Songs That Are Just Plain Wrong
There are certain songs with content or subject matter that ventures into disturbing territory. Some of them are intentionally crafted stories meant to spur the listener into thinking about uncomfortable topics. Others are, well, just plain wrong. Join Joe and Toby as they examine tracks from Royce da 5’9”, Apathy, Benny Mardones, Neil Diamond, and others. They’ll also shine a light on the sexual abuse that is far too pervasive in the music industry.
Warning: Content may include sexual abuse and assault triggers. Please take any necessary precautions.
Joe: Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the surprising connection between songs past and present and share the fascinating stories that make music a universal language. I’m Joe Watson and I’m here with my co-host Toby Brazwell. What’s up my friend?
Toby: Living the dream. As we know, dreams can be wonderful or full of nightmares. In today’s episode, we are going to discuss some of the most disturbing songs that we’ve ever heard. I gotta say when you brought up this idea for this episode. I had to really pause and think.
Joe: I understand, there’s some tough material in this episode. We want to be sure to point out that some of the content in this episode deals with sexual assault. Those listeners that may be triggered please take necessary precautions.
Toby: Thinking of these type of songs was a little challenging for me because i think my mind often subconsciously makes me forget them. Lucky for me, all I had to do is Google ‘songs that make you say eww’ and I turned into Johnny Mnemonic.
Joe: Wow. That’s a blast from the past. Johnny Mnemonic was a short story by novelist and cyberpunk pioneer William Gibson, which was later adapted as a movie starring the greatest actor of all time, maybe after William Shatner, Kenau Reeves playing the role of a living mnemonic device. A Mnemonic device is a technique that people use to remember things. You’re definitely showing your age with that reference! What track kicks off our list of songs that are just plain wrong?
Toby: The first song is from hip hop artist Royce da 5’9’’. Ryan Daniel Montgomery was born on July 5, 1977, in Detroit, MI. He is often looked at as being one of the very best writers and MCs in the game right now and his work shows that. He’s one half of a group with Eminem called Bad Meets Evil, one-fourth of the MC supergroup called SlaughterHouse, and lead MC for the hip hop duo Phryme with DJ Premier.
Joe: If that’s not enough accolades, he has also ghostwritten for Dr. Dre and Sean Puffy Combs. As far as his name is concerned, Montgomery used to wear a pendant with an R around his neck in school. The R resembled the Rolls Royce logo and eventually, everyone started calling him that. The 5’9” part of his name represents his height.
Toby: It does, and apparently the numbers 5 and 9 have also taken a larger than life prominence in several instances. So much so that he actually looks at being an MC as a calling if you will. Royce came out with a song called Tabernacle from his 6th studio album “Layers” in 2016. The song is very autobiographical and retells how he met Eminem, the events surrounding his grandmother’s death, and the birth of his son.
Joe: That’s a lot of ground to cover in one song.
Toby: It certainly is, especially since it all happened on the same day. Dec 29th. As if that wasn’t strange enough, his grandmother and son were in the same hospital. His grandmother on the 5th floor, and his son was being born on the 9th. Again all on the same day!
Joe: That reminds me of that- what was that song by live that was really popular? Where lighting crashes right? Grandma dies, son is being born, that is a crazy, kind of a spooky story. We’ll definitely put the song “Tabernacle” on the playlist for this episode. I know that Royce is one of your favorites so I’m sure we’ll be discussing him further in the near future.
Toby: Well with me living so close to the Motor City, how can we not? But Tabernacle isn’t the reason I brought up Royce. He has a song called Part of Me from his 4th studio album, “Street Hop” that was released in 2009. The song was produced by Carlos Brody who was a member of Puff Daddy’s producer team The Hitmen and details the events that a young player type of guy was having one night.
Joe: That’s one way to put it. When you first hear this track, you can feel the tension building. You just know this isn’t going anywhere good.
Toby: In the song, this guy is busy talking to one woman and then another woman approaches them and all three end up conversing and then leaving the bar together for a nightcap. They end up in a hotel room and that’s when the guy starts to not feel so well. He falls unconscious and wakes up to find that something is missing- hence the title “Part of Me”.
Joe: Yikes! So don’t keep the people in limbo. What did the girls take? His phone?
Toby: Nope… you could say that this was more personal that his phone
Joe: So a wallet? They got his ID, credit cards, and high-tailed it?
Toby: Not money, but was definitely something of value and personal
Joe: Not money but personal… it’s the family jewels!
