Five Pop Songs with Inexplicably Grim Content

Everybody loves pop music, by definition. Even if you’re a black-hearted goth that spends most of your time writing about how the world can’t understand you and how much you hate your mum and dad because they made you tidy your room that one time, you probably liked that last Katy Perry one.

Well, my gothic friend, you are going to love this shit, because it turns out a lot of these songs have extremely bizarre meanings, endings, refrains and things like that. Some are more obvious than others, but almost all of them are worthy of a ‘wait, what?’

Nena – 99 Red Balloons

The meaning of this song isn’t exactly a closely guarded secret, all you have to do is listen to the lyrics, but when you consider how fucking ubiquitous this song has become, being mostly associated with parties and the general having of fun-times, it seems a bit weird that it’s about nuclear war and the end of the world.

Pop music!

The weird thing about a lot of pop songs is that because they’re generally background noise on the radio, no one ever really pays attention to the content of the lyrics. Which is just as well, because if they did then this song probably wouldn’t be appearing on every single one hit wonders album ever.

So the song is about balloons. Red ones. 99 of them, to be exact. In general, that’s about as far as one’s thought process goes into a cheery little bubblegum-pop song like this. Sure, there are some metaphors about war machines and shit like that, but it was the 80’s; everyone had weird shit in their lyrics. (See: the entirity of Spandau Balet’s career. In fact, fuck that – see Spandau Balet’s God damn name.)

The last two verses, however, are considerably more literal…

Ninety-nine dreams I have had
Every one a red balloon
Now it’s all over and I’m standin’ pretty
In this dust that was a city

If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here it is a red balloon
I think of you and let it go

Holy shit. We’ve went from disposable pop to I Am Legend in the space of one Casio keyboard solo. It transpires that there has been a nuclear holocaust which, for some reason, one person and a balloon have survived. I’m pretty sure that Nena are a German band, and I’m also pretty sure that anything in Germany which doesn’t bring up the Nazi’s is considered positive, but I can’t for the life of me work out why they decided to set a protest song about the cold war (thanks, Wikipedia) to such a jaunty bassline.

That’s like Chaz and Dave doing a Cockney knees up about Fred and Rose West.

With your incessant slaying of teenage runaways, you're becoming a pest...

Barry Manilow – Copacabana

Barry Manilow is known for two things: Having a huge fuck-off nose, and looking like Rod Stewart if he was made by the Jim Henson Workshop.

Seriously, 'Barry Manilow nose' was the second thing that came up on Google's suggestions.

Another thing he is known for, though, is his consistent string of inoffensive hit songs; the kind of track record that ensures your concerts are full of middle-aged women for the rest of your career. What I’m trying to say is that no one was ever going to blame the Columbine massacre on ‘Can’t Smile Without You,’ (although it would have made a hell of a lot of sense.)

The main reason I am banging on about his wholesome image is to really drive home how fucking weird it is that he’d sing a song like the Copacabana. Chances are that you’re already fairly familiar with the set-up: it’s about a girl called Lola; she’s a showgirl; she knows a variety of dances, all of which she performs at club while her boyfriend, Tony, works behind the bar.

Now, my only knowledge of showgirls is that film full of naked ladies, so I’m assuming the Copacabana is a strip club. I have been to strip clubs, and I have seen the kind of men that work there. It is seldom the site of a burgeoning romance, assuming you don’t consider stains of ambiguous origin on the trouser leg of a businessman romantic. Unless you’re Japanese, in which case this song is probably your lands greatest love story.

Quick, play some Katie Melua, this is about to get romantic as all Hell. Also, shit on a glass table while I lie under it.

So, for a start we have a song about two lovers working aside one another in a strip club, I can sort of see where this is going. They’re probably just trying to make ends meet, that’s respectable; one day they’ll buy an open-top Chevy and drive off into the sunset, just like Bruce Springsteen would write.

Then Tony gets fucking shot.


If you ever listened past the opening verse and chorus of the song, you’d know that one night some dirty bugger puts hands on Lola, Tony vaults the bar to twat the culprit and the poor bastard gets a bullet for his trouble. This is such a dramatic tonal shift, it would be like finding out the Poddington Peas were actually the result of a tragic genetic experiment, and they were really human beings who could never return home to their families.

“Hi, kids! We're a terrifying affront to God! With each breath I long for Death's sweet embrace!”

