Meatloaf, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” (1977)
Working together several times, songwriter Jim Steinman and singer Meatloaf made music for the horny adolescent in all of us, pop opera full of crashing guitars, rising strings, and panting lyrics. In the duo’s epic, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” Meatloaf and Ellen Foley play a married couple reminiscing about one fateful night together as teenagers when they lost their virginity together and turned into the Lockhorns. Most of the song is taken up describing the in-car seduction, as ’Loaf pants and begs Foley to give in to his dubious charms, urging her on with lines like “I’ve been waiting so long for you to come along and have some fun” and “You got to do what you can and let Mother Nature do the rest.” Some heavy imaginary necking ensues (with a play-by-play from baseball announcer Phil Rizzuto), before Foley pulls back and roars, “Stop right there! Before we go any further, do you love me?” Meatloaf hems and haws before finally swearing devotion, and the two have sex, leading to a deeply unhappy marriage. It’s hard to tell what exactly the point of all this is: Pre-marital sex is evil? Women who demand proof of love before putting out are soul-destroying succubae? Sex destroys lives? Maybe it’s just a reminder that if things take a turn for the worse, make sure to have a divorce lawyer’s number on hand.
The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?” (1985)
It’s not exactly crystal clear that Morrissey is talking about sex during The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” but it’s certainly a popular theory about the line: “When you say it’s gonna happen now / When exactly do you mean? / See I’ve already waited too long / and all my hope is gone.” Perhaps he’s just waiting for anything to happen to his boring life, but more likely he’s a lonely post-adolescent (and self-proclaimed celibate, at least at the time) who only wants to feel the touch of another person, but can’t quite make it happen. There were other hints at the time that he was lookin’ for love (“Let me get my hands / on your mammary glands” springs to mind), and eventually he’d come around to singing about actually gettin’ some, instead of just pining for it.
AC/DC, “Squealer” (1976)
With all the sensitivity and tact that AC/DC is known for, the band’s 1976 song “Squealer” makes no bones about its subject matter—that subject matter being the deflowering of a young woman. Never one to tiptoe through the tulips, the group’s late singer Bon Scott gets right down to business. Over an archetypically sleazy, bluesy riff, the frontman leers, “She said she’d never been / Never been touched before / She said she’d never been / This far before.” With that out of the way, Scott dives in fully as the band busts into a full-throttle rhythm: “She said she’d never / Never been balled before / And I don’t think / She’ll ever ball no more.” Say one thing about Scott: He never let propriety, gentlemanly virtues, or simple human decency get in the way of a good song.
Betty Wright, “Tonight Is The Night” (1974)
“Tonight is the night / That you make me a woman,” sings R&B legend Betty Wright on her 1974 hit, “Tonight Is The Night.” Although the album it appears on, Danger! High Voltage!, bears a provocative title, the song itself is tender and understated. Over a sultry, butter-smooth groove, Wright whispers as if into the ear of her first lover, “You said you’ll be gentle with me / And I hope you will.” Simply sung, it’s a couplet that carries all the conflicting feelings of warmth, hesitance, and eroticism that the subject demands. And unlike many of the more prurient virginity-lost songs in the pop canon, “Tonight Is The Night” actually deals with the potential aftermath of the act—making it lyrically as well as musically three-dimensional.
The Boys, “First Time” (1977)
The Boys were among the first crop of British punk bands to hit the charts in their native land in 1977. But unlike contemporaries Sex Pistols and The Clash, The Boys didn’t have a political bone in their bodies. Instead, they aimed their snarling, anarchic toward more primal themes. The Boys’ second single, “First Time,” is a distorted power-pop anthem about losing virginity, although in a fresh twist, frontman Matt Dangerfield tackles the topic with a smidgeon of empathy for the young woman involved. That said, it’s borderline creepy in its pleading, orgasmic chorus: “Oh, oh, oh, oh / It’s my first time / Oh, oh, oh, oh / Please be kind / Oh, oh, oh, oh / Don’t hurt me.” (JH)
The Thorns Of Life, “My First Time” (2008)
Whenever Jawbreaker’s Blake Schwarzenbach starts a new band, the punk community rightly takes notice, and adding Crimpshrine/Pinhead Gunpowder drummer Aaron Cometbus only sweetens the deal for fans of late-’80s, early-’90s East Bay punk. The duo, joined by bassist Daniela Sea of The L Word fame, formed The Thorns Of Life in 2008, and soon after the band’s surprise debut at a Brooklyn house show, bootlegs of its sets rapidly spread across the Internet. While the music was fairly standard fare, one song brought undue attention to the group: “My First Time,” the awkward tale of Schwarzenbach losing his virginity in the 11th grade. Schwarzenbach’s ability to turn a phrase has rarely been called into question, but here he’s a bit too, well, forthcoming. Many versions of the song benefit from sonic bombast drowning out the lyrics, but a dreadful acoustic version exists, placing the cringe-inducing story front and center: “She knew a lot more about it than me / Took my hand and showed me things / It wasn’t guilty / Or dirty / It was tender / A little awkward / And I came.” There’s no way to deliver a line like that without making an audience uncomfortable, but Schwarzenbach did it without flinching, even if it elicited chuckles from the crowd. The Thorns Of Life broke up months later without ever releasing a proper album, but the group’s brief, fleeting existence is still fondly remembered, much like the experience that inspired “My First Time.”
