Penetration in the centerfold: 20 songs about pornography

Penetration in the centerfold: 20 songs about pornography

1. J. Geils Band, “Centerfold”
Numerous songs in the pop canon dwell on the ins and outs of pornography. Many of them overlap with a far more extensively documented category: masturbation songs. Not all masturbation songs are about porn, though—and vice versa. In fact, one of the most famous of all porn-obsessed songs, J. Geils Band’s 1981 hit “Centerfold,” doesn’t even hint at manual self-satisfaction. Instead, the catchy chunk of power-pop details the loss of innocence that comes from discovering that a childhood crush with “soft, fuzzy sweaters, too magical to touch” is now buck naked in a centerfold. “Oh no, I can’t deny it,” laments frontman Peter Wolf, summing up the sexual frustration inherent in so many porn-themed songs, “Oh yeah, I guess I gotta buy it.”

2. Devo, “Penetration In The Centerfold”
The ’80s were a particularly fertile period for the pornography song. That said, many porn-referencing classics of the decade do so only in passing—for instance, Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party),” Oingo Boingo’s “Nasty Habits,” and Prince’s “Darling Nikki” and “Tamborine.” Devo, one of the bands that defined the ’80s, didn’t even have that modicum of reserve. In addition to suggestive tracks like “Whip It,” “Praying Hands,” and “Jerkin’ Back ’N’ Forth,” Devo went full frontal with its 1979 song “Penetration In The Centerfold.” With lines like “Every single month it’s the same old trash / There’s a girl in the middle with her finger in her gash,” the aggressive, abrasive “Centerfold” leaves little to the imagination.

3. Tubeway Army, “Everyday I Die”
Many groups of the new-wave era were fixated on the idea of photographs as talismans of superficiality and postmodern remove. But while, say, Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film” barely scratched that surface, Tubeway Army’s “Everyday I Die” dug its nails in. Fronted by the icy, synthesizer-wielding Gary Numan, the group included “Everyday” on its self-titled 1978 debut, and Numan uses it sculpt a sordid scenario: In a dystopian future, sex has finally been reduced to commodity, consumed in gloom and isolation. “I unstick pages and read,” drones Numan in the robotic voice he’d soon bring to his hit “Cars,” “I look at pictures of you / I smell the lust in my hand / Everyday I die.” Or at the very least, his soul does.

4. The Cure, “Pornography”
An even drearier portrait of porn addiction is The Cure’s “Pornography.” The 1982 song is eerie and atmospheric, and frontman Robert Smith’s poetry isn’t any more tangible. “Books and films and in life and in heaven / Sounds of slaughter as your body turns,” Smith moans over glacial synths and frantic guitars; the tableau is one of degradation and disease as the camera rolls and “an image of the queen echoes ’round the sweating bed.” By the end of the ’80s, Smith would be singing much more sweetly about girls in photos in the romance-steeped “Pictures Of You.” 

5. Van Halen, “Dirty Movies”
While Def Leppard’s “Photograph” has often been erroneously called a pornography song (according to Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, it wasn’t about Marilyn Monroe, either), Van Halen’s “Dirty Movies” is a true classic of porn-centric hard rock. The 1981 track tells the story of a former prom queen who winds up as “pictures on the silver screen.” Riding on top of Eddie Van Halen’s sultry, grinding guitar, David Lee Roth delivers a relatively restrained performance, even with sneering lines like, “Daddy’s little sweetie after some damn rainbow / Got the big deal in the back of a limo.” After all, this is the same man who, in Van Halen’s “Panama,” reached down between his legs to “ease the seat back.”

6. Ozzy Osbourne, “No Bone Movies”
Ozzy Osbourne is no stranger to vice, but it wasn’t until his 1980 solo song “No Bone Movies” that he ventured into the big, bad world of porn. Not that he’s glorifying his fixation on dirty cinema on the sleaze-rock track. “X-rated demon that lives in my head,” he accuses himself, audibly distraught at his addiction to T-and-A. With a sultry, mocking solo from Randy Rhoads, “No Bone Movies” is one of Osbourne’s rare moments of disgusted self-reflection, relatively speaking: “Inspiration that’s blue and uncut / Can’t kick the habit, obsession of smut.”