The shitstorm doesn’t stop there, though. If you suffer through the impromptu bongo refrain on the 12” mix then you’ll be rewarded with the knowledge that in the three decades after witnessing her lovers brutal murder, things aren’t exactly on the up for Lola. Look at this shit:

Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl,
But that was 30 years ago, when they used to have a show
Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola,
Still in dress she used to wear,
Faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined,and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she’s lost her mind

Jesus Christ almighty, I’ve read Shakespeare plays that end better than that. This is the musical equivilant of an episode of One Foot in the Grave. And the last verse raises so many questions. Why is she still wearing her dancing outfit? Does that mean she’s become homeless? Why does the club still let her in? Why do they ply her with booze when she’s already a dangerous alcoholic? What sort of amoral universe do these characters inhabit?

The answers, I fear, Barry Manilow will take to the grave with him. Mainly because no one is really interested or has ever bothered to ask him. Unlike…

Richard Marx – Hazard

If you don’t know who Richard Marx is, then you are statistically everyone except for me. I only know about this song because my Aunt used to play it in the car all the time, but I grew up never knowing what it was actually called or who it was by. I could be certain only of one thing: it is a song about the unsolved murder of a teenage girl.

Just to put this in perspective, the early nineties were a time when most number ones tackled hard-hitting issues such as there being no limit, as well as documenting Bryan Adams’ crippling inability to rhyme anything with ‘do’ other than ‘you’ and ‘do’.

Sixteen God damn weeks at number one.

At some point, though, Richard Marx sat up and said ‘I don’t fucking think so’ and endeavoured to swiftly remind everyone why popstars should only sing about there being no limit. The song details how he moved to the town of Hazard and was quickly ostracised from the rest of the community because, well, it never actually says why.

I’m assuming Hazard is located in one of the Southern states, but it never really makes that clear, I just can’t think of anywhere else that would have that ‘you ain’t from round here, are ya boy’ mentality, but even that doesn’t make much sense since Marx is neither black nor gay.

Well, he's definitely not black.

Anyway, the point is he starts seeing a girl despite the unfounded protests of everyone else in the town, and the two enjoy a beautiful romance right up until she is brutally murdered and he is arrested for the crime. And, to be honest, I think he’s protesting his innocence just a little bit too much. He also plans to become a fugitive:

I swear I left her by the river
I swear I left her safe and sound
I need to make it to the river
And leave this old Nebraska town

At this point there are only two conclusions to this story: either a girl has been killed by someone in the town who has nurtured this desire for years, or the man singing about small town ignorance is also a murder-rapist. I mean, it never actually mentions the raping, but what else do you take a girl down to the river and murder her for, if not to do some raping?

Actually, I tell a lie, according to Marx there at least three possibilities, which are all explored in great detail in the three different versions of the video, with Marx encouraging viewers to try and work it out, presumably working under the misguided assumption that somebody gives a shit. It’s like he knew he was only ever going to have the one hit, so he funnelled absolutely all his talent and creativity into making a live action version of Cluedo, completely oblivious to the fact that Tim Curry had already done so.

Tom Jones – Delilah

This song couldn’t be more literal if it was called ‘Stab Woman Knife Face,’ but I think that proves my point more than moots it. Tom Jones isn’t known for being a subtle man. Tom Jones is what would happen if Barry Manilow was walking through a house of haunted mirrors and the evil spirits that dwelled within them created a twin that encapsulated all his darkest desires. Tom Jones has seen more vaginas than a gynaecologist. In fact, whereas most celebrities are awarded an honourary diploma from Oxbrdige, Tom Jones is an honorary gynaecologist; giving him the right to peruse a lady’s undercarriage as and when it suits him.

Protip: It always suits Tom Jones to look at a lady's vagina.

The point I’m trying to make is that Tom Jones didn’t hold any pretentions about being a clean-cut individual, and I can respect that. But still, singing a song wherein he straight up murders a woman for cheating on him might be a bit much.

I don’t really have to make a big reveal with this one, you already know what it’s about. Tom is dating a lovely lady called Delilah and, having presumably not learned from Samson, he is shocked to discover she’s been cheating on him with another man. As shocking revelations go, this is right up there with finding out that water is wet, or that the cast of Geordie Shore are the worst people alive on Earth.

There aren't enough 'fuck you's' in the entire world to sum this photo up.

