NSRC: National Sexuality Resource Center

Rock 'n' Roll Baby 

    Would you like some sweeties little girl?
    Come a little closer
    I’ve got the kind of toys you’ve never seen
    Manmade and a bit obscene
    Little angel come and sit upon my knee
    -Mr. Tinkertrain, Ozzy Osbourne

In Ozzy Osbourne’s Mr. Tinkertrain, child molestation references, coupled with testosterone driven metal riffs, come off as a tongue-in-cheek tale of innocence lost. Osbourne seduces underage prey in song, and he isn’t the only mainstream artist to do so. Across genre and time, popular music has routinely lionized behavior considered deviant and even criminal. Consider Motorhead’s “Jailbait,” Depeche Mode’s “Little 15,” The Who’s “Fiddle About,” and Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ “Li’l Red Riding Hood.”

Some of these songs are celebratory or lecherous; others analytical or cautionary. They imagine encounters between minors and adults and suggest everything from lust and romance to statutory rape and even molestation. They have also topped the charts, sold millions of albums, and resonated with America’s popular consciousness.

Clearly, there is dissonance between societal norms that criminalize and cultural artifacts that exalt the same behavior.

Rock and roll bases its appeal on the projection of an outsider or “bad-boy” image. This may involve extolling behavior, like underage consumption of alcohol for example, which in fact only supports corporate consumer culture. “I wanna rock and roll all night” may simply translate into “I want to consume as much corporate product as I can.”

The construction of this bad-boy image also may involve discovery of nascent natural biological urges, specifically sexual intercourse, heavy petting, mingling of the sexes, and desire. “I wanna beat my meat right in the street,” Stiv Bator’s juvenile cry from the Dead Boys’ “(I Don’t Wanna Be No) Catholic Boy,” exposes both the humor and power of adolescent hormonal drive.

Certain songs, like those analyzed in this article, describe situations that arise from natural biological urges but violate societal laws and mores. Some of these songs address their subject by deflating the topic with humor or coating it with a veneer of camp theatricality. Some use the voice of a dispassionate narrator or an exaggerated masculine creep. Some indicate it’s only a joke or a representation of an unexploited situation. Some songs approach the subject with honesty or subtlety. Others are unabashedly playful.

This playfulness permeates the treatment of pedophilia in popular music. Successful pop music is in touch with youthful feelings and issues. Part of adolescence is the discovery of sexuality, which is seen as a “grown-up” thing, and hence the collision of the “young” and the “adult” worlds. From there springs the disconnect, the place where the subject matter becomes a description of illegal activity.

In an analogous way, if a youth throws a baseball through a window he may be personally excused for it but for an adult there are potentially darker consequences. The portrayal of intergenerational sexuality may be a flight of fancy for the young but is criminal for adults. Audiences and corporate America accept the lyrics in popular music even if some of the activities alluded to are criminal offenses.

If these songs laud criminal conduct, why are they popular? If we follow the train of thought laid out by the lyrics, does this reveal our own subversive appreciation for older or younger mates? If we find these situations funny, is it a kind of slapstick humor, laughing at the suffering of another? Or is it funny because we understand how people are seduced beyond the pale by own their sexual impulses?

Creeps

The whimsical “Mr. Tinkertrain” refers to Tinkertoy, the simple wooden construction set for young children. Poetic license gently mitigates the darkness of “Mr. Tinkertrain.” Ozzy offers a “one way ticket to take you to the other side.” The “other side” is adulthood. Innocence equals childhood in the logic of the song.

After a dreamy break, Ozzy references Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a wholesome television show for children, whose host, a real life minister, would coach his audience on difficult words.

    Can you say Mr. Tinkertrain?
    No use crying ’cause you can’t go back
    Now you’re here to stay
    You can’t run, you can’t hide
    You can’t tell me what I feel inside

    Mr. Tinkertrain
    That’s how I got to get my name
    They call me Mr. Tinkertrain
    So come along and play my game

The character Mr. Tinkertrain is creepy. He mentions his inside feelings but doesn’t say what they are. The song suggestively leaves the extent of his perversion up to our imagination, unlike Cheap Trick’s “Daddy Should Have Stayed in High School,” which revels in its explicit scenario.

    I’ve been waiting every night after school
    For five long years
    I’ll keep waiting for you five nights a week
    Cuz I’m no good

We don’t know who the singer is supposed to be, but what’s on his mind becomes clear.

