THERE IS NOTHING nice about love.
Oh, calm down. I'm not talking about "love" in that broad philosophical sense, as in the love you feel for your dog or your TV—or your family members, I guess. I'm not talking about "love thy neighbor," or "peace and love," or "I ♥ pizza 4eva." I'm not talking about familial love, or agape love, or platonic love.
I'm talking about the kind of love that keeps you up all night, hunched down in your car, peering through binoculars, desperately trying to see through your ex's blinds. I'm talking about the love that compels you to etch the name of your heart's desire into your very flesh—the kind of love that drove Romeo and Juliet to kill themselves, or that prompted Jerry Lee Lewis to marry his 13-year-old cousin. I'm talking about irrational love. Crazy love. Obsessive love. Ryan Gosling love. You know it; you've had it. It's the creepiest of all human emotions, and every pop song ever written explores it in some sick fashion or another. Here's a list of the absolute ickiest, broken down by category.
FORBIDDEN UNDERAGE LOVE—Gary Puckett and the Union Gap: "Young Girl" (1968)
Statutory rape is a disturbingly familiar scenario for pop songs, but one of the creepiest of all time has got to be Gary Puckett's "Young Girl." Written by producer Jerry Fuller, its refrain declares, "My love for you is way out of line/Better run, girl/You're much too young, girl." He is literally telling her to escape his Humbert-like clutches before he commits the crime of intercourse with her. (Again.) Lyrical gems like, "Though you know that it's wrong to be alone with me/That come-on look is in your eyes," weren't enough to keep this song from reaching number 2 on the charts, and Puckett—who grew up in Yakima, Washington—has been singing this song more or less every night since. Puckett turns 70 this year. Creepy.
RUNNER-UP: Benny Mardones' 1980 ballad "Into the Night" offers the opening lines: "She's just 16 years old/Leave her alone, they say." Needless to say, he does not leave her alone.
SECOND RUNNER-UP: "Christine Sixteen" by KISS offers the heartwarming lyric "she's young and clean." (And KISS had drawn from this same well before: Three years earlier, "Goin' Blind" is also about a 16-year-old.)
PASSIONATELY VIOLENT LOVE—The Crystals: "He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)" (1962)
Since he produced the song, it's easy to assume that batshit-crazy Phil Spector was also responsible for penning this ode to domestic violence: "He hit me/And I knew he loved me." Actually, it was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who wrote it when they learned their babysitter—Little Eva, who became a recording star in her own right—was being beaten by her boyfriend on an ongoing basis. They more or less stole the song's title from the 1947 musical Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein, but the song's ugly underbelly, juxtaposed against Spector's saccharine pop backdrop, gives this recording a truly unsettling, car-crash, can't-look-away quality. Decades later, Britney Spears ("Baby, One More Time") and Florence and the Machine ("Kiss with a Fist") tried to replicate this song's bruised, battered qualities, but couldn't come close.
RUNNER-UP: "Baby, Let's Play House" covered by Elvis Presley. It's so creepy that John Lennon stole some of its lyrics ("I'd rather see you dead, little girl/Than to be with another man") for the Beatles' "Run for Your Life."
SECOND RUNNER-UP: Shellac's "Prayer to God" is, plainly, a prayer for the Almighty to strike down both his ex-girlfriend ("She can go quietly, by disease or a blow to the base of her neck") and her new boyfriend ("Fucking kill him/Kill him already, kill him"). Also, Steve Albini. Creepy.
BODILY FUNCTION LOVE—James Taylor: "Shower the People" (1976)
The godfather of creepily sensitive folk plucking, James Taylor has a knack for making every song he's ever played feel like an unwanted, inappropriate massage from a much-older relative. In this one, Taylor's anemic voice implores listeners to pour love—in some sort of fluid form—on top of each other. It's not clear exactly what kind of liquid love he is referring to, but the line "Father and mother, sister and brother/If it feels nice, don't think twice," should have gotten him arrested. (As should have the album cover of In the Pocket, from which this song was taken from; it shows Taylor facing away from the camera holding his jacket open in a flasher-like pose.) This is probably R. Kelly's favorite song.
RUNNER-UP: The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me." I don't even want to get into it.
PERVY INCESTUOUS LOVE—The Kinks: "Art Lover" (1981)
Kinks frontman Ray Davies plays the part of a lothario who lurks to catch glimpses of little girls playing at the park on Sunday afternoons. Is he a lecherous perv? No, he protests, he is a lover of fine art: "Pretty little legs, I want to draw them/Like a Degas ballerina." But the sighing chorus, "Ohhhhhh, come to daddy," leaves little doubt what he's really after. A veteran of writing bitingly funny songs, Davies plays the joke to the hilt here, but leaves just a little room for a niggling creepiness. Davies was in the midst of a protracted custody battle over his daughters at the time, and there is a very telling glimpse into his psyche: "I'd take her home, but that could never be/She's just a substitute for what's been taken from me."
RUNNER-UP: No list of creepy love songs would be complete without Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg's "Lemon Incest," in which a 12-year-old Charlotte sings to her father "Je t'aime plus que tout, papa papa," We won't dare translate it into English, as it is unspeakably filthy.
INANIMATE CORPSE-Y LOVE—Roxy Music: "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" (1973)
In the vampiric, glazed voice that's become his trademark, Bryan Ferry sings of a dystopian future, where each spacious house is fully equipped with every necessary comfort—including a plastic blow-up sex doll to take the place of human companionship. Slowly building to its freakout conclusion, Ferry sings, "Lover ungrateful/I blew up your body/But you blew my mind." Ferry in later years adopted a breezier tone in his singing, becoming a little less operatic and a little more human, but he never sounded so emphatic as he does on this track. Naturally, Marilyn Manson loves this song, and said it is going to be on the soundtrack to the movie he's making about Lewis Carroll, which will never, ever be released.
RUNNER-UP: Morrissey probably intended the trifling "Girlfriend in a Coma" to be a joke ("There were times when I could have murdered her/But you know, I would hate anything to happen to her"). But guitarist Johnny Marr didn't see it that way, and left the Smiths shortly after.
TOO WEIRD FOR WORDS—Kenny Rogers and the First Edition: "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" (1969)
Kenny Rogers has had his fair share of unspeakably creepy love songs over the course of his career. (Not the least of these, 1977's "Lucille" tells the story of Rogers picking up a married woman in a bar, who is then begged by her husband to come home while Rogers is sitting next to her.) But the creepiest of all has to be his version of "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," a song originally recorded by Johnny Darrell in 1967. It's about a war veteran who becomes paralyzed in "that crazy Asian war." Unable to perform his husbandly duties, the vet sits in his wheelchair and watches as his wife dolls herself up for a night on the town—and in the arms of other men. The song builds to a heartwarming conclusion as the cuckolded husband sings: "If I could move, I'd get my gun and put her in the ground/Oh Ruby, don't take your love to town." War, sex, racism, and the threat of murder: This song has it all.
RUNNER-UP: Nope. Nothing comes close.