7. System Of A Down, “Violent Pornography”
Puritanical censors have long loathed the boob tube—especially when it has actual boobs on it. System Of A Down, on the other hand, seems to be siding with the squares on 2005’s “Violent Pornography.” Backed by the band’s typically disjointed, artsy nü-metal, leader Serj Tankian rages spastically against the mind-rotting evils that can be found on the small screen: “It’s a violent pornography / Choking chicks and sodomy / The kind of shit you get on your TV.”

8. Halo Of Kitten, “I Hate Porn”
An ad hoc band featuring members of garage-rock band Halo Of Flies and singer Julie Cafritz (of Jon Spencer’s early band Pussy Galore and the Sonic Youth side project Free Kitten), Halo Of Kitten recorded just one track during its existence. That song, “I Hate Porn,” appears on the soundtrack to Screwed, the 1996 documentary about porn publisher Al Goldstein. Pretty much every song on the disc—including the Melvins instrumental “I Like Porn”—is porn-themed, but Halo Of Kitten’s contribution is the capstone. “Don’t want to watch someone take it up the butt,” screeches Cafritz over a scuzzy, remedial rock riff, although it’s pretty clear she’s not all that outraged about it.

9. Mr. Bungle, “The Girls Of Porn”
It’s never easy to tell exactly where the smartass, button-pushing Mike Patton is coming from. On “The Girls Of Porn”—a 1991 song from his project Mr. Bungle—the singer doesn’t make things much clearer. On the surface, the song parodies the raunchy funk that soundtracks much of ’70s porn. Dig deeper, though, and there seems to lurk a real familiarity and perhaps even love for the subject at hand: “My hand gets tired and my dick gets sore / But the girls of porn want more / So I flip through the pages one more time / And I just let the jism fly,” attests Patton before embarking on a litany of masturbatory aides. His favorite, though, seems clear: “I’ve got my Hustler, and I don’t need nothing else.” No doubt Larry Flynt is proud.

10. U2, “Babyface”
While it can be argued that U2’s “Even Better Than The Real Thing” is somehow about porn, Bono is explicit about that theme on the 1993 song “Babyface.” “Watching your bright blue eyes in the freeze-frame,” he sings, recalling the J. Geils Band classic. Then, with an icy, menacing slur to his voice, Bono describes an uneasy scene of loneliness and alienation lit by the pulsing glow of porn: “Coming home late at night to turn you on / Checking out every frame, I’ve got slow motion on my side / Turning around and around with the sound and color.” For a band once known for its Christian flirtations and profound earnestness, it’s downright eerie.

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11. Blowfly, “Porno Freak”
“Sitting at home, playing with my dick / I decided to check out a flick / Only dirty movies turn me on / like Deep Throat, The Devil In Miss Jones”: So begins “Porno Freak,” the definitive porn anthem by the definitive masked smut rapper, Blowfly. The funky 1978 song not only proclaims Blowfly’s admiration for the oeuvre of Gerard Damiano, it reaffirms Blowfly’s claim that “I’m known around the world as the Nasty Rapper.” The fact that he’s a true rap pioneer is often overshadowed by that nastiness, but such is the cross one bears to be the champion of porn-happy funk.

12. Living Legends, “Addicted”
Kicking off with a sample from Blowfly’s “Porno Freak,” the 2004 song “Addicted” by Living Legends updates the legend’s porn-centric sentiment for the new millennium. Over a loping, teasing beat, members of the hip-hop collective trade verses full of trashy, shameful confessionals about being hooked on porn, including Luckyiam’s cautionary tale of the online traps and pitfalls to be found while surfing the seedier crevices of the Internet: “I’m a guy that’s wise to all the tricks and the lies / The special offers for free, membership with ties / They’re like a virus attacking on my phat screen / Clicking on the x for them to bounce, but they just won’t leave.”

13. Zebrahead, “Playmate Of The Year”
Scraping the bottom of the porn-rock barrel, Zebrahead is effusive in its love for Playboy—and in particular, a certain annual issue of the magazine. The band’s 2000 song “Playmate Of The Year” opens with the lines, “There’s this girl I don’t know / Comes by every year or so / And if I get the mail before my mom does / Then I’ll stay out of trouble.” From there, it’s all mild misogyny and bro-tastic rap-rock. Small wonder the video for the song actually wound up as an extra on a Playboy video calendar.


