Some songs just don’t age well. For several reasons, some past top hits make people cringe. It could be a canned electronic piano or that overdriven drum hit from the 1980s.
But some oldies make people angry, and for a good reason. From taboo sexual themes to overt racism, rockers from previous generations didn’t always consider the future.
We’re looking at songs from the past with big red flags and offensive lyrics.
Let’s hit it!
Why Do Some Songs Not Age Well?
Styles change over time. This we know. Even back in the classical era, composers altered their musical techniques based on the times.
Most people have a favorite musical genre. But you may notice that your most-admired bands transition over the years or decades. If your definition of metal includes early-era Black Sabbath, newer artists like The Halo Effect fall too far afield.
Beyond genre, music also deals with ideas. Over the last few decades, artists began including more cursing, explicit sexual references, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, and racism.
These taboo subjects aren’t just the territory of new artists. Classic rockers also made poor choices when penning their top hits. Our list goes back to 1944 when consent language wasn’t often part of the deal on a date.
The following seven tunes will likely be pulled from your playlists after discussing why they didn’t age well.
#1 Christine Sixteen by KISS
One of the biggest taboos about rock and roll was the sexual energy rockers brought to the stage. Elvis’ gyrations caused a lot of controversies. In 1956, Santa Cruz, California, instituted a short-lived ban on rock music because of the dancing it inspired.
Rock songs about young love are part of the genre, but what about when rockers get older? Gene Simmons wrote Christine Sixteen when he was 28, and the lyrics leave little to the imagination.
I don’t usually say things like this to girls your age
But when I saw you coming out of school that day
I knew, I knew
I’ve got to have you, I’ve got to have you.
Simmons sings about how Christine is “young and clean” even though she’s been around. Add to that the singer’s open admission that he’s much older and shouldn’t be going after her. Creepy much?
KISS is far from the only band to release a song fantasizing about underage girls. All In the Name Of by Mötley Crüe starts with a real winner saying, “She’s only 15.”
Ted Nugent croons in the song Jailbait, “Well, I don’t care if you’re just thirteen.” And Neil Diamond anticipates sex with a young girl in his hit Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.
I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen could fall into this category with the opener, “Hey little girl, is your daddy home.” But the song’s video paints a different picture. In this case, “little girl” and “daddy” reference an older woman and her current boyfriend.
So maybe Bruce gets a pass on this one.
#2 Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger allegedly wrote the lyrics to Brown Sugar in 45 minutes. But it took 50 years for The Rolling Stones to stop playing it. The racist overtones in the song are hard to miss as Jagger sings about slave ships and abuse in the first line.
Throughout the song, there are references to white men raping black women, white women raping young black men, and young white men abusing an older black woman.
Brown Sugar was a number one hit in both the US and UK. Citing modern critics, The Rolling Stones pulled Brown Sugar from their live shows in 2021.
Island Girl by Elton John is another tune that fetishizes sex in a power differential. The song is about a black prostitute in New York City in the 1970s. Choice lyrics like, “Well, she’s black as coal, but she burn like a fire. And she wrap herself around you like a well-worn tire,” would never pass muster today.
Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Doulas tells the story of some “funky Chinamen,” a slur for Chinese-Americans. Approaching things from a different angle, Bob Dylan’s Hurricane highlights racial injustice in the court system.
Hurricane tells the story of Rubin Carter and his friend, who were wrongly convicted of murder in 1967 and spent twenty years behind bars. Released from prison in 1985, Hurricane Carter became the face of the movement to break down systemic racism. However, Dylan’s use of the ‘n-word’ isn’t acceptable regardless of his positive intentions.
#3 One in a Million by Guns ‘N Roses
Oh boy, this one is a real kicker. Axl Rose isn’t known for subtlety, and One In A Million proves this to be true. “Police, and n*gg*rs, that’s right, get outta my way,” is one of the tamer examples of Axl’s apparent prejudice.
But it’s the blatant homophobia coupled with racism that makes us run screaming from the jungle. “Immigrants and f*gg*ts, they make no sense to me. They come to our country and think they’ll do as they please.”
Slash didn’t love the song, and his Black family members were appalled by the theme. When the box set of Appetite for Destruction came out in 2018, One In A Million was left off the tracklist.
Guns ‘N Roses aren’t alone in their offensiveness. Aerosmith makes a transphobic blunder on their track, Dude (Looks Like a Lady). Supposedly, an encounter with Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe inspired the lyrics to this hit song.
Tyler and songwriter Desmond Child explored the story of a man surprised by a “gun” backstage after a strip show. Child, himself a gay man, felt like the song was appropriate.
