The difference between singing along now versus singing along strapped into the backseat next to our siblings with our parents up front is that now, we not only pay more attention to the lyrics, but we know exactly what they mean. Then we realize that when we were young, our parents were either not listening or were simply happy we weren’t beating the crap out of each other or whining about how hungry/thirsty/tired/bored we were.
Here’s what we sang, and why we probably should not have.
1. “She Bop,” Cyndi Lauper (1984)
As a shout-out to women who have urges, Cyndi Lauper sang about watching boys in tight jeans and getting all tingly inside. With one reference to going blind as the only hint as to what “ooh, she bop, he bop a we bop, I bop you bop a they bop be bop be bop a lu bop” might mean, it’s really easy to miss the message of this tune, or maybe even consider it a throwback to doo-wop. So we sang about masturbation by accident.
2. “Little Red Corvette,” Prince (1982)
To this day, I still get this song confused with “Raspberry Beret,” and I’m assuming everyone else does, too, so it’s no wonder that what should be a very obvious metaphor goes unnoticed. In his whispery way, Prince sang of a pocketful of Trojan horses, a little red Corvette that needs love, and how those horses run free. He then extended the metaphor to his being sickened by all the jockeys that were there before him, but he wasn’t too sick to grab the keys and tame the machine. That little red Corvette is really private lady parts. At least it’s not in a second-hand store like the raspberry beret.
(Apologies for the karaoke version—Prince doesn’t let many people put his music on YouTube anymore.)
3. “Like a Virgin,” Madonna (1984)
Because this song sounds like it’s about camping at first—”I made it through the wilderness”—we’re kind of steered away from questioning, “Hey, what’s a virgin?” And if we didn’t ask, our parents weren’t about to turn around and explain, “You see, when a man and a woman love each other…” Plus, maybe you were like me, too distracted by figuring out exactly what Madonna was singing after “you’re so fine, and you’re mine; make me strong, yeah you make me ______?” It’s “bold.” “You make me bold” and then “your love thawed out what was scared and cold.” I actually never knew that until I just looked it up, so I’ve been making it my own for 31 years.
4. “Seventeen,” Winger (1988)
Not the most popular song, but a good example of how hair metal was completely inappropriate most of the time, “Seventeen” is about an adult male lamenting the fact that the hot girl who catches his eye is only 17 years old, and she reveals this when she’s coming to his door and has brought him to the floor. And it’s not the law that’s holding him back; it’s her daddy who says she’s too young. Not to be put off by parental wishes, the adult male proclaims, “She’s old enough for me.” This is not exactly family-friendly ride-along music, but Kip Winger’s big hair, bright smile, and ripped oversized tank top would make anyone forget the actual lyrics.
5. “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You,” Heart (1990)
The title is blatant, but “make love” sounds kid-friendly enough. Understanding this song takes some time and effort, as it’s an entire story, from start to finish.
Part 1: A woman meets a stranger in the rain and offers him a ride. The first problem here: Stranger danger! Hitchhiking is a huge “do not do this” moment at any time in life.
Part 2: She doesn’t want to know his name but thinks she’s in love with him because he’s hot and lonely and wet. They go to a hotel that she “knew well,” which means this is clearly not the first time she’s done such a thing: nameless sex in seedy hotels. This is not a children’s story.
Part 3: He brings the woman out of her often and easily, yet she leaves him with a note saying that all she wanted was to have a not-ugly baby, and since she couldn’t have that with her husband, she used the handsome stranger to do it.
Why does none of this come across at first listen? It’s the metaphorical interlude: “I told him I am the flower, you are the seed; we walked in the garden; we planted a tree,” and when she sings it, “garden” sounds like “car” so we’re all left wondering how you can plant a tree in a car.
6. “Boom Boom,” Paul Lekakis (1987)
While you may not remember the name Paul Lekakis, you will probably remember the catchy tune “Boom, boom, boom, let’s go back to my room so we can do it all night and you can make me feel right.” That’s pretty self-explanatory, except for the “it.” Maybe our parents didn’t realize what the “it” meant.
7. “Me So Horny,” 2 Live Crew (1989)
OK, so my parents didn’t let me listen to this. It didn’t play on the radio often. Still, I heard it during those late-night countdowns sometimes. I could sing it word for word through the first verse. Did you know there’s a clean version? It’s still called “Me So Horny,” so I’m not sure how that’s much cleaner.
8. “I Touch Myself,” Divinyls (1990)
By the time 1990 rolled around, we may have been able to figure out what “She Bop” meant, but there wasn’t a reason to figure it out because along came the Divinyls. I can still remember my mom being appalled and shutting off the TV whenever the video came on MTV. She never did that with “She Bop,” though.
Picture any of these songs coming on the radio today while you’re driving with your kids—or your parents—in the car with you. Are you shouting “This! Is! My! Jam!” rolling down the windows, and getting everyone to sing along? I’ll be the first to switch over to the lite listening station for some Adult Top 40. But when I’m alone, those windows are coming down and I’m getting turnt up, throwback-style.