Gene Simmons recently made an interesting observation comparing the appeal of his band KISS with the music he listened to growing up. At KISS shows, Simmons said he’ll see youngsters alongside their parents, and sometimes even grandparents (in makeup, no doubt). That didn’t happen in Simmons’ youth, which was the point — to go against what your parents were listening to.
Lost within the second, third and subsequent generations of rock ‘n’ roll fandom is the fact that the music was supposed to be rebellious, even dangerous, and more than anything else, upsetting to your parents. Gen Xers like me like the Beatles because our parents listened to them. Same with Millennials who swear by Green Day or other bands that predate them but to whom they were exposed growing up. Somewhere along the line it became OK to like what your parents were listening to, but in the 1950s and ’60s, that was not the case.
I’m sure it was representative of the greater social upheaval taking place at the time, but such speculation is for another discussion. It’s interesting nonetheless to revisit the early age of rock music in this context. It was a brand of music heavily influenced by blacks, and as such lent itself to a mixing of the races. That alone was enough to send a good share of middle class white parents into a tizzy. And then there was the sexuality.
That’s where it can get a bit tricky. Set aside the driving beat, Elvis’ pelvis and other ancillary effects, and just look at the lyrics. The mostly-male artists of early rock ‘n’ roll had one thing on their mind — sex, often expressed in a most lustful, depraved fashion. The squeaky-clean Beatles felt it: “She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean…” Sam Cooke did them one better with “Only Sixteen,” and Simmons’ KISS followed suit with “Christine Sixteen.” Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs” continues the madness with the refrain “Are you still in school?” Are you sensing a theme here?
Setting aside the legal troubles that following through on such impulses would bring about in today’s environment, there’s a definite fathers-lock-up-your-daughters message being broadcast. And so long as it doesn’t cross the line from suggestive to explicit (Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes” and AC/DC’s “Love Hungry Man” come to mind), that’s the right hint of danger that can appeal to many daughters and their potential Romeos.
It’s not surprising, although maybe a little eye-opening, that I count the above-listed songs among my favorites. While no one wants anybody to get hurt, there’s something seductive about flirting with the dark side, if only for 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Whether it’s challenging the social structure or shamelessly spewing teenage lust, it’s nice to be reminded occasionally that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t supposed to be safe.