Songs About Growing Up
1. ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd
This track plunges us back into the heady days of the early 1970s. The song appeared as the eighth track on Pink Floyd’s album ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ (1973).
If you are in any way familiar with the music of Pink Floyd, you will be aware that the band is a highly progressive outfit. In nearly all of their tracks, they take unexpected twists and turns, always experimenting with new creative concepts.
‘Time’ is no exception and begins with the recorded sounds of ticking antique clocks that lead into a two-minute drum solo.
Lyrically, the song avoids the more obvious expressions of dismay or delight that can surround growing up, and instead focuses on the idea that life never really prepares you for what is around the corner.
It is a song about getting control of the moment and your life before time runs out.
2. ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles
Like many songs by the Beatles, the actual composer or composers can be tricky to pin down. The general consensus is that this song falls neatly into the John Lennon camp.
Lennon’s hand-written lyrics date from 1964 but the song was part of the album from 1965, ‘Rubber Soul’. What Lennon and McCartney could agree on is that they both felt this was one of the finest songs they ever wrote.
Several important people appear to have been the inspiration behind this track that has a certain sad nostalgia to it. A close friend of Lennon, Stu Sutcliffe died in 1962.
As an early member of the Beatles, Lennon felt understandably bereaved by his passing. Other people in Lennon’s life such as his wife and aunt Mimi were also in his thoughts when writing the track.
3. ‘Winter’ – Tori Amos
Moving a few decades forward this track by singer/songwriter Tori Amos hit the airwaves in 1992 as part of her extremely successful fourth album called ‘Little Earthquakes’.
The track ‘Winter’ is a moving poetic account of how difficult it can be to transition from childhood into being an adult. All the opportunities that are gone, the doors that are now firmly shut, and the aching regret.
Amos also describes the song as a recognition of the importance of a dream world and dreams (‘the white horses’) that effortlessly form a part of a child’s world but increasingly become replaced by an involuntary reality.
There is also the important relationship with her father with whom Amos was very close. He asks a question of her, ‘When are you going to accept that you are good enough for you?’
This has turned into a point of reflection since Amos gave birth to her daughter in 2002 and she finds that the song has a whole new meaning for her as a parent.
4. ‘Both Sides Now’ Joni Mitchell
One of the most popular folk-pop songs to come out of the 1960s. Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell claimed to have been inspired to write this classic track while on a flight reading Saul Bellow’s novel ‘Henderson The Rain King’.
The passage in the book in which Henderson is on a plane to Africa looking at clouds coincided with Mitchell’s plane passing over clouds and the lyrics began to flow from her pen.
The song dates from somewhere around 1966 and in the first instance was not a track that Mitchell released herself. As life at this point for Mitchell was more than difficult, having given up her first child for adoption, she devoted time writing songs for other people.
‘Both Sides Now’ became a big hit for Judi Collins yet years later is one of the most requested songs Mitchell ever composed.
It is one of the most deeply moving songs about growing up and the experiences life throws at you. From the perspective of the singer, she now senses the irony, the loss, and the heartbreak she’s experienced.
The difference is that now she’s older, the years have also brought a kind of acceptance and understanding that often only arrives with maturity.
5. ‘Jack & Diane’ by John Mellencamp
From the album titled ‘American Fool’ (1982), this is one of Mellencamp’s most successful songs.
Where Mellencamp’s talents are most abundant is in his facility to put into a song something that is of importance to everyone, especially the ordinary working people.
The lyrics tell the story of a couple of school sweethearts whose life does not meet their hopes and dreams like so many others.
The bridge section contains one of the key lines of the song for me, ‘Holding on to sixteen as long as you can, Changes come around real soon make us women and men.’ There is an inevitability about the song.
No matter what you do, you are going to get older, so make the most of your youth before it is gone.
If this isn’t enough to convince you of the excellence of this song, the chorus has one of the best lines of any song I know, ‘Oh yeah, life goes on. Long after the thrill of living has gone’.
6. ‘1979’ by The Smashing Pumpkins
This track ranks very high on NME’s best songs about growing up, so I felt it ought to be included here. Oddly enough the track dates from 1995 and the album titled ‘Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness’, not 1979 as the title track might indicate.
It is a song that is brimming with nostalgia for youth. The song tells about the trials and tribulations of that difficult change from being a child into being an adult and all the unwanted responsibilities that accompany that.
As it turns out, the song nearly did not make the album. There were doubts about whether Billy Corgan (lead singer), could make the lyrics work in time for the recording session. Within twenty-four hours he had it in the bag and it was recorded the next day.
7. ‘In My Room’ by The Beach Boys
Another brief step back to the early 1960s with this song. The two writers were Brian Wilson and Gary Usher who collaborated on so many hit songs for the group.
This song was released as a single in 1963 and broadly slots into the genre of ‘Doo-wop’. According to Usher, this track was one that they worked hard on, crafting every element of the song to make it special.
If Usher is to be believed, he and Wilson actually completed the song in about one hour in Wilson’s room just before their midnight curfew.
This song is a little different from the others listed here. It does express the anxieties many teenagers feel when growing up, but it also describes the need for a safe place you can call your own.
‘In my room’ is firmly based on Wilson’s feelings about this need for security and sanctuary that he remembers from his youth. Like so many Beach Boys songs this reached the US charts reaching a credible number of twenty-three. It is also in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
8. ‘Growin’ Up’ by Bruce Springsteen
Given the quantity of first-class songs this musician has written over the decades, it would be a mistake not to include at least one of his tracks in this selection. This is another great song from the 1970s, early in Springsteen’s career.
It was part of his 1973 album titled ‘Greetings from Alsbury Park, N.J’. One interesting fact is that Springsteen auditioned for the record label CBS in 1972 with this song. It is hardly surprising that he then went on to enjoy such a successful career in music.
In true Springsteen style, the song has an embedded rebellious quality to it. Sung from the first-person perspective, the lyrics describe a young boy who does not take to the rules of adults easily.
‘When they told me to sit down, I stood up’, exemplifies exactly what I mean and nicely captures the struggle with authority young people feel.
The song has been covered by many artists including David Bowie and remains part of Springsteen’s set today. Springsteen has created ‘live’, extended versions of the song for his tours.
9. ‘When You Were Young’ by The Killers
The 2006 album ‘Sam’s Town’ charted at number two on the UK charts. Each member of The Killers wrote this song and admitted openly the strong influence of Springsteen on the album. It has a mid-tempo, rock vibe with typically driven guitar patterns and angst-ridden vocals.
One of the most inspired lyrics from the song is “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus, but he talks like a gentleman”. This line alone gives a clear impression of the tone of the lyric.
The nature of the track is restless. It explores how perceptions change as we grow up whether we like it or not. The way you viewed your youth at the time is not always how you’ll see it later in life.
The video that accompanies the song has two versions. Which one do you feel best captures the essence of the song?