25 Classic Songs You May Not Realize Are About Sex
Some of the greatest songs in rock history have been written about enjoying sex, searching for sex or failing to have sex.
In most cases, like AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” or the Rolling Stone’s “Brown Sugar,” the sexual subject matter is obvious. But many other tracks go just as far but fans somehow missed what they are about, as you'll see in the below list of 25 Classic Songs You May Not Realize Are About Sex.
Fleetwood Mac, “Tusk”
Don’t be embarrassed if you didn’t know “tusk” was slang for penis. Stevie Nicks wasn’t aware either. In 2015, the singer admitted to Mojo that the double entendre of the word “went right over my prudish little head.” “Tusk” got lyrical inspiration from a couple of Fleetwood Mac’s go-to subjects: sex and cheating.
Bryan Adams, “Summer of '69”
Despite what you may think, “Summer of ‘69” isn't a nostalgic look back at the last year of the '60s. Instead, the song takes its title from the numerical sexual position. "A lot of people think it's about the year," Bryan Adams admitted to CBS’ The Early Show in 2008. "But actually, it's more about making love in the summertime. It's using '69 as a sexual reference."
Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer”
“Sometimes sex can break through barriers when other forms of communication are not working too well,” Peter Gabriel once said. In that case, “Sledgehammer” is one of the most communicative songs ever released. The song is packed with sexual symbolism from start to finish. Whether it’s “You could have a steam train / If you just lay down your tracks” or “Show me ’round your fruit cage / ‘Cause I will be your honey bee / Open up your fruit cage / Where the fruit is as sweet as can be,” Gabriel is focused on one thing throughout the track. Still, it’s his swinging phallic sledgehammer that earns the most attention.
The Beatles, “Ticket to Ride”
Paul McCartney once explained that the phrase “Ticket to Ride” was inspired by Ryde, an English seaside town that he and John Lennon visited. Lennon, however, gave a much dirtier origin story. "The [prostitutes] who worked the streets in Hamburg had to have a clean bill of health, and so the medical authorities would give them a card saying that they didn’t have a dose of anything,” author Steve Turner wrote in his book A Hard Day’s Write. “I was with the Beatles when they went back to Hamburg in June 1966 and it was then that John told me that he had coined the phrase ‘a ticket to ride’ to describe these cards.”
Cutting Crew, “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”
The story goes that Cutting Crew frontman Nick Van Eede came up with the phrase “I just died in your arms tonight” during a round of passionate lovemaking with his girlfriend. "Yes, I cannot tell a lie. It's a song written about my girlfriend, who is actually the mother of my daughter,” he admitted to Songfacts. “We got back together for one night after a year apart and I guess there were some fireworks but all the time tinged with a feeling of, 'Should I really be doing this?' Hence the lyric, 'I should have walked away.'”
Tina Turner, “Private Dancer”
Mark Knopfler wrote “Private Dancer” in 1982, but after recording it the Dire Straits’ frontman determined it would sound better coming from a woman. It was eventually handed to Tina Turner, who turned it into the title track for her massively successful 1984 comeback album. While its chorus – “I'm your private dancer, a dancer for money / I'll do what you want me to do” – suggested the song’s subject was a sex worker, Turner admitted she didn’t recognize the scandalous overtones. “Someone said, 'Why did you select "Private Dancer"? It's a song about a hooker. Is it because you've been a hooker?'” she recalled in the book Classic Albums. “And I was shocked. ... I didn't see her as a hooker. ... I can be naive about some of these things.”
Nirvana, “Heart-Shaped Box”
Over the years, various sources of inspiration have been cited for Nirvana’s 1993 hit “Heart-Shaped Box.” At different points, Kurt Cobain claimed the song was about everything from childhood cancer to male seahorses. Still, outsiders noted that the likely inspiration was Courtney Love, whose intense and occasionally volatile relationship with Cobain has been well-chronicled. In 2012, after singer Lana Del Rey covered “Heart-Shaped Box” during a concert in Australia, Love took to Twitter to bluntly address the song. “You do know the song is about my vagina right?” the Hole singer asserted. “'Throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back,' umm. ... On top of which, some of the lyrics about my vagina I contributed."
Aerosmith, “Walk This Way”
With Steven Tyler delivering lyrics at such a frantic pace, it's easy to miss the subtle nuances of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” We’ll simplify it for you: The song is one long story of teenage horniness. The subject is a boy who starts lonely and awkward, only to lose his virginity and discover the joy of sex. “'Backstroke lover' is our hero masturbating,” Tyler explained of the song’s opening line in the book Walk This Way. “His father catches him and explains that he will someday experience the real thing. One day, he encounters the cheerleader along with 'her sister and her cousin,' and has a glorious sexual experience.”
