It’s not just Rappers and slowjammin RnBsters. Rock kids have sex, too. Less, admittedly, but it still counts.
Songs About Fucking may have been a high-point for album titles in the 1980s, but reviews of Steve Albini’s Big Black album title should have read: “Woefully inaccurate”. Big Black’s seminal (it really was) work dwelt a lot on alienation and death, too. Because that’s what Alternative kids do. Fun people listen to RnB, Hip Hop, popular Dance and whatever bilge is on the radio. People who buy The Swans are, by definition, not looking for a good time.
But there have been moments. Beautiful, brief moments when the self-harming slitterati and those too cool to lower themselves to the mundane plain of physical love admitted that sex was more than a precursor to betrayal, self-loathing and more songwriting.
This list could just as easily have been called Sex Songs Not On Rap or RnB Albums, but we figured our acronym was more appropriate. Many of the tracks featured here are NSFW, and fit into the categories of: mad, bad and dangerous to play to your wife on Date Night.
#1: Lovers Day – TV on the Radio (2008)
If ever there was one song that justified an entire list by its beauty, then that song is Kids in America on a list of inappropriate songs to play at the Jackson funeral, but Lovers Day by TV on the Radio comes in a close second on the NSR ASS list.
It opens with the line: “Oh but the longing is terrible / a wanton heart under attack,” and frankly that should be enough. But these crazy geniuses rhyme that line with: “I’m gonna break your back,” a phrase that is almost as certainly meant in a nice way as it is swoon-inducing.
Catchy as a velcro tag on a knitted jumper and not particularly angsty, it would be fair to ask what makes this Alternative at all. But, then, Beyonce’s probably not going to be singing “I hunger for you like a cannibal / not gonna let you run,” and following it up with a promise to “make you cum.” It’s also hard to imagine the JackBlackian brilliance of “Swear to God, it will get so hot it will melt our faces off,” outside of an Andrew WK gig, but the song is so tender, so joyful, so beautiful, it should be taught in awkward high school sex-ed classes as a pointer to what sex can be like when you’re not standing against a bike shed or sitting next to me in the cinema, elbowing my popcorn out of my hands. If you know what I mean.
#2 Cactus – Pixies (1988)
It’s a blues song, really, but it was produced by Steve “songs about… you know…” Albini (of the intro to this list fame) and was performed by the Pixies. And if it’s good enough for David Bowie and Nirvana, it’s good enough for us. Is it a prison song? Is that why he’s sitting on a cement floor, “wishing that I had something you wore”? The empty room production and phrases like: “I miss your kissing and I miss your head / and a letter in your writing doesn’t mean you’re not dead,” suggest so, as well as ensuring Miley Cyrus’ fans won’t necessarily warm to this song. Well