    I’m thirty but I feel like sixteeen
    I might even be your daddy
    I’m dirty but my body is clean
    I might even be your daddy

Age is only the first kink trotted out. More soon follows.

    I like you -you like me? yes?
    Sorry that I had to gag you
    You look better completely undressed
    Sorry but I had to have you I like you -you like me? yes?
    Sorry that I had to gag you
    You look better completely undressed
    Sorry but I had to have you
    I’m thirty but I feel like sixteeen
    I might even be your daddy
    I’m thinking more than a kiss Whip me, spank me, grab me

The singer’s compulsion, “I had to have you,” is echoed in KISS’ “Christine Sixteen.” Both bands rely on theatrics and camp to become larger than life. Cheap Trick’s twisted humor and over the top lyrics act to deflate the tale, reducing the situation to a joke.

Similarly, “Christine Sixteen” is sung by a character who seemingly loiters in front of a high school. Naturally comic and cartoon-like with buoyant energy and unbridled enthusiasm, the music doesn’t reflect the darkness of the lyric. The upbeat, punchy track glorifies the ogler with the jubilant sensibility of a songwriter (i.e. Gene Simmons) who collected Polaroids of his 4,600 conquests.

    I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age,
    But when I saw you coming out of the school that day,
    That day I knew, I knew,
    I’ve got to have you. I’ve got to have you.

We don’t know if this desire is requited or not; it doesn’t seem to matter. The song is an expression of male bravado and lust. We are invited to presume, of course, that he got the girl.

    She’s been around, but she’s young and clean.
    I’ve got to have her, can’t live without her, whoo no.

Christine has “been around,” yet she is still perceived as “young and clean.” The subtext is that Christine knows how to perform but doesn’t have any social diseases. This exemplifies Freud’s Virgin-Whore complex, in which a man desires a woman who is both an experienced lover and a virginal saint. But these qualities are just icing on the cake. Christine’s most salient feature is that she’s only sixteen years old, which the chorus constantly reminds us.

Likewise, “Jailbait,” Motorhead’s paean to an underage groupie, tells us little else about the girl. In this raw, simple, life-on-the-road metal song, singer meets girl backstage and makes both his intentions and the risks perfectly clear.

    Hey baby you’re a sweet young thing,
    Still tied to Mommy’s apron strings,
    I don’t even dare to ask your age,
    It’s enough to know you’re here backstage,
    You’re Jailbait, and I just can’t wait,
    Jailbait baby come on

This attitude—I can have whomever I want—pervades pop music. (In “On and on and On,” for example, ABBA tosses off lines like “So I took advantage of the fact that I’m a star.”) In “Jailbait” the rock star is quick to act and knows what he wants. Furthermore, the decision is his, suggesting a power dynamic involving anything from misogyny, to idol-worship, to outright rape, until we are reassured that the girl is similarly attracted.

    One look baby, all I need,
    My decision made at lightning speed,
    I don’t even want to know your name,
    It’s enough to know you feel the same,

Songs like “Jailbait” that flaunt masculine sexuality and charismatic rock star prowess not only fail to factor in any consequences, they often boldly disregard them. The sex appeal is all egocentric; apparently, the only noteworthy characteristic of the girl is her age, which the singer ironically pretends is of no consequence, even though that’s what “Jailbait” is all about.

    Hey babe you know you look so fine,
    Send shivers up and down my spine,
    I don’t care about our different ages,
    I’m an open book with well-thumbed pages,
    You’re Jailbait, and I just can’t wait,
    Jailbait baby come on

The Who’s “Fiddle About” finds Tommy, the deaf, dumb, and blind boy, left alone with creepy “Uncle Ernie,” who’s “had a few too many.” Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie are part of the backstory of Tommy in both film and rock opera. Although they are portrayed comically, we understand the relationship is abusive.

    Your Mother left me here to mind you
    Now I’m doing what I want to
    Fiddling about
    Down with the bed clothes
    Up with the night shirt
    Fiddle about

Although what “fiddling” constitutes is left to our imagination, “Fiddle About” ranks among the most explicit of these songs. Tommy is helplessly subjected to molestation by various relatives and family acquaintances who take advantage of the boy’s situation. Although both recorded versions, from film and album, are humorous, the scenes function to make us empathize with Tommy and feel his suffering.

