first round game
(6) winger, "seventeen"
(11) bang tango, "someone like you"
and will play in the second round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Then vote. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/3.
daniel m. shapiro on winger's "seventeen"
I have always considered heavy metal to be the soundtrack of loneliness—even more so than James Taylor or Morrissey. I still turn to Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Metallica, Pantera, and others in part because they articulate the rage, sadness, and unexpected inspiration that can emerge from feeling isolated, from feeling that you can’t win.
To me, hair metal feels significantly different from classic metal in that it often focuses on hedonism without apparent consequences, and this subgenre’s heyday, the 1980s, seemed to be the last fertile time for such a theme. For an intensely introverted metalhead in his late teens during the latter part of this decade, metal that strived to be fun didn’t feel like metal. And occasionally, what passed for fun might’ve been questionable to some listeners.
Winger’s “Seventeen” is such a song. In blunt terms, it’s about a man—presumably in his mid-20s to mid-30s, the ages of songwriters Kip Winger, Reb Beach, and Beau Hill at the time—who has sex with a teenage girl. Some of its lyrics aim to soften the crudity (She said, “Take it easy. I need some time. Time to work it out, to make you mine,” which suggests the girl is mature enough to approach the relationship slowly), while one line in particular seems to undermine any nuances (Daddy says she’s too young, but she’s old enough for me).
Had I written about “Seventeen” when it came out, I likely would’ve analyzed its musical merits (chunky main riff, start-stop feel, effective minor-key bridge/solo, Robert Plant “Crunge”-style vocal vibe, overall stellar musicianship) and made fun of its more outlandish literary choices (She’s a magic mountain / She’s a leather glove / Oh, she’s my soul / It must be love). Today, though, more and more men are being held accountable for taking advantage of women, and one’s perception of a song such as this might have changed. Now in their 50s, the members of Winger still tour and perform “Seventeen.” My big question: Does the song hold up in our current social climate?
As a man in his 40s, I don’t consider myself to be the best person to answer a question about the treatment of women (or girls) in songs, so I called on some women friends who have listened to metal over the years. I was hoping they could compare how they felt about “Seventeen” when they were younger and how they feel about it today.
Here’s what they said:
I was never a Winger fan. I was deep into thrash and death metal by then. I’m not familiar with that song. [Pause] OMG. Just went and looked up the lyrics. Rape culture was alive and well in the pop metal scene. I was always a tomboy so I was never into glam metal or even being feminine. I did not think highly of women who wore little clothing and were not at shows for the music. Now that I’m in my 50s, I judge them less harshly because we all did different things to get love and validation. As for the musicians writing songs about rape culture, pedophilia, and misogyny, I am judging them harshly. They should be helping to smash the fucking patriarchy. Women are to be honored. We are the heart of the planet.
My husband and I literally just had this conversation about how disgusting those lyrics are! I was 13 when this song came out, and although it aligned with my hair metal taste at the time, I’m not sure I gave the song any conscious critical thought. Seventeen seemed so mature to me when I was 13. I think I would have loved to be considered the object of an older, long-haired dude’s desire (grosses me out to write that, but there it is). Women were objectified like crazy in so many genres of music at that time, and while it made me uncomfortable, I also understood it to just be part of “sex sells.” I didn’t have the language for internalized patriarchy or infantilism or understanding objectification, the male gaze, and the power hierarchy. The lyrics now still have that ickiness attached to them but maybe we (I) have a better understanding of just how icky and why.
M. Soledad Caballero:
I just listened to the song again. I have wildly different thoughts about it now than I did in my younger days. I probably didn’t think of the creepy factor at the time. I hear that now and think, Whoa, gross male fantasy much? But I imagine at the time, I was not 17 and thought of 17 as a glamorous adult-like age. I was 15, so I bet I thought of it as aspirational in terms of being an adult. I heard it now and think that’s just a total male fantasy and also radically wrong. I think the age is interesting as a number and age for this song. I think it’s maybe supposed to assuage the listener into thinking, Well that’s not so bad, right? She’s “almost” legal. Which also to me now reads as even more insidious since there seems to be intentionality in this song about the listener, if that makes sense. There’s also now for me that almost now banal knowledge of the young female body as always already ready to be receptive to male sexual needs, as if a 17-year-old would ever actually say that unless under duress or in a subject position of proposition or something like that. It reads like male fantasy now, but I can imagine at the time I just thought it was something to want, to be the object of some kind of male attention? I mean not that obvious but maybe. I also wonder about my 15-year-old self because I thought of myself as ugly and nerdy, definitely not someone anyone would write that kind of song about. So I wonder if anyone at the time had the idea that being thought of as attractive was itself attractive, if that makes sense.
My initial response is that it’s basically a culturally updated version of “I Saw Her Standing There.” Same age, more suggestive, but that’s the difference between 1964 and 1988 in terms of what would fly in a song. And there are indications that there is some restraint in the lyrics. (Come to my place, we can talk it over; She said take it easy. I need some time; and dancin’ close to the borderline seem to suggest that the girl is in control here.) I was also engaged at the age of 19 in 1981, so the fact that someone would be interested in a 17-year-old was not unheard of. Plus, I also don’t analyze everything in music in terms of a political perspective. I liked the whole album, Kip Winger was good-looking, and this song was the first one I saw on MTV. I certainly don’t find it as problematic language- or concept-wise as some of the other songs of that period. This opinion I’m sure is colored by my age a bit—I'm in my mid-50s, so I don’t overthink my entertainment as it is the norm to do now. I think younger women may go straight there with this song, but comparing it to the Beatles song for me is the most accurate. I don’t think I’d hear anyone arguing against early Beatles.
