I warned you that the 80s would be featured prominently here.
But embedded with such awareness, I’m still quite surprised that this was the Billy Idol song to occupy my entry into traditional consciousness. Not “White Wedding,” not “Rebel Yell,” or even “Dancing with Myself,” which is probably my favorite of the bleach-blonde sneerer’s hits. It’s also a song I could have written a compelling post about: the joy, heartache and liberation of partnerless dancing. I could have waxed poetic about my awkward teen years, perpetually afraid to ask any girl to dance. How I would sashay and shimmy, alone, around my room to the B52’s “Rock Lobster” and New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Never finding the courage, until a few years later at college (and in liquid form), to show that free-spirited and loose-limbed side of myself in public. But these coming-of-age tales of will have to wait for their proper ear worm trigger.
Now I must backtrack a bit, and explain my process for writing these posts.
Usually I just start writing whatever pops in my head and go back later and fill in the details utilizing my go-to music research sites: allmusic.com, wikipedia and AZLyrics. But sometimes my off-the-cuff remarks and unchecked historical tidbits are way off base and I have to rewrite entire sections, because even I have standards. Like for example: “Cradle of Love” came out in 1990. But it feels so 80s, doesn’t it? I could have sworn it was on Billy Idol’s second (and best) album, Rebel Yell. Or if not that, then surely it was on his third (and pretty decent) album, Whiplash Smile in 1986. But no — and I’ve double checked — this song is on Idol’s 4th album, Charmed Life. But, to my credit, even some 80’s New Wave compilation releases have “Cradle of Love” on their song lists.
So the real question is, what years define a decade? Are “The 80s” really 1980-1989? Does it fit all nice and tidy like that? Do songs that came out in 1960 and 1961 jive with your aural image/memory of a 60s tune? Maybe the 60s–the 60s most of us correlate to hippies and free love and psychedelic rock and folk rock and protest songs–match more accurately to the years 1964-1973. Or 1965-1974. Maybe musical decades don’t last 10 years and don’t start at the turn of calendar decades. I mean, my idea of the 80s depends on so many factors. There’s the punk rock 80s, which could be seen as 1976-1986, starting with the Ramones self-titled first album. There’s the Rap/Hip-Hop 80s, with Grandmaster Flash’s first album The Message in 1982 signifying the birth of a new era. There’s the glam/hair-metal scene that took hold of the charts and MTV in the mid-80s but really began in the late 70s. And of course there is the new wave 80s: the Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, synth heavy dance music. And then Debbie Harry & Blondie come along to find a way to fuse all of those genres (except hair metal, fortunately) in the 1981 classic, “Rapture.”
I can’t even begin to define the 70s or 90s and especially not the aughts with any clear musical decade boundaries. Maybe this is an age thing. My high-school and college years were the 80s, the decade that culturally shaped who I am far more than any other. So, it makes sense that I keep being drawn back to the music of that time period. Why I’ll continue to keep writing about it ad infinitum.
It probably doesn’t surprise you that the theme (I hesitate to use the word message) of “Cradle of Love” is: having sex with young girls is awesome! Cause they are virginal! And quick learners! Sadly, me thinks the cradle isn’t symbolic or metaphoric here. And the lyrics read somehow simultaneously lecherous and confusing.
Rock the cradle of love/Rock the cradle of love
Yes the cradle of love don’t rock easily it’s true
Sent from heaven above that’s right
To rob the cradle of love
Yes the pages of love don’t talk decently it’s true
It burned like a ball of fire
When the rebel took a little child bride
To tease yeah so go easy yeah
Yeah flesh for your romeo
Ah yeah baby
I hear you moan
It’s easy y’know how to please me yeah
You see, the “Rebel” (which is clearly Billy himself) took a child bride to “tease yeah” and “please yeah” but also to keep the devil from getting to her first. So, of course that makes it ok, cause he was sent from heaven above to, what? Give a few pointers on bedroom etiquette? I am probably reading way too much into this; we are not talking about Bob Dylan here. But, hey, as long as it’s got a catchy chorus and a beat you can dance to! And does it ever!
Billy Idol had already written songs in a similar vein earlier in his career, most notably on his Whiplash Smile album, a song titled, “Sweet Sixteen.” Perhaps it’s the same girl from the cradle, the one he’d previously rocked and robbed, but now the tables have turned; she, at the ripe age of sixteen, has left The Rebel in the dust, run away to, well, probably to the clinic to test for STDs, apply for her GED, and then buy a one-way ticket and backpack through Europe.
I’ll do anything
For my sweet sixteen,
And I’ll do anything
For my little run away child
Gave my heart an engagement ring,
She took everything,
Everything I gave her,
Oh sweet sixteen
There are a plethora of rock ‘n roll songs that are about the wily, sexual charms of the teenage girl. (And I plan to explore this more fully soon in a later post – the songs, not the girls.) Perhaps it’s connected to the whole groupie culture surrounding stardom. The way rock stars and movie stars become stunted, perpetual 21 year olds, hiding any signs of aging behind hair extensions, leather pants and supermodels. It’s almost expected in male rock stars. Mick Jagger has gone through so many supermodel wives, I’ve lost count. But it’s considered sad and pathetic when an average joe lusts after girls much younger than himself. It’s like the classic line Matthew McConaughey’s character Wooderson says in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused: “That’s what I love about these high school girls, I get older, they stay the same age.”
Maybe what I should be exploring is why “Cradle of Love” entered my brain in the first place. I have always dated age-appropriate women and my wife and I were born only 6 weeks apart. The biggest age difference between me and any girlfriend was three years, when I was 29. The idea of trading in for two 25 year olds is an old sexist/ageist joke, but beyond the obvious sexual context, the mere thought that I would have no one to join me in singing cheesy Bryan Adams songs in the morning, no one to trade classic lines from Spinal Tap with, well, it cuts like a knife, and it’s none more black.
A song about being a late bloomer would have been a more fitting song choice. But I don’t choose these songs. It’s probably as simple as this: the bedroom window was open, I was chilly and just wanted to be cradled.
To be honest, I had thought that “Cradle of Love” was about the joy of becoming of parent for the first time, until I started rubbing the sleep out of my eyes to look at the lyrics. I’d thought maybe this post was gonna head in the direction of my being childless (or child-free as some would prefer I use) at almost 50 years old. That’s certainly a worthy topic, but, like my late-bloomin’ youth-escapades, that story will have to wait for another song….