Toby: In a manner of speaking, but I don’t want to completely ruin the song. Let’s give the audience a chance to check the song out and let us know what they think.
Joe: This track is definitely a cautionary tale, and maybe will give some people pause about chasing a certain lifestyle.
Toby: Absolutely. The next song that is just plain wrong is The Janitor from underground MC Apathy on his album Eastern Philosophy in 2006.
Joe: Apathy is one member of the underground supergroup Army of the Pharaohs and I know you are a fan of this MC…. So why this song? What made it stand out to you? I mean I heard it so I know. But, please tell everyone what’s going on.
Toby: Well 3 things… First of all, Apathy can write battle raps all day long, and I think that sometimes when people think of MCs like this, they feel that’s all they can do. Apathy happens to be a VERY good storyteller as well. With this song, he discusses the thoughts of a twisted janitor who likes to spy on children.
Joe: It’s a twisted and dark tale, and once again a kind of warning. It’s pointing out that sick people like this exist and are probably in your neighborhood.
Toby: Another thing that really caught my attention was the production on the track. Usually, for this type of content, the music would match it. It would be dark and brooding. This song’s producer, 8th Wundah, took a different approach. He sampled the theme song from the Odd Couple of all things.
Joe: Yeah and honestly that makes it more disturbing. It’s creepy, it’s got this clown kinda vibe… Yeah, it’s super creepy. Well, the theme song from the Odd Couple was composed by Neal Hefti. Hefti might not be a household name but there’s a really good chance you’d recognize some of the people that he's worked with, including cats like Frank Sinatra, Count Bassie, and Charlie Parker.
Toby: Kind of a big deal. And you know he just became one of my favorite composers because outside of composing the Odd Couple theme song, he also composed the theme song for Batman which became a Top 40 hit in 1966.
Joe: You know we have to do that one too right Tobe? I’ll cue you. Na na na na…
Joe: There it is. Well done. We’ve discussed a couple of tracks with lyrics that are intentionally disturbing to make a point. Now let’s chat now about a song that is still a staple on radio, charted twice in two separate decades, and features a voice that Tommy Motola himself has referred to as “One of the best voices I’ve ever heard since Darryl Hall”. That’s high praise. Oh, and the first line is also very disturbing.
Toby: You are referring to the hit from Benny Mardones, “Into the Night”, off of his 1980 album “Never Run Never Hide.” And yes, those opening lyrics — yikes. Allow me to quote:
“She’s just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say.”
Joe: Heck yeah leave her alone! That's super creepy! For one, Benny was 34 at the time of this song’s release.
Toby: The video for this track doesn’t make it any better. We see Benny show up at this girl’s house, and her dad is the one that mouth’s the “leave her alone” lyrics. Then Benny stares longingly at her through her window and calls her from a payphone. Finally, they fly off on her magic carpet and make out. Super creepy!
Joe: So bad. I have no idea how this video ever got made. It’s disturbing from start to finish. The whole thing gives me the willies.
Toby: Here’s a little Riffs trivia for you. The term “the willies” likely originated from the French ballet “Giselle” that debuted in Paris in 1841. Giselle is a young heroine that falls in love with a bad dude that is pretending to be someone else and is already engaged to another woman.
She dies of a broken heart and joins “the wilis” — the ghosts of young girls who were betrayed by their lovers and die before their wedding day.
Joe: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and in this case, the “wilis” take to the forest on moonlit nights and dance men to death. Which is both a terrifying prospect and maybe a fitting end to Benny’s “Into the Night” track.
Toby: Before we get too carried away, we need to point out that despite the creepy lyrics and the even more disturbing video, the content and inspiration for the song was completely platonic and even sweet in its intent.
Joe: Benny was living in Spanish Harlem at the time, and one of his neighbors was a family that had three teenagers. The dad up and left his family one day. Apparently, he was a set designer and landed a big gig, and instead of taking care of his family when he landed his big break, he abandoned them and ran off with one of the chorus girls from the show.
Toby: That sounds like someone I’d like to see visited by the wilis in the middle of the night.
Joe: Agreed, and so did Benny. He took all the kids under his wing, giving them odd jobs so they’d be able to have money for school and things.