I was 12 to 13 when this song came out, and when I saw the video on MTV of Kip Winger in a sleeveless tank smirking and staring into the camera (staring at me, I felt), it totally made me hot, and he made me want to masturbate. Also, as a side story—I had Winger’s cassette tape, and against my dad and stepmom’s wishes, I would listen to my Walkman while I biked on a road outside of Ann Arbor, MI. The road did not get that much traffic, but it was very hilly, and cars, when they would come, would zip by superfast, and there was no bike lane. So I did this against their wishes (I wore a helmet), but I would blast THAT song and ride my bike, and I was like “fuck you” to them. So the song was like freedom to me, and it made me feel wild and free and sexy—or whatever I thought sexy was. NOW—skip ahead to NOW. I have a 12-year-old daughter, and when she’s 17, the thought of a man in his 30s coming onto her or trying to have sex with her or thinking sexual thoughts about her makes me want to vomit. But at the same time, I want her to have healthy amazing feelings and experiences about her own sexuality and whatnot—and I'm sure some of that will be about fantasizing about older men. So there you go. It’s a fucking slippery slope.
I keep returning to a notion that seems to sum up hair metal, a notion Bored Nord expresses in a comment on the YouTube video for “Seventeen”: “The vibe was so energetic and happy back then.” At the time, I was neither energetic nor happy and likely resented the entire subgenre for that reason. I’m often both of those things now, though, so I can appreciate Donna’s comments that touch on engaging in music more straightforwardly. But I also struggle with what Jennifer calls the “fucking slippery slope,” what songs like this could mean to young women and how they feel about their sexuality, how it might affect their loneliness. It’s simplistic to say, but my feelings about “Seventeen” remain complicated. My instinct might be to end by riffing on leather gloves or magic mountains, but that doesn’t feel right this time.
Daniel M. Shapiro is the author of several poetry books and chapbooks, including How the Potato Chip Was Invented, Heavy Metal Fairy Tales, and The Orange Menace. He is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh, and he has played the opening riff of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” on a vintage Martin ukulele.
BANG TANGO NEVER STOOD A CHANCE!: Hanif Abdurraqib on "someone like you"
It’s probably the name, mostly. No one likes to say a band name that sounds like a defunct cartoon show. Especially not in the late 80s. It was all hair back then, but people at least wanted to be taken seriously in between the massive clouds of hairspray and the chunky and overwrought solos that droned on for what felt like hours, when one might just want a moment of peace to yell something across a bar or a club or even a cab. I’m always thinking about eras that people romanticize in the name of nostalgia, and I am sorry to say that I was but a mere child in the late 80s, and I am thankful for that—that I was not old enough to have to wear the fashion or dance to the songs.
Except for this song, perhaps. Bang Tango, band of a funny name and a funny aesthetic. Band of unkempt hair and chunky silver crosses. “Someone Like You” is special, even if you think it isn’t. Even if you listen to it and think it’s the corpse of every song that was ever written during that time period and roll your eyes. The bassline that opens is irresistible, the way it laps gently at the dish before swallowing the meal whole. The chorus is cool because Joe Lesté is one of those hair metal singers who can’t really sing but can really sing. What I’m saying is that he can catch hold of a winding guitar and jump on its back before riding it into the battle of some chorus swelling with ache and need and desire.
“Someone Like You” is the kind of song you forget about until you don’t. The late 80s and early 90s were overrun with these types of songs, though I’m sure no one thought about it like that in the moment. When every song is a hit, no song is a hit, but “Someone Like You” has the distinct difference of being a song that is a band’s only claim to any kind of relevance, which is a special kind of musical achievement. Bang Tango, silly name and silly aesthetic and all, never got as big as their first single suggested they might, and to be honest, “Someone Like You” wasn’t a massive hit—it was more of a hit in the MTV world of freshly rotating videos, when there was so much music and only so much airtime to go around. But it could be said that this is the enduring legacy of the song: it was released into a deluge of other songs that sounded similar enough to it, and yet it still isn’t forgettable. The album it was on, 1989’s Psycho Café, was good but not great. It didn’t stand out enough for the band to get the recognition they needed to cash in on the deal they signed with MCA Records earlier in the year, when record labels were eager to snap up any band with long hair and a loud-voiced lead singer.
In the music video for “Someone Like You,” Lesté’s hair is blowing inexplicably. When I was young, this was my favorite part of any music video: the part where the wind takes someone’s long hair and blows it into a light behind them. It was a staple in videos of the era. I suppose if one must endure a genre of metal hanging entirely on the hair, we must make good use of it. I used to wish for long hair which blew in the wind. Maybe dreadlocks or something else light enough to be carried by a stiff breeze. That is what rockstars had, after all. The wind at their command.
Bang Tango never stood a chance and it’s likely that if “Someone Like You” came on the radio today, a room full of people would be surprised. Bang Tango should have chosen a cooler name and maybe worn less clunky silver jewelry. Bang Tango could have stood to be more like Whitesnake or Poison I guess, but you can’t blame anyone for trying to cash in on a moment. I still know enough of the words to “Someone Like You” to sing along to it. Not well, but I know what to do when the chorus hits that somewhat delightful swirl of noise and arching vocals, I can hold my own. I imagine a song endures by the way it still finds its way out of our bodies in the years after it was imagined to be forgotten. And so I might go out tonight and toss some coins into one of the good old jukes that have a little bit of everything. I might seek out “Someone Like You,” play it twice for good measure, and see who in the room wants to join the chorus with me.
Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist, and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain't Worth Much was released in 2016 and was nominated for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His first collection of essays, They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was released in fall 2017 by Two Dollar Radio.