Shook me all night long

My 3-Year-Old Loves Classic Rock & I'm Not About To Stop Him

Toxic masculinity abounds, but when he sings "knocking me out with those American thighs," I can't help but laugh.

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The Nostalgia Issue

Strangers get a kick out of my 3-year-old's wardrobe full of classic rock band T-shirts. "Oh, you like Led Zeppelin, huh?" they ask, laughing. But I assure you — if my 3-year-old is wearing a band shirt, he can not only name three songs they've performed but also sing almost every line. And frankly, it's getting to be a problem.

My son is actually great with music, often memorizing lyrics after a single listen, even if he doesn't quite understand the words. It reminds me of those amazing contestants on America's Got Talent who don't speak English very well but can sing Whitney Houston songs perfectly, like Brazil's Gabriel Henrique's recent performance. Or native English speakers who sing opera but don't speak Italian.

And my husband and I were really enjoying giving him an education in classic rock. It beats listening to Raffi on repeat. Music runs deep in our family, and in fact, my dad is a music producer who's worked with classic bands such as Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and KISS (to name a few). But when my son got obsessed with the famous AC/DC song "You Shook Me All Night Long," I realized we might be exposing him to more than just good music.

"What are ties, Mama?" he asked quietly one day at the park.

"Tires?" I was confused, scanning the premises to see what may have inspired the question, though 3-year-olds tend to throw you curveballs without context.

"Ties," he continued, "Like AC/DC. 'Knocking me out with those American ties.'"

Thighs. The line is, "Knocking me out with those American thighs." It seemed innocent enough, so I gave him a brief anatomy lesson and quickly changed the subject. A few days later, my husband pulled me aside to share that they had been watching the music video this time when my son sang a lyric that was not only highly inappropriate for a 3-year-old but possibly for any person to be singing aloud these days.

The lyric reads, "She told me to come, but I was already there." It's a double entendre, but given that you're a grown-up parent reading this, you surely already know that.

After that, we started to listen more closely to the other songs he loved and started to see more than just age-inappropriate lyrics. There's a lot of toxic masculinity and female objectification in classic rock. For example, his favorite Led Zeppelin song was "Black Dog," which includes a potential body-shaming reference with the line, "A big-legged woman ain't got no soul." (What is it with classic rockers and legs?)

It wasn't just misogynistic lyrics, either. He would belt out drug references, such as the line, "I'm high as a kite right now" from Sir Elton John's "Rocketman." Even the beloved Beatles have a few songs that will make you consider turning the volume down in the company of kids.

Still, not every song can be easily interpreted, and sometimes the fans are wrong when decoding the meaning. There was a long-standing theory that Phil Collins was inspired to write "In the Air Tonight" (another of my son's faves) after witnessing someone drown, but Phil himself has debunked that. Sir Elton John still claims that "Rocketman" is entirely about space travel.

But honestly, even knowing the confirmed meaning behind songs hasn't stopped us from playing them in our house. I grew up with this same music myself — often seeing it performed live — and legend has it my first sentence included an expletive in the back of my grandparent's car. Plus, I've tried to put on Janet Jackson and '90s R&B for my son many times, but he always determinedly says to me, "I like rock, Mama." He is definitely his grandpa's grandson.

For now, we are embracing it (within reason). For example, when he asks to hear "Californication" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the umpteenth time and we get to the line, "Hard core, soft porn," he thinks it reads "Hard core, rock horns," and we are not correcting him anytime soon. And I have to admit, there is something incredibly adorable when he belts out, "Knocking me out with those American thighs," in response to some smug adult questioning his AC/DC shirt. Yes, he can name a bunch of their songs. Take that.

Sarah Ezrin is the author of The Yoga of Parenting. She is a world-renowned yoga educator, content creator, and mama based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sarah loves guiding people along their wellness and parenthood journeys. Her words, classes, and social media are supportive, healing spaces where people can feel seen and heard. For more information on Sarah please connect with her on Instagram and TikTok.