14. NOFX, “Lori Meyers”
Unlike Blink-182’s “The Porn Show,” which isn’t really about porn, per se, NOFX’s “Lori Meyers” is a pop-punk song that addresses rock’s long fixation on porn—and then turns it on its head. After a typical tale of how the girl next door (or in this case, upstairs) turns out to be a porn star, the woman’s point of view is presented; Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, playing the part of the porn-positive neighbor, screeches her outrage at being portrayed as an object of pity, singing, “Who the hell are you to tell me how to live my life? / You think I sell my body, I merely sell my time / I ain’t no Cinderella, I ain’t waiting for no prince to save me / In fact, until now I was doing just fine.”

15. The Moldy Peaches, “Downloading Porn With Davo”
Another coed porn duet comes via Adam Green and Kimya Dawson of Moldy Peaches. The twosome’s song “Downloading Porn With Davo” is a barrelhouse, folk-blues romp through lurid scenario after lurid scenario, from “sucking dick for ecstasy” to fucking “a little waitress in exchange for a snort.” But the culmination of this prurient rampage manifests itself in the sing-along chorus: “Downloading porn with Davo / Put a latch on the door so mama don’t know.” Compared to the rest of the song, sneaking a peak or two at Internet nastiness is downright wholesome.

16. Sarah Silverman, “The Porn Song”
Tackling the theme of pornography with all the subtlety and sensitivity that only Sarah Silverman can muster, “The Porn Song”—which appears in the comic’s 2005 film Jesus Is Magic—cuts right to the viscera of the pornography debate. “There’s a hole in your butt where the doodie comes out / There’s a hole in your butt where the penis goes in,” sings Silverman sweetly, as if innocently categorizing the jobs of the various people in her neighborhood. Then, with more than just a little harsh judgment of those who choose porn as a profession, she levels her psychoanalysis of such women: “You wish your dad had been there / But more oftentimes he was not / You can’t put your arms around / A dirty gang-bang cum shot.”

17. Tom Lehrer, “Smut”
Tom Lehrer is ever-so-slightly less caustic than Sarah Silverman in his 1965 song “Smut.” That said, it was still a shocker when released: “Pornographic pictures I adore / Indecent magazines galore / I like them more / If they’re hardcore,” he quips loquaciously, poking fun at the wave of would-be censors who were then trying to keep on top of the oncoming cultural revolution of the ’60s. Lehrer is taking swipes at both sides of the issue, but he comes down squarely against the absurdity of the very notion of one person defining obscenity for another: “For filth, I’m glad to say, is in the mind of the beholder / When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.”

18. Pulp, “This Is Hardcore”
With one ear always pressed to the seamier side of human existence, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker uses pornography as an extended metaphor for voyeurism and perversion of all sorts. “It’s what men in stained raincoats pay for / But in here it is pure,” Cocker delivers in his most unctuous tone, insinuating throughout the song’s jazz-noir creepiness. “I’ve seen the storyline played out so many times before / Oh, that goes in there / Then that goes in there / Then that goes in there.” It doesn’t take extensive experience with porn—or even much imagination—to tease out the double entendre.

19. Elvis Costello, “Satellite”
Sweet and lullaby-ish, Elvis Costello’s 1989 song “Satellite” instantly conjures images of stars in the sky, twinkling away as eyelids grow heavy. But Costello yanks those eyes open with a deceptively stark examination of mass media as an enabler of sensual alienation: “All over the world at the very same time / People sharing the same cheap sensation / The thrill of somebody watching those / Forbidden things we never mention.” Then, just to drive the point home, he adds, “In the hot, unloving spotlight, with the secrets it arouses / Now they both know what it’s like / Inside a pornographer’s trousers.”

20. The Who, “Pictures Of Lily”
The tune that launched the masturbation song (without mentioning masturbation explicitly) also unwittingly did the same with the porn anthem. Written from the point of a view of a teenager whose dad gives him “pictures of Lily” to aid in his insomnia, this 1967 single by The Who possesses a wistful, melancholic quality that seems to say far more than the lyrics spell out. From what Pete Townshend has said in interviews, it’s been assumed that the lyrics pertain to Lillie Langtry, the English vaudeville star who’s been referenced over the years in everything from Sherlock Holmes to The Simpsons. Seeing as how Townshend is a third-generation British musician, it’s entirely possible that there’s at least a germ of truth to the song. Either way, “Pictures Of Lily” stands as one of The Who’s best-loved tracks, not to mention a document of the porn song’s more poignant side.