The other day, my husband and I were talking about putting together a playlist for our nieces: a list of empowering, kid-appropriate songs in which women were treated with respect. We had fun thinking of titles: Aretha and All Hail the Queen and plenty of Dolly, for sure. But also Belle and Sebastian and sixties Brit pop. I started a Spotify station based on “I’m Into Something Good” because I’ve always thought the lines “So I asked to see her again / And she told me I could” were sweet.
And then, from this place of idealism, came perhaps the most inappropriate song to place on a little girl’s playlist ever written. 1964’s “Little Children,” which was a number-one UK hit for Billy Jay Kramer and went on to chart at number seven Stateside.
To the blessedly uninitiated, and in any context, this is arguably the creepiest pop hit ever written. But my situation rendered it especially grotesque. What were the songwriters—J. Leslie McFarland and Mort Shuman—thinking? What were radio listeners thinking?
Since there’s no way to explain the song sans spoiler alert, I’m just going to let you watch it. And if you can’t do that, at least have a look at the lyrics.
Here’s a brief sample of the song’s lyrical motif:
Little children, you better not tell on me
I’m tellin’ you little children, you better not tell what you see
And if you’re good, I’ll give you candy and a quarter
If you’re quiet like you oughta be and keep a secret with me
Now, perhaps you’re thinking, But it’s okay! He explains it at the end of the song! He’s just having a clandestine forbidden romance with someone!
You saw me kissin’ your sister
You saw me holdin’ her hand
But if you snitch to your mother
Your father won’t understand
I made these points, without much conviction. But then my husband observed, “Fine. But do we know how old the sister is?”
Either way, it’s not going on the “Healthy Example” playlist.
How can I kiss her when I’m ready to with little children like you around?
I wonder what can I do around little children like you
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.