Rejection

“Does Your Mother Know” is one of few ABBA songs featuring male lead vocals. Andersson and Ulvaeus penned songs vividly depicting the 1970s liberated disco scene, like “Voulez-Vous” and “On and on and On.” In “Does Your Mother Know,” the singer rejects the dancefloor advances of a young girl. “I can see what you want. But you seem pretty young to be searching for that kind of fun. So maybe I’m not the one.”

The singer’s skepticism gives an air of reality to the song. One possible interpretation of “Does Your Mother Know” is that the singer will nail his prey and the line “Does Your Mother Know that you’re out?” is merely flirtatious flattery to an adult woman. But the man seems to genuinely be weighing the situation. Eventually he makes a decision.

“l can read in your face that your feelings are driving you wild. But girl you’re only a child.” This acknowledges a child can have sexual motivation. As syrupy as ABBA can be, the lyrics have a delicate bite and clever insight into a sexually charged situation. It’s “funny” for a minor to be cruising the grown ups, but the singer seems either uninterested or staking out moral high ground. ABBA projects wholesomeness by rejecting the underage girl. The song sets up a perfect context for pedophilia, a disco child looking for sex, but avoids legal or moral complications by backing off before anything untoward can happen. This levity and tip-toeing around the subject is similar to Sam The Sham’s effort to whitewash Little Red Riding Hood.

Innuendo and Double-Entendre

Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ “Li’l Red Riding Hood” twists the Brothers Grimm children’s fable into an adult tale of seduction.

    Hey there Little Red Riding Hood,
    You sure are looking good.
    You’re everything a big bad wolf could want.

From the set up, the allegory is clear. With the familiar name and famous narrative, the Wolf’s interest immediately reads pedophilia. Unlike “Jailbait,” there is a halfhearted attempt to water down the obvious right away.

    Little Red Riding Hood
    I don’t think little big girls should
    Go walking in these spooky old woods alone.

What is a “little big girl”? The line gratuitously attempts to deflate the established allegory. If Little Red really isn’t little, but big, maybe she’s legal, and maybe the song is harmless and funny. However, the song’s entire premise is the suggestion that the Wolf represents a more powerful, dangerous, hairy, older masculine figure, and Little Red an innocent victim. The song implies that “little big girls” (or women generally) should not go around unaccompanied or they risk molestation.

The song never makes it to Grandma’s house; any conclusion to the story is of no concern to the songwriter. The idea this fable would make a great tale of sexual conquest is the entire substance, aside from giving the singer an opportunity to howl like a wolf.

In “Enter The Young,” The Association spins a metaphor on stage direction to represent political power and the entrance of the counterculture’s young generation on the world stage. The song includes sexual liberation as a political stance as well. In a stunning bit of triple entendre, the imperative clause “Enter The Young” can be taken literally.

The Association, in the rapid sprechstimme also employed in “Along Comes Mary,” rattles off many kinds of “young” people. There’s “some with visions of a place to multiply without the use of divisions.” This tells us young people are joining the counterculture movement; it also implies sexual liberation and sexual activity outside race or class barriers.

“Some are selling, some are buying, some are living, some are dying, but demanding recognition one by one.” The commerce aspect could be about sex, drugs, or working outside the system. The young, in demanding recognition, will affect change in American society. As a coming of age song, “Enter The Young” broadly touches on many issues, including sexual liberation, Vietnam, racism, integration, class politics, and political empowerment. It also suggests you can literally enter the young. They are here, and they are up for it. The chorus hammers the point home, repeating enthusiastically between lines how thoughtful and caring the young are. “Enter the Young, yeah!”

Teachers and School

Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” takes a juvenile approach, with innuendo suitably awkward and boyish. This potpourri of spoken word and catchy choruses is set in a rowdy classroom on the first day of school: “Wait a second man. whaddaya think the teacher’s gonna look like this year?” Obviously something that excites the teenage boy character narrating the song.

    I think of all the education that I missed.
    But then my homework was never quite like this.
    Got it bad, got it bad, got it bad,
    I’m hot for teacher.

The spoken phrases fall between random classroom chatter and poor attempts at innuendo: “I brought my pencil, gimme something to write on, man.” It’s not clear how distracted the singer really is by his teacher; it’s classroom fun. The attraction doesn’t embarrass the boy. He’s proud his plumbing’s turned on. But taken at face value, this scenario is rooted in reality and recently, has had serious consequences for several female teachers.

