We all love coming of age stories in entertainment, so it’s no wonder that songs about boys growing up can be just as compelling. So in this article, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite songs that are all about boys making the pivotal transition from childhood to manhood.
Songs About Boys Growing Up
Let’s begin with a song by Bryan Adams, shall we?
10. Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams
Our first entry may come with a bit of controversy, as the lyrics refer to a boy’s story about coming-of-age with his girlfriend. In other words, it’s about losing one’s virginity during a particular summer of their youth.
Oh, and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never
those were the best days of my life.
Of course, what made it the best time of Bryan Adams’ life was the combination of factors mentioned throughout the song, not just the naughty bits. When the track opens with the rousing and iconic: I got my first real six-string…
I don’t know about you, but I always feel a rush of energy whenever I put this song on and hear that opening D chord. In dissecting the lyrics, it was easy for me as a listener to realize that this is a tale about the changes in a boy’s spirit, as well as his outlook on life as he grows older.
I think if you’re looking for some songs about becoming a man, this Bryan Adams track is for you.
9. Boys Don’t Cry by The Cure
Originally released in 1979, this song from The Cure was a substantial leap forward for the band. The cleverly crafted Pop song sports lyrics about a young boy’s romantic relationship gone bad, and the inherent need of the young male protagonist to hide his emotions and most importantly, his tears.
This of course refers to the societal norm that withholding emotions as a male and even as a young boy is always normal, and to show too much sadness would be a sign of weakness. Consider these words that flow through the chorus:
I tried to laugh about it cover it all up with lies
I tried to laugh about it hiding the tears in my eyes
’cause boys don’t cry…boys don’t cry.
It is also apparent to me that the song describes the need to mentally construct and surround oneself with lies in order to avoid revealing painful emotions that all boys may feel at different points of their lives, this is something that I, and many other men have had to deal with.
8. Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin
Number eight is the opening track from Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album, released in 1969 and one of my favorites from the band. This playful sounding rocker tells of a young male character who fumbles his way through relationships with lyrics such as:
In the days of my youth
I was told what it means to be a man
Still in a playful manner, the author is saying that he tries to be noble but the women-folk keep doing him wrong:
Sixteen, I fell in love with a girl as sweet as could be
It only took a couple of days till she was rid of me.
So it becomes clear that the main character is recounting quarrels and breakups that have occurred throughout his life, events that no doubt have shaped his psyche but, calmingly enough, he “still don’t seem to care.”
7. Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen
Number seven is somewhat in the same vein as Bryan Adams’ Summer of 69, in that it deals with a coming-of-age type of scenario, albeit in an almost comical way. This hard-hitting classic from Queen’s 1978 album “Jazz”contains lyrics such as:
Hey, I was just a skinny lad
never knew no good from bad..
I have always appreciated the playful nature of the song, and how it propels the riffs forward by its raw energy. In the latter verses, he is an older man, recounting his former lover and seemingly stating that they are still together, when he sings:
Now I got mortgages and homes
I got stiffness in the bones…
Oh, but I still get my pleasure…
heap big woman…
6. Old Man by Neil Young
Although this classic by Neil Young occupies the number six spot in my list, it may be considered number one by many for tales of boys growing older. I have always appreciated the strength displayed in Young’s song structures, and this tune is no different. The contrast between an older man and the younger man made for an iconic song when incorporated with Young’s lyrical delivery.
Old man look at my life I’m a lot like you were…
As the story goes, Young bought a ranch in California at the age of twenty-four. It was there that he met the caretaker of the ranch, a one Louis Avila, and a conversation between the two sparked the lyrics of this now classic song :
Old man look at my life,
twenty four and there’s so much more,
live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two.
5. Where Corn Don’t Grow by Waylon Jennings/Travis Tritt
Number five on our list is a song describing the rebelliousness of male youth, combined with one boy’s wanderlust that leads him to a dangerous environment in a city. The revealing of what city life actually entails and the shattering of illusions is described in the lyrics, where the protagonist says that he left home at seventeen, only to fall into a struggle after his exodus.
