Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 14th 2021
Sixteen, a number that can mean so much
My last numbers column… for the time being! I have reached the end of my admittedly limited knowledge base. Yes, after the number eight, we are jumping ahead, doubling it, and so we have 16 songs featuring the number 16.
So, quickly. The number '9' featured in very few songs and fewer that I like, and the number "10" even less. There were a couple for "12"/"dozen" that are not related to time. Some for twenty. And the rest are sort of rare. I could do a 9 to 20 count-up but that's sort of pushing things, I think. So I will stick with "16" and call it there unless I get some bizarre inspiration.
Now, the number. It is most often used to represent an age, especially in songs written in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite this, the songs on this list are spread across a wide spectrum of musical eras and styles. But, no matter what, many of these songs are sung with a sense of joy. They are fun tracks, celebrations in music, and so they can still, even so, many years later, bring a smile to the face, set the toes a-tapping and maybe even cause one to sing along. Now, I do know some of the songs may be problematic in this day and age; I went into listening to this just focusing on the music and assuming that the singers were sixteen as well (if need be). It is hard when the mores of a society change and what was acceptable back then is no longer seen as such. Sorry if that's uncomfortable. That is not my intention. It's just to enjoy some music.
So, I hope you have fun with this list.
'Sixteen Tons' by Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
This version of a 1940s work song is one of the earliest examples of what would now be called a rock-country crossover. But Ford's voice! Especially at the end when he really lets loose on those bass notes. Glorious song.
'Sweet Little Sixteen' by Chuck Berry (1958)
A song about an uber-fan, with photos and autographs, who goes to all the dances she can, this song is an interesting one looking at teenaged obsession, and it makes you realise that, apart from the technology, things have not changed in over 60 years. Still, the song shows some of Berry's signature guitar-playing and the rock style that would go on to influence so many others (especially The Rolling Stones).
'16 Candles' by The Crests (1958)
One of those groups that grew out of the doo-wop traditions, the opening lines are instantly recognisable, and yet many do not know they come from. The harmonies are really cool, and not a pitch modulation in sight.
'Sweet Sixteen' by B.B. King (1960)
Okay, let's hit some blues, and B.B. King, one of the all-time greats on the guitar. This is a song where the lyrics really don't matter because it is all about the way he plays that instrument – brilliantly. The video is a live version from the early 2000s, and that guitar playing had not diminished one iota.
'You're Sixteen (You're Beautiful And You're Mine)' by Johnny Burnette (1961)
The first version of this song I heard was by Ringo Starr, and I really enjoyed it. But when I heard this original, I liked it even more and saw why Ringo wanted to cover it. It has that mid-tempo beat and it encourages you to sing along.
'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen' by Neil Sedaka (1961)
This was my mother's favourite song when she was a teenager. Sedaka had a smooth singing voice and even though his song-writing was standard pop for the times, this song seems to have held the test of time; I heard it at a sixteenth birthday party I attended (daughter of a friend) in 2010. So there is something about it!
'Only Sixteen' by Dr. Hook (1975)
A cover of the Sam Cooke original, but I think I prefer this countrified version, done in the way of Dr Hook. This is one of those bands that seemed to be everywhere in the 70s and 80s and yet today is virtually forgotten. Some great music and the vocals are always really good.
Let's go for US punk now. This comes from Lust For Life, one of Pop's best albums, and also the only song on the album he wrote by himself. This is just a straight-ahead rock track with those distorted guitars, the lyrics showing a strange fascination with "yellow boots".
'Sixteen Again' by Buzzcocks (1978)
Remembering what it was like being 16 (like the Radiators did with the age 17), and wishing to be that age once more, this bit of punk-pop is one of those deep cut album tracks I liked better than many of the singles released at the same time. The lyrics, as usual with the Buzzcocks, are really strong as well, and the musicianship is spot on.
'When You Were Sweet Sixteen' by The Fureys with Davey Arthur (1981)
This beautiful, slow song was written back in the 1890s (I believe) and yet, almost 100 years later Ireland's favourite band (I guess?) released this version that I heard a lot in the following few years. The vocals are wonderful, with that wavering quality, and the instrumentation is so good. I had a female friend who had this as her entrance music (yes, entrance music) at her huge sixteenth birthday party in 1985 and everyone sang along.
'Sixteen Blue' by The Replacements (1984)
1980s rock from a band that, for some reason, I bought an album. I don't even remember the single from it that inspired the purchase, but this song, a bit of mid-tempo goodness, is one of the stand-out tracks from that record (called Let It Be).
'Sweet Sixteen' by Billy Idol (1986)
Something a little more subdued from Billy Idol, especially considering the nature of most of his other 1980s hits. This was the birthday track in 1986/7 for those 'sweet sixteenths' (and as that was when I turned 16, I went to a lot) and I got sick of it at the time, but listening back to it, it is a decent little song.
'16 Forever' by The Nomads (1987)
Now we hit 1980s garage rock with a song that shows the death songs of the 60s had spiritual descendants. It is about a guy singing to a girl who is dead, saying he misses her, and she responds telling him she wished she could be there. It is actually a really sad song with surprisingly strong lyrics.
'Sixteen Years' by Tina Arena (1997)
Not about turning sixteen, but about looking back on sixteen years of a relationship ending. Another really sad song, but this one is delivered as a sad song. I was never a fan of Tina Arena when she was a youngster, but when she hit her adulthood, her music and especially her voice matured, and this is a fine example of that.
'I'm Sixteen' by Dolly Parton (2016)
Let's go country now. This is another song about looking back on youth, but this is a song of joy, how being in love makes her feel sixteen again. This is such a great track; Dolly's voice is still as good as ever, and the joy in her lyrics are really wonderful. Great track.
'Sixteen' by Ellie Goulding (2019)
Okay, no idea why this song struck me when I heard it, but it did for whatever reason, and it is another song about acting like she was sixteen again. There is a sense of regret about not being able to live life the way she wants, but the desire is there. Just a nice little pop song.
And that's sixteen songs about sixteen. Mix of styles, spread of years, I hope there was something here that you found enjoyable. And this is it for my number columns. Thanks to everyone who read through them and had some fun and all the positive feedback that came from them. But, as always, if there are any I've missed out, please let me know in the comments below, and if you have any ideas for future musical columns, again, feel free to ask. If I think I can do it, then I will. I do enjoy a challenge.
Hi, Just to let you know. The song.. When you were sweet sixteen. Song by the Irish Tenor, Joseph Locke was recorded back in 1948 and in the 1950's and back then a hit throughout the UK and Australia and many other parts of the world. This way be of some interest to you. Thanks Gavin.