Toby: The oldest daughter would clean his apartment, the son would run errands, and the 16-year-old daughter, Heidi, would walk his dog, Zanky. Here’s a quote from Benny on that:
I said, "Look, Heidi, I'm up all night, I sleep late," because I was sort of living the life of a rock star even though I wasn't a rock star. I said, "Here's my key. Every day before school you take Zanky out for a walk in the morning, let him do his business, come back, feed him, and then go to school, and I'll give you $50 a week for doing that."
Joe: Benny goes on to explain:
“So one night Robert Tepper and I were up writing songs. Bobby kept playing the chord changes and we tried 18 melodies and 30 kinds of lyrics and all of a sudden the key in the door turned and I said, "Oh my God, it's daylight." Because we liked to keep the blinds down.
And in she walks, 16 years old, dressed for school in a miniskirt, little stacked heels, adorable, 16-going-on-21. She said,"You've been up all night?" and of course it was obvious. I said, "Yeah, we have." She says, "Okay, come on, Zanky," and she walks the dog out. When she leaves and goes out the door, my partner goes, "Oh, my God." I said, "Hey, Bob. She's just 16 years old, leave her alone." And literally five minutes later I said, "Play that lick again, Bobby." So he played the lick and I went (singing), "she's just 16 years old, leave her alone, they say." Then I thought about her dad and what he had done, and that's where I got, "Separated by fools who don't know what love is yet." The chorus was, "you're too young for me, but if I could fly, I'd pick you up and take you into the night and show you love like you've never seen." Then the verse "It's like having it all and letting it show. It's like having a dream where nobody has a heart. It's like having it all and watching it fall apart." Because his success was not the family's success; it was just his. "I can't measure my love there's nothing compared to it" - it was all about the abandonment of this family and this 16-year-old girl.”
Toby: It all makes a little more sense now, but I still can’t fathom why he’d let that video get made. Especially since he wrote the song and knew it had nothing to do with the video content.
Joe: That is what is crazy to me. I’m with you. But the story and the song did change lives. It catapulted Benny into stardom, and Heidi became popular and started getting invited to A-list parties in New York City. She fell in love with the son of a hotel builder from San Juan and she and her mother moved there. And every year, she’d send Benny a Christmas card saying “You changed my life.”
Toby: Let’s talk a little bit more about Benny’s voice. It’s so gritty and powerful, but this was his only hit. So the question is: what happened?
Joe: Yea the way he riffs at the end of that song is insane. Unfortunately, the same demons that grip so many artists: drugs and alcohol. He became an addict around the same time “Into the Night” became a hit, and the disease prevented him from touring or even showing up most of the time. Apparently, he was holed up in a warehouse for months when he was supposed to go on tour, and no one could find him. As Benny himself has stated: “I blew my own career at that point.”
Toby: That’s very sad, but thankfully he eventually did get himself cleaned up and making music again. Benny passed away on June 22 of this year from complications of Parkinsons.
Joe: Well now that we know the history behind Into the Night, maybe I can enjoy the song now. Let’s turn our attention to another song that has always struck me as being extraordinarily creepy — Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon.”
Toby: I mean, the title alone gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Joe: Is that better or worse than the willies?
Toby: It’s the same. I’m just flexin' my lexicon.
Joe: While you’re over there dazzling us with your vocabulary prowess, I want to take a look at Neil’s lyrics. Here’s the chorus:
Girl, you'll be a woman soon
Please, come take my hand
Girl, you'll be a woman soon
Soon, you'll need a man
I dunno, that sounds super creepy to me. Am I reading too much into this?
Toby: I certainly can hear why you’d be bothered, but the verses of the song are less about an older dude creeping on a young girl and more about the “bad boy” rebel guy and the girl he loves hearing from her friends and family that he’s no good for her. I’m actually a little more concerned about another famous Neil Diamond song.
Joe: Cracklin’ Rosie? I’ve never known what that song is about. “Cracklin’ Rose, you're a store bought woman.” What does that mean, exactly?
Toby: That song is allegedly about cheap sparkling wine — Crackling Rosé was popular in Canada and that inspired Diamond to write the song. But the song I’m referring to is Sweet Caroline.
Joe: The one they sing at all the Red Sox games? What bothers you about that?
Toby: It’s not so much the lyrics. You know, “reaching’ out, touching’ me, touchin’ you” — it’s the inspiration for the lyrics that gives me pause.
Joe: I’m a little creeped out now. I thought Neil wrote that song about his wife at the time, Marsha. He has said he wrote the song during a session and needed a three-syllable name because he couldn’t get Marsha to rhyme.