Prince And The Revolution, “Raspberry Beret” (1985)
The artist originally known as Prince Rogers Nelson has never hesitated to drift into enigmatic imagery in his lyrics, but sometimes a beret is just a beret, as seems to be the case in the single that served as listeners’ first taste of his 1985 album, Around The World In A Day. While doing an admittedly half-assed job as a part-time employee at Mr. McGee’s five-and-dime store, the song’s narrator meets a young female customer wearing little more than a raspberry beret, and the two click immediately. After taking a brief bike ride to Old Man Johnson’s farm, the two youngsters indulge in what appears to be the narrator’s first sexual experience, after which he muses, “They say the first time ain’t the greatest / But I tell ya / If I had the chance to do it all again / I wouldn’t change a stroke.”
Pulp, “Do You Remember The First Time?” (1994)
Jarvis Cocker’s never been one to mince words, so any song he writes about losing his virginity is bound to be a fairly straightforward and truthful one. That’s the case with “Do You Remember The First Time?” off 1994’s His ’N’ Hers. A lamentation about the general suckiness of almost everyone’s first time, “Do You Remember?” features Cocker grousing that he “can’t remember a worse time” than his first, imbuing the statement with that kind of self-hatred and sass that only he could. Fortunately for everyone who’s slept with Cocker since, or would consider doing so, he assures the listener he’s “changed so much since then,” and “oh yeah, we’ve grown.” Thank God.
The Pretenders, “Tattooed Love Boys” (1979)
Chrissie Hynde seems sufficiently badass to have landed tons of backseat romps in her youth, but apparently Akron-area teens just weren’t picking up what she was laying down as a youngster, and it wasn’t until she ventured into the rock community that she really found what she was looking for. At least, that’s the message of “Tattooed Love Boys,” a 1979 track that details Hynde’s sexual awakening, when she went a little “apewire” and tried to find “what the wait was about,” hooking up with less-than-awesome guys she’d admired, for whom she “tore my knees up getting to” and who subsequently pretty much used her, letting her chat them up before showing “her what the hole was for.” It’s pretty rough stuff, but also a solid reminder that love-starved and lonely kids do some pretty dumb shit.
Rod Stewart, “Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)” (1976)
In 1976, Rod Stewart just about to unleash the full potential of his big-haired, boozy, British potency, and in 1977, he’d become an icon for writhing around while wondering “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” and musing about “Hot Legs.” In 1976, though, Rod The Bod was still a little romantic, albeit pushy, and “Tonight’s The Night” captures that push and pull between raw desire and careful persuasion. The song, which features whispers from Stewart’s then-girlfriend Britt Ekland, is all about the narrator’s quest to de-virginize a girl. He tells her to draw the blinds, take off her shoes, and disconnect the telephone line before laying it on pretty thick, singing, “Don’t deny your man’s desire / You’d be a fool to stop this tide / Spread your wings and let me come inside ’cause / Tonight’s the night.” It’s the musical version of the blue balls concept, but Stewart’s damn persuasive and ultimately, his “virgin child” probably did “let [her] inhibitions run wild.”
Vanessa Carlton, “White Houses” (2004)
Songs about losing one’s virginity tend to play it coy, couching the act in metaphor or allusion. Not so with Vanessa Carlton’s 2004 single “White Houses,” which is about as blunt as it’s possible to be without actually referencing broken hymens. “My first time, hard to explain / rush of blood and a little bit of pain,” Carlton sings about giving it up to a boy in a bright red shirt on a cracked leather car seat. “He’s my first mistake,” Carlton then says of the red-shirted boy, who proves to be just a guest star in a series of linked lyrical vignettes reflecting on a heady summer full of new friendships and an intense fling, all of which prove fleeting. Although quite frank, the depiction of lost virginity is not really the focus here; rather, it’s an illustrative detail that’s part of a larger coming-of-age tale that’s nostalgic, sweet, and just a little regretful—which is pretty much the definition of most people’s first times.
Garth Brooks, “That Summer” (1993)
Garth Brooks was the undisputed king of country radio in the early ’90s, but even he must have been surprised at how successful he made a song about a young farmhand who loses his virginity to the “lonely widow woman, hell-bent to make it on her own,” who owns said farm. The two come together one night to have Harlequin romance novel sex—complete with lots and lots of weather imagery, and it’s not hard to imagine the 40-ish woman on the cover, next to a young, shirtless man, the title Her Young Companion screaming from somewhere off to the side. Perhaps surprisingly, one of Brooks’ co-writers on the song was his wife at the time, Sandy, who actually co-wrote a handful of Brooks’ songs with him. Even more surprisingly, the original subjects of the song, according to Brooks, were two people who met at a party—he single, she married—before he realized country radio might be ready for older women bedding teenage boys but was less willing to see its No. 1 star singing about that.
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Elvis Costello, “Mystery Dance” (1977)
Though he was never a full-fledged member of the UK punk movement, Elvis Costello’s output circa 1977 was still powered by the same “-ations” as the safety-pin set: frustration, irritation, and, on occasion, penetration. In the Costello songbook, the first and third items in that list frequently go hand in hand, one of the earliest examples being My Aim Is True’s wound-up rhythm-and-blue-balls anthem, “Mystery Dance.” The track is all amphetamine jitters and ants in the pants, particularly as played with Costello’s eventual backing band, The Attractions: Pete Thomas’ drums winding up the tension under Costello’s motor-mouthed vocals, giving way every few measures to all-band instrumental release. The prevailing sentiment on the lyric sheet, however, is one of confusion, a would-be Romeo asking his Juliet to introduce him to the song’s eponymous dance—steps neither know, and can’t seem to figure out from the pages of a glossy guidebook. A quick and dirty minute-and-a-half, the song exists at the intersection of two more powerful “-ations”: temptation and anticipation.