But, as anti-trans sentiment and violence have grown over the years, this song certainly isn’t aging well.
#4 Baby, It’s Cold Outside by Frank Loesser
Written in 1944, Baby, It’s Cold Outside began its life as a parlor song. Composed and performed by Frank Loesser and his wife Lynn Garland at their housewarming party, it was an instant hit.
Novelty songs were big in the 1940s, and Loesser’s tune perfectly fit the holiday season. It wasn’t until 2009 that critics raised the red flag on this American classic. The lyrics paint a sinister picture of sexual harassment and date rape.
The characters in the song, Wolf and Mouse, argue about whether Mouse should stay the night. Wolf pressures Mouse, even potentially drugging her (“Say, what’s in this drink?”), to get her to stay.
Others critical of this oldie say that Mouse expresses the desire to stay. What’s pulling her away isn’t consent but outmoded morals of the time.
After some radio stations pulled the tune in 2018, John Legend and Kelly Clarkson released a new version. Audiences have mixed opinions about the remake, but Dean Martin’s daughter has a clear view. She thinks it’s absurd.
Consent isn’t always included as a theme in rock music. Songs like Every Breath You Take and Summer Lovin’ rise to the top here and certainly didn’t age well.
The Police released Every Breath You Take in 1983 during Sting’s divorce from Frances Tomelty. What begins as a love song quickly turns into a stalker number.
The hit musical Grease includes one of the most blatant examples of ignoring consent. In Summer Lovin’, friends of the hero Danny ask about his summer fling. “Did she put up a fight?” Danny’s less a hero and more of a zero if she did.
#5 Under My Thumb by The Rolling Stones
It probably isn’t a shock to see The Rolling Stones back on this list. Jagger’s lyrics are problematic in many ways, and Under My Thumb is no exception. The band has a few songs that don’t age well for various reasons.
Released in 1966, this track tells of a role reversal in a relationship. The singer vocalizes how his partner used to make him do what she wanted. But now, he dominates every aspect of her life.
Jagger supposedly wrote the song after ending a relationship with Chrissie Shrimpton in the early 60s. Critics point out the misogynistic tone in the lyrics and the joy the singer takes in dominating his lover. If this were consensual, it would be a different story.
Dire Straits plays in the same league in their song Money for Nothing, although with a darker edge. Songwriter Mark Knopfler calls out the “little f*ggot” with an earring and makeup multiple times in the song.
And the end of the chorus getting “money for nothing” and “chicks for free” objectifies women. Sadly this attitude is common in rock and roll. But times they are a-changing.
#6 Indian Outlaw by Tim McGraw
Not since Jim Crow-era minstrel shows has a song like Indian Outlaw come along. McGraw’s tune is a cringe-worthy mockery of Native American identity packed with racism.
When released, critic Larry Flick said if Indian Outlaw became a hit, it would set back relations 200 years. And somehow, it was McGraw’s breakout single in 1993.
While the tune is catchy, critics from Billboard Magazine said it was “the stupidest song ever written.” Composed by Jumpin’ Gene Simmons and John D. Loudermilk, Indian Outlaw ranks in McGraw’s top 10 singles.
Unfortunately, McGraw doesn’t feel bad about his racist song. He says he’s happy to stir the pot if it gets him noticed. Critics clearly knew this number would be offensive to many people. This is one of those songs that didn’t even start well, let alone age well.
#7 Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright) by Rod Stewart
The last song on our list has some of the more pornographic lyrics of the lot. “You’d be a fool to stop this tide, spread your wings and let me come inside,” is quite the pickup line. The rest of the lyrics set the scene as phone lines are disconnected, and blinds are drawn.
In a later verse, the sexual assault victim turns out to be a virgin. Young and clean seems to be the thing older, pervy rockers love most. In fact, Stewart is known for his sexual appetite, having fathered eight children with five different women.
Tonight’s the Night is what you would expect a prom night date rapist to sing to his reluctant date. And in the late 1970s, that’s apparently what people wanted to hear. Stewart topped the charts in both the US and UK with his song about crossing boundaries.
Songs That Don’t Age Well Need Trigger Warnings
If this were a competition, you’d have your pick of the litter. Misogyny? Check. Racism? Check. Suggestions of rape and stalking? Double-check.
What possessed these men to record songs like these is hard to pin down. But, if you have these tunes on your playlist, you might consider replacing them with less offensive hits.
What other songs that didn’t age well would you add to our list? Let us know in the comments.