Toby: True, he did say that in a 2014 appearance on the Today show. But in the past, he has told a different story, always attributing the inspiration to a photo he saw at the time of a young Caroline Kennedy, who was only 9 at the time.
Joe: Here’s a quote from Neil in a 2007 interview;
“It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony. It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there." So yeah, I can see how combined with what would become the lyrics it starts to get a little creepy.
Toby: In this case, it seems that it’s a mashup of the two ideas. He saw that picture and knew there was a song in there, and then a couple years later when he was trying to write a song about his wife he went back to the Caroline idea to borrow her name.
Joe: It does seem like this might just be a good songwriter using artistic license. Certainly we can never know someone’s intent, and Caroline Kennedy herself was thrilled to have the song sung to her for her 50th birthday celebration.
Toby: So allow me to share some lyrics with you that leave far less to interpretation:
“I don't usually say things like this to girls your age
But when I saw you coming out of the school that day
That day I knew, I knew (Christine sixteen)
I've got to have you, I've got to have you”
Joe: Ugh. That would be the song Christine Sixteen by Kiss off of their 1977 album Love Gun. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious what this song is about, the rest of the lyrics aren’t any better.
Toby: First of all, how does this song get written? Second of all, how does it get put onto an album? Third, how does it get released as a single? And I guess my fourth point, how does it make it to radio? I’m running out of numbers here…
Joe: There are so many bad decisions by so many people along the way, I have no idea. But somehow, this song peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. I guess some stations did boycott it, but jeez, not enough. Look man, I have a 17-year-old daughter. You’d best believe I have some words for Gene Simmons on this topic.
Toby: We all know people that have been impacted by sexual abuse, and there is no question that the music industry has somehow managed to escape the much-needed reckoning of the #metoo movement.
Joe: It’s not too strong to say it sickens me, and I want to point out some of the “heroes” of rock n’ roll who have managed to escape the repercussions of, there’s no other way to put it, it’s predatory behavior. Let’s first start with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. He literally kidnapped a 14-year-old Lori Maddox and kept her under lock and key in his LA hotel room… which is completely enabled by everyone around her.
Toby: Or Steven Tyler, who took legal guardianship of a then 16-year-old Julia Holcomb so he could transport her across state lines while on tour. And the pressure he put on her to abort their child.
Joe: Or David Bowie, who was notorious for his “baby groupies”. Or Iggy Pop, who not only had sex with 13-year-old girls, he wrote about it in the song, “Look Away.” I’d like to change that to “Locked Away”.
Toby: Two words: R Kelly.
Joe: Or Don Henley, who had 15 and 16-year-old prostitutes at his house — I’m pretty sure they call that sex trafficking — and had to call 911 because one overdosed. His response to all of that? Write a song called “Dirty Laundry” and blame the media. Too bad, because I used to love that track, and brings us another Toto band member sighting — Steve Lukather played the second guitar solo, and it’s fantastic. Joe Walsh’s work on the first solo is great, too.
Toby: Sadly, there are too many predators to mention. Mick Jagger. Ted Nugent. Chuck Berry. Elvis Presley. Marvin Gaye. A simple internet search will tell you all you need to know.
Joe: I just wanted to shine a light on the evil side of the music business, and hopefully some education results in change. There are more Jeffrey Epsteins out there than we care to admit, and something needs to be done.
Toby: For anyone who is a victim or has something to report, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE.
Joe: These are difficult and traumatic topics, but the only way we can make a difference is by speaking up, getting help, and affecting change. Well my friend, it’s time for us to wrap up this episode. Can you tell the good people all we covered today?
Toby: We took a look at some songs that are just plain wrong, some of them intentionally so in order to make a statement on society, like Royce da 5’9’’s “Part of Me” and Apathy’s “The Janitor”. Others perhaps not as intentional, like the Benny Mardones track “Into the Night” and a few tracks from Neil Diamond. Finally, we pointed out the lack of accountability for predatory behavior and pedophilia in the music industry.
Joe: Hopefully a reckoning is coming soon. Be sure to check out the playlist for this episode on Spotify and Apple Music, just do a search for Riffs on Riffs. Be warned that because of the nature of this episode, some of the songs are uncomfortable to listen to. If you have a moment, please leave us a review on whatever platform you listen. Be sure to connect and dialog with us on social, @riffsonriffs. As always, thanks for listening. We’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.
Toby: Keep listening. Huzzah.