Billy Joel, “Only the Good Die Young”
It’s not an ode to James Dean, Marilyn Monroe or anyone in the 27 Club. Nope. Billy Joel’s 1977 single “Only the Good Die Young” is about pure lust – or, more specifically, Joel’s attempts to get a chaste Catholic girl to lose her virginity. While many listeners missed the song's subject matter, the New Jersey archdiocese certainly noticed, convincing radio stations in their area to ban the song. "When I wrote 'Only the Good Die Young', the point of the song wasn't so much anti-Catholic as pro-lust," Joel recalled to Performing Songwriter magazine in 2012. "The minute they banned it, the album started shooting up the charts." Still, Joel admitted that his perspective, while honest, may not have been healthy. "It's occurred to me recently that I'm trying to talk some poor innocent woman into losing her virginity because of my lust. It's kind of a selfish song — like, who cares what happens to you? What about what I want?” Joel admitted to the Los Angeles Times. “But on the other hand, it was of its time. This was written in the mid-'70s, and I was trying to seduce girls. Why bullshit about it?"
Prince, “Little Red Corvette”
Rule of thumb: If you think Prince is singing about something like, say, a car, he’s probably singing about sex. “Little Red Corvette” has little to do with the vehicle and is focused on the woman behind the wheel. “A pocket full of horses / Trojan and some of them used” referred to the condoms she carried, while “All the pictures of the jockeys that were there before me” was a nod to the men she’d slept with before Prince. Despite these and other sexually charged lyrics, “Little Red Corvette” was regarded as one of Prince’s more radio-friendly songs. It peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983, marking his first Top 10 hit.
Foo Fighters, “All My Life”
Behind the frantic drumming, emphatic guitars and Dave Grohl’s guttural screaming, Foo Fighters' “All My Life” is secretly a very dirty tune. Listen closely to lyrics like “Hey, don't let it go to waste / I love it but I hate the taste,“ “Over and over, down on my knees” and “If I get any closer / And if you open up wide / And if you let me inside” and the theme suddenly comes into focus. “I'm very fond of giving oral sex to women,” Grohl admitted to Q in 2003. “It's a pleasure-giving experience – giving someone something that they'll remember for the rest of their lives, and if you do it right, they will.”
Little Richard, “Tutti Frutti"
Early rock 'n' roll hits are often viewed through innocent eyes. But Little Richard’s classic “Tutti Frutti” is a lot more scandalous than you may realize. In its earliest version, the song was a staple of Little Richard’s live show that was sure to get a reaction from the crowd. Depending on whom you ask, the early lyrics were either “Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don't fit, don't force it / You can grease it, make it easy” or “Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it's tight, it's all right / And if it's greasy, it makes it easy.” Regardless of which version is accurate – it’s also possible Little Richard switched up the words depending on the performance – the lyrics were sexual. Producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell knew the song had all the makings of a hit, but it wouldn’t be accepted by mainstream audiences with such profane lyrics. The song was toned down, and “Tutti Frutti” became one of rock 'n' roll’s foundational hits.
Jackson Browne, “Rosie”
On the surface, Jackson Browne’s 1977 song “Rosie” is the story of a concert technician who flirts with a girl before a show, only to watch her leave with the band’s drummer. But in the chorus, Browne sings “But Rosie, you're all right / You wear my ring / When you hold me tight / Rosie, that's my thing / When you turn out the light / I got to hand it to me / Looks like it's me and you again tonight, Rosie.” At this point, it becomes obvious that Rosie isn’t the girl at the show, but "Rosie Palms," a nickname for masturbation.
Warrant, “Cherry Pie”
OK, this one you probably knew (and if you didn’t, the opening line - “Dirty, rotten, filthy, stinky / She's my cherry pie” - probably gave it away). Reportedly written in just 20 minutes, “Cherry Pie” uses metaphors about baseball, rock music, cars and food to describe sex. It became Warrant’s biggest hit, reaching No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and pushing the album of the same name to multiplatinum sales.
Van Halen, “Poundcake”
Another song where the line between baked goods and sex gets blurred, "Poundcake" was released as the first single from Van Halen's 1991 album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. But it's best remembered for its power-drill guitar than its lyrics. Even though Sammy Hagar has insisted the song's inspiration was a poundcake recipe, it quickly took on a different meaning. Throughout the song, Hagar sings about his “homegrown and down-home” woman who is “wrapped up nice and tight.” But his favorite thing is her “poundcake.” “I've been out there / Tried a little bit of everything / But it's all sex without love / I found the real thing is poundcake,” he boasts at one point, comparing his woman at home to groupies on the road. “It is sort of a love song, just kind of a twisted love song with a sense of humor” he explained to the Album Network. “I happen to like a ‘down home’ woman, and I do love my baby’s poundcake.”