Anyway, Tom deals with his lover’s infidelity in the same way any rational man would: he makes himself a cup of milky tea, sits down to the Eastenders omnibus, then goes round her house and stabs her to death. He then returns to his home, and awaits the arrival of the constabulary to take him away to prison, where he will spend the rest of his life. Assuming he is found guilty. Which he will be. Because he sang a song about how he did it. Peruse at your leisure:

She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more
My, my, my, Delilah
Why, why, why, Delilah
So before they come to break down the door
Forgive me Delilah I just couldn’t take any more
Forgive me Delilah I just couldn’t take any more

There are several things I find unsettling about this. One is that the ‘why, why, why Delilah’ part was almost certainly being shouted while he stabbed her over and over, but also that in my head all I can picture is an entire concert hall full of women swaying in tandem and singing this, despite the fact it’s probably the first and only song by an artist to come with an express written warning: if you try to leave Tom Jones for another man, he will fucking kill you.

Possibly by using sex as a weapon.

On second thought, I stand corrected…

Gary Puckett & The Union Gap – Young Girl

Recorded in 1968, Wikipedia describes this song as being ‘sung from the point of view of a man distressed to find out his lover is under an acceptable age.’ Which is a polite way of saying it is a song about a fucking paedophile.

The sixties were a different time. It was all about free love. And what’s the defining characteristic of something that is free? Well, you can take it without asking, of course. Similar to Delilah, the thing I find really weird about this song is that it pops up on numerous ‘Best of the Sixties’ compilations, and that people will cheerily sing along to it despite the fact that, as my friend put it, ‘it’s basically a warning call from paedo to victim.’

Tinted shades: always a tell-tale sign of the classic sex offender.

The thing I find strangest about all this, though, is the fact that clearly at no point did any other member of the band stop and say, ‘wait a minute…what the fuck are we doing?’ when the leader started singing shit like this:

Beneath your perfume and make-up
You’re just a baby in disguise
And though you know
That it is wrong to be
Alone with me
That come on look is in your eyes

Had paedophiles not been invented in the 60’s? That should have sent nonce-bells ringing in even the most liberal of minds, but instead it sent the song straight to number-pissing-one in the UK. Since when were we okay with supporting unabashed paedophiles in the music industry?

If you didn't see this coming, you've clearly not read a paper in about ten years.

Similar to many of the songs on this list, I am unaware of any other songs by Gary Puckett and his Union Gap, so I can only assume they swiftly faded into obscurity. I do however, have high hopes for their recently announced new album, ‘It Doesn’t Count as Rape if She’s Asleep.’

Anyway, that about wraps up yet another arbitrary list, I am now off to microwave my hard-disk before the CID kick my door in for Googling Fred West and songs about underage girls.

BONUS ROUND: Cosmo Jarvis – Maxine

This song is here for one reason, and one reason alone. That reason is the video.

I couldn’t actually put it on the list, since the fact that most of you just went ‘who the fuck is Cosmo Jarvis?’ would negate him from the pop music label, but to be honest this song manages a bigger ‘wait, what?’ that anything else in this list, mainly because there is absolutely nothing in it that should raise suspicion.

Do me a favour and listen to the song twice, but don’t watch the video the first time. Lyrically, it’s about a man that has a passionate, if unrequited, love for a girl called Maxine. Despite the fact his adoration is becoming somewhat cumbersome, most of the lyrics are about what he isn’t doing, like so:

I’m not stalking you
I’m walking in front of you
But you’re screaming

And I’m not grabbing you
Or slapping the ass of you
But I’m dreaming

Just perfectly harmless, amber alert stalking. Now, listen a second time and watch the video. If you followed the rules you will find out why the music abruptly cuts out at about two minutes and thirty seconds in.

A man in rubber gloves carrying a 2x4 has never been a sign of impending good fortune.

Essentially, following this short interval, the singer beats the woman he abducted to death in a multi-storey carpark. Like every other song on this list, I actually really like it, but much like ‘Young Girl’ I just wonder why, during filming, no one thought it was weird when he said ‘right, and this is the part where I beat Maxine to death and run about covered in blood’. This is less like a music video, and more like that one scene in Silence of the Lambs where Buffalo Bill dances about in front of a video camera wearing a woman’s scalp, with his winky tucked between his legs like a lovely lady.

Cropped, to prevent staining of the soul.

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1 Response to Five Pop Songs with Inexplicably Grim Content

  1. Pingback: Twenty Topics that Keep Serial Killers Coming to My Blog | Rob Simple

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