It is specifically the illusions surrounding human nature that are being shattered. It is the idea that so many of us have held in vain: that the grass is somehow greener on the other side of the proverbial fence. This song by Jennings (and the excellent cover by Travis Tritt) presented me as a young listener with this profound wisdom:
Hard times are real
there’s dusty fields no matter where you go,
you may change your mind, ‘
cause the weeds are high, where corn don’t grow.
4. Sliver by Nirvana
This song is of vital importance in the Nirvana catalogue, for as many may know, it is one of the few sets of lyrics that Kurt Cobain wrote that deal with clear subject matter. What is also vitally important, is that this song is at least partially autobiographical, as it deals with Cobain’s youth. It is written from the standpoint of Cobain as a little boy—a boy who doesn’t want to visit his grandparents and especially doesn’t want to stay at their house.
When Mom and Dad went to a show
they dropped me off at grandpa Joe’s,
I kicked and screamed said Please, don’t go!
In a seemingly juvenile way, the lyrics describe things that weren’t harmful to Cobain, but were simply things he did not want to do at the time, as when he describes interactions with his grandfather. The true nature of Coban’s interactions with his family have been explored in documentaries, but not to my personal satisfaction. It could be, however, that Sliver represents a genuine look into the childhood of a man who was deeply troubled later in his life.
3. The Unforgiven by Metallica
Sitting at number three is a song that combines great storytelling with bone-jarring heavy metal riffing. This fourth track from Metallica’s self-titled album (generally referred to as simply “The Black Album” ) haunts the listener with a musical atmosphere that is situated between anger and anguish. The mood created in the song using generous amounts of reverb allows the lyrics to maintain their dreamy effect. The lyrics tell of the juxtaposition of a young man, and the struggles that created the old man who is telling the story:
New blood joins this Earth
and quickly he’s subdued.
In my humble opinion, this is undoubtedly referring to the author’s (James Hetfield) feelings of a lack of self-expression—the suffocating, stifling effect that society has upon the feelings of a young male. The song continues as the child transforms into an old man, who then states to his audience that the song describes his own life, and perhaps his own soul:
The old man then prepares to die regretfully
That old man here is me.
2. Brother by Alice In Chains
This heart wrenching song was purportedly written about Alice In Chains’ guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s separation from his brother at an early age. As part of the conditions of his parent’s divorce, the children were separated between their father, and mother.
The lyrics are written from the standpoint of a little boy, similar to Nirvana’s “Sliver”,but the visualizations used are nothing short of brilliant, as when Cantrell writes:
Pictures in a box at home
yellowing and green with mold
so I can barely see your face
wonder how that color taste.
These are my favorite verses from the song, and the imagery being described by an author who is discovering his own senses, and is trying to connect mentally, spiritually, or by some other sense with his beloved brother. The mental image that this lyric conjures up in me whenever this song is played so sad that sometimes I can cry, and I do not mind admitting that to you all, dear readers.
1. Good Ole Boys Like Me by Don Williams
Saving what could be the best for last (Alice In Chains’ “Brother” was a close second) is this soft ballad by Country Music legend Don Williams. It would be hard for any fan of traditional Country Music not to recall the lyrics of “Good Ole Boys Like Me”, where the great crooner spins a web of memories into a profound statement on a boy’s youth, and the unique challenges that it brought to the author. What makes this song truly great, and worthy of the number one spot is its juxtaposition of painful memories with the seemingly relaxed delivery by Williams. Consider the lyric:
When I was in school I ran with a kid down the street,
and I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed.
The author also relays to us how his past still haunts him, but the memories of the good and the bad intertwine, reminiscing with a quiet shiver in his voice how he left home at age the age of eighteen, but his thoughts still hearken back to his roots, and no matter how far away he travels:
I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees.
Indeed, it is the same feeling for me.
It is songs like these that take me on a journey of discovery, but it is a journey both philosophical and emotional. From the straining of family ties in Where Corn Don’t Grow to the profound atmospheres of The Unforgiven, I think that it is safe to say that music is perhaps the greatest vehicle which young males can express themselves with. To those boys who are now men, I say this: never stop dreaming, and give the youth of today that understanding you once lacked with these songs about boys growing up.