that you can no longer talk to a 19-year-old girl because the culture has changed,” Fagen explained in New York magazine. “That’s set against an extremely polite little groove. And then the chorus is set to jazz chords, and when you play them on electronic instruments there’s a flattening effect, a dead kind of sound. And it’s scored for falsetto voices, which adds to the effect. To me, it’s very funny. Other people think it’s nauseating.”
Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan
- Young Americans by David Bowie
David Bowie’s Young Americans reflected the singer-songwriter’s lifelong love of soul music. It was the title track of an album that included the No. 1 hit Fame. Recorded at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studio, home of many soul and R&B hits, Young Americans reached No. 28 on the charts in 1975. “I was really seeing a lot of American nightlife, including the Latin clubs, and it was terribly exciting to me,” Bowie told Mojo. “It rekindled the affection for soul and R&B which I had in the ’60s. In fact the reason I left my very first band, The Kon-rads, was that they wouldn’t do Marvin Gaye’s Can I Get A Witness. It had been a major thing for me in my youthful days. And it all came back with a vengeance, seeing it for real in the States. It was unlike anything I’d seen or witnessed before.”
But Bowie admitted in Playboy that his take on R&B wasn’t authentic. “Let’s be honest; my rhythm and blues are thoroughly plastic. Young Americans, the album Fame is from, is, I would say, the definitive plastic soul record. It’s the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey. If you had played Young Americans to me five years ago and said, “This is an R&B album,” I would have laughed. Hysterically.”
Young Americans by David Bowie
- Baba O’Riley by the Who
Pete Townshend envisioned his Lifehouse project to be the follow-up to rock opera Tommy. Lifehouse was never completed but eight of its songs were used in Who’s Next. One of those tracks, Baba O’Riley, opened the 1971 LP. Baba O’Riley is often mistakenly called Teenage Wasteland, an oft-repeated phrase in the song.
The title combines the names of Meher Baba, Townshend’s spiritual guru, and Terry Riley, an electronic music pioneer. The song was inspired by Townshend’s experiences at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. “Baba O’Riley is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at Woodstock, where everyone was smacked out on acid and 20 people, or whatever, had brain damage,” the guitarist told Guitar World. “The contradiction was that it became a celebration: ‘Teenage wasteland, yes! We’re all wasted!'”
Baba O’Riley by the Who