That a teacher would attempt to stifle any attraction they feel toward a student has also been addressed in popular music. The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” takes the teacher’s perspective. Like “Does Your Mother Know,” here a young girl desires an older male.

    Young teacher, the subject
    Of schoolgirl fantasy
    She wants him so badly
    Knows what she wants to be
    Inside her there’s longing
    This girl’s an open page
    Book marking - she’s so close now
    This girl is half his age

The teacher struggles with his feelings: “Temptation, frustration, So bad it makes him cry.” The song shifts from third to first person in the chorus, as the teacher admonishes the girl to keep her distance: “Don’t stand so close to me.” In the end, he is reduced and humiliated:

    It’s no use, he sees her
    He starts to shake and cough
    Just like the old man in
    That book by Nabakov

Projecting himself into the part of the old man in Lolita, the teacher crumbles and acknowledges his forbidden attraction. The shift to third person rings eerily, as if the teacher is out of control, observing himself at a distance behaving in a dangerously inappropriate manner, like an out-of-body experience, or like a troubled person asking a professional about a hypothetical friend. “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” gives one perspective of what might go on in an adult’s mind. We get another in Depeche Mode’s “Little15.”

Psychology

While these songs express adolescent surging hormones or adult predatory lust, “Little 15” uniquely shows pedophilia from a psychological perspective. The child is eroticized, not for outward physical or prurient reasons, but for internalized psychological ones. Here an older woman desires the company of a fifteen-year-old boy to transport herself away from the tedium of adult life. An omniscient narrator sings to the boy.

    Little 15, you help her forget
    the world outside; you’re not part of it yet.
    And if you could drive, you could drive her away
    to a happier place, to a happier day
    that exists in your mind, and in your smile.
    She could escape there just for a while

Escapism drives the woman in this relationship. There are no descriptions of the boy’s physicality or prowess. Even his innocence is not explicitly fetishized but it is shown in striking relief to an ugly, conspiratorial world: “She knows your mind is not yet in league with the rest of the world and its little intrigues.”

“Little 15” does not fault the woman. Songwriter Martin Gore implies the psychology driving the woman’s relationship is a logical result of modern life. Uniquely among these pop songs, “Little 15” shows the cycle repeating.

    Do you understand
    Do you know what she means
    As time goes by
    And when you’ve seen what she’s seen
    You will

The ominous tone of “you will” is typical of Gore’s dark and mysterious songs. Here the message is clear. The boy will one day be in the position of the adult woman. The adult world and its corruption will drive him to seek refuge in the innocence of youth. Gore’s songs “Strangelove” and “Master and Servant” deal thoughtfully with alternative sexuality. In “Little 15,” Gore suggests a psychology driving pedophilia.

Popular Music and Popular Culture

Pop songs are first and foremost entertainment for a predominantly adolescent audience. As that audience grows up, some songs are forgotten and some are enshrined in the cannon of popular culture and memory. Time has shown that songs addressing pedophilia, whether lightheartedly or in all seriousness, have not been forgotten. The subject matter and how it is handled resonates with our humanity.

Popular music shifts genres regularly. The music young people listen to makes a statement about who they are in the world, who their friends are, and what peer groups they reject or identify with. Pedophilia as a subject matter transcends time and genre within pop music.

In the exploration of nascent sexuality, there is an implied connection, via archetypal loss-of-innocence mythology, of a meeting of childhood and adulthood. If the mere act of intercourse creates adulthood, there is a moment where the two meet. As young people explore their sexuality, the connection between adolescents and adults can become humorous, stimulating, threatening, or any combination of such varied emotions. These stories and emotions then are preserved in the music of each generation.

Jack Curtis DubowskyJack Curtis Dubowsky is a composer in San Francisco. He received his master’s degree in composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and studied communication at UCLA. His music graces films, television, and concert performances. He has also produced, arranged, and engineered many pop albums. He writes about popular culture and critical theory.

Comments

Anonymous's picture

Mr. Tinkertrain

Are you serious? Ozzy Osbourne is not at all seducing anyone adult or child.

This song is a cautionary tale of a predators seen through the eyes of the
predator not the victim. Ozzy doesn't nor ever would he want to harm a child.
He has 3 of his own and is a loving father.

The person who wrote the crap needs their head examined and is in need of a
rubber room and a straight jacket for life.

Anonymous's picture

Mr Tinkertrain

Who cares whats the song is about? Have you ever heard it? It's a fantastic rock song. I certainly don't condone what its about though.