Starland Vocal Band, “Afternoon Delight”
Starland Vocal Band was made up of a pair of married couples – Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert, and Jon Carroll and Margot Chapman – and scored their only hit in 1976. Musically, “Afternoon Delight” was about as inoffensive as a song could get, complete with an easygoing pop melody and warm harmonies. Lyrically, however, it was about sneaking home for a little midday coitus. To be clear, “Afternoon Delight” is not sleazy – “Rubbin' sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite” might be the tamest description of sex ever laid out in a song. But that was kind of the point. "I didn't want to write an all-out sex song,” Danoff recalled years later. “I just wanted to write something that was fun and hinted at sex.”
Dave Matthews Band, “Crash Into Me”
There's certainly something romantic about Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” with lines like “Hike up your skirt a little more / And show the world to me” adding to the sexy vibe. But Dave Matthews has suggested the track’s narrator is a little more toxic than most people realize. "This song is about the worship of women, but this is a little bit of a crazy man. He's the kind of man you'd call the police on, some guy kind of peering in on his neighbors, a young girl who moved in or something,” he explained during an appearance on VH1 Storytellers. “So I wrote the song about it rather than actually peering in the window for fear of being arrested."
ZZ Top, “Pearl Necklace”
Billy Gibbons isn’t talking about jewelry on this track from ZZ Top’s 1981 album El Loco. The proof is right there in the lyrics, once you realize a pretty trinket is not what Gibbons’ woman is after: “She was gettin' bombed / And I was gettin' blown away / And she held it in her hand / And this is what she had to say / A pearl necklace / She wants a pearl necklace.” Not convinced? Gibbons spells it out near the end of the song: “And that's not jewelry she's talkin' about.”
Cyndi Lauper, “She Bop”
When you think of controversial artists, pop hitmaker Cyndi Lauper rarely comes to mind. But back in 1984, she turned a lot of heads with “She Bop,” a bouncy new wave song inspired by masturbation. Lines about a “good vibration” and “messin' with the danger zone” are littered throughout the track. Want something more obvious? “They say I better stop or I'll go blind,” Lauper squeals at one point. Even though it earned a spot on the Parents Music Resource Center's "Filthy Fifteen" list, “She Bop” was a commercial hit, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Remember what we said earlier? When Prince is singing about a car, he’s singing about sex. So if Prince is singing about “Cream,” he’s definitely singing about sex. Tamer than such provocative tracks as "Gett Off," “Head” or “Nasty Girl,” “Cream” still has plenty of suggestive moments, like, "You got the horn so why don't you blow it / You're so fine / You're filthy cute and, baby, you know it.” “Cream” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991, the fifth and final chart-topper of his career.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “Relax”
If you were around for the 1983 promotional campaign behind Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s song “Relax,” its sexual themes will not be surprising. One of their magazine ads featured band members Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford in leather and sailor hats, along with the caption "All the nice boys love sea men." But if you grew up thinking the song was another example of ‘80s new-wave decadence, you may be unaware of its dirty foundation. Glance at the song’s chorus and you’ll get all the evidence you need: “Relax, don't do it / When you want to suck it, chew it / Relax, don't do it / When you want to come.”
Olivia Newton-John, “Physical”
Thanks to her early pop career and wholesome turn in Grease, Olivia Newton-John had an innocent public image. That changed with her 1981 single “Physical.” From “Let me hear your body talk” to “There's nothin' left to talk about / Unless it's horizontally,” every line is about sex. Newton-John’s clean-cut image was suddenly shattered and replaced by somebody way more confident and sensual. Listeners loved the evolution. Despite being banned by several conservative radio stations, “Physical” became a huge hit. It spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the No. 1 single of 1982.
Dexys Midnight Runners, "Come on Eileen"
For years, Kevin Rowland, frontman for Dexys Midnight Runners, claimed “Come on Eileen” was inspired by his first serious girlfriend. “I was about 14 or 15 and sex came into it and our relationship had always been so clean,” he once told Melody Maker. “It seemed at the time to get dirty and that’s what [the song is] about.” In 2014, he clarified that the girlfriend had been made up and that the song was more about his Catholic upbringing than anyone he dated. “I was reminded of being a teenager, surrounded by Irish Catholic girls you couldn’t touch, but at the same time with these overpowering feelings of lust which you’re not supposed to have,” he explained to The Guardian.
Madness, “House of Fun”
English ska group Madness scored their only U.K. No. 1 with “House of Fun,” a coming-of-age song released in 1982 that chronicles a boy determined to lose his virginity on his 16th birthday. He goes to the local drugstore to buy condoms, but his awkwardness - using terms like "Box of balloons with a featherlight touch" and "Party hats with the colored tips" – confuses the person behind the counter. His ultimate destination, however, is the “House of Fun,” a brothel where he can “come of age.”
Kiss, "Great Expectations"
You didn't really think it was about Charles Dickens, did you?