Team Taylor: Fifteen . . . and Other Ages
Now I hope you're not expecting a lesson! I haven't been
When did we start romanticising certain ages? Are these songs rooted in memory or in wishful thinking? Perhaps a little of both?
Taylor's songwriting has been disparaged by some teenagers who say that today's fifteen-year-old girls aren't as likely to be getting their first kisses as they are to be losing their virginity. As someone for whom neither event marked her own fifteenth year, I remain moved by the naivete of the lyric--
When you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/
You're gonna believe them . . .
Then the track ends and I wonder whether a nineteen-year-old girl who has led a charmed life by most standards is sage enough to distill the essence of "fifteen" in a song. Then again . . . it has always been a popular conceit among songwriters of all ages.
The most popular age in music must be sixteen! The musical odes to sixteen year olds or one's own sixteenth year range from the reverential to the jaded. Taylor was smart to subtract a year and stand out with Fifteen. Another blonde princess decided to buy into the cliche and recorded one of the worst pop songs ever. I didn't even consider her when it was time to pick my Definitive Sixteen Song for our next list . . .
My Top Five Arbitrary Age Songs:
1) Sixteen Going on Seventeen
I almost chose Johnny Burnette's You're Sixteen (my personal favourite of all "Sixteen" songs) . . . but then had to admit to myself that it's not the worst culprit of the lot.
This song, on the other hand, has sixteen, seventeen, and a cordial nod to eighteen--and milks them all. I listened to it over and over in the year I watched my family's Betamax copy of The Sound of Music every day, and it completely convinced me that life and love would begin at sixteen . . . in a gazebo . . . by a river . . . under moonlight . . . with waltzing.
What a lie that turned out to be, aye? (Even Agathe von Trapp, on whom Liesl was based, thought of this fabricated romance as "rubbish.") I currently consider this song the most annoying Rogers & Hammerstein showtune ever. Yet it totally crowns this list . . . so let's all endure it one more time.
2) At Seventeen by Janis Ian
This is what I listened to after the Liesl and Rolf scales dropped from my ears. How can a song be so cynical and so romantic at the same time? It tells a sad story, but it isn't saddening at all--if only because, by the time we're old enough for it, we all understand that "Sixteen" needs to die.
Something else we know, in that place where we listen between the lines, is that all the "ugly duckling girls" of the song are going to grow up to be swans with rich stories to tell.
3) Round and Round by Spandau Ballet
I'm totally cheating by including this song just for the lyric "She was only eighteen summers long"--but all is fair in love, war, and my one-blog campaign to get the reunited Spandau Ballet to do an Asian tour and come to the Philippines. Besides, how wonderful it must have been to be an eighteen-year-old girl the year this single was released! (Yes, I have my rose-tinted, 80s nostalgia glasses on again. Is that such a problem?)
You should really watch the original video, too. It captures the quirky nostalgia of this song to perfection!
4) Twenty One by The Eagles
The Eagles' Twenty One beats The Cranberries' Twenty-One! (If you listen to both, you'll see why it was really no contest.)
This one is a Country song, and both the melody and the lyrics are unmistakably American. Indeed, the whole mood of the song reflects (what I imagine is) the optimism of turning twenty-one in America. I'm sure there's more to be said about it . . . but I'm not a big Eagles fan and wouldn't know that that might be, so someone else will have to say it! (Hopefully, in the comments box?)
5) When I'm 64 by The Beatles
Now we come to the twist in the list. (Rhyme unintentional.) Most songs which romanticise age look backwards, to a gold-tinted, idealised past which might never have existed. This one looks forward, with optimism, hope and a sense of humour, to a sunny future which, if we make all the right turns, just might exist for us.
Sir Paul McCartney once met an elderly man who played the piano at a retirement home and said that this song was a great favourite among the retirees. Whenever he played it for them, however, he changed sixty-four to ninety-four--for obvious reasons. Sir Paul just loved hearing that, and I loved reading it. One thing to be said for pop music is that, when it's good, it allows age to be a mere state of mind. Even if youth was not as wonderful as we wish to remember, may middle age--and old age--be as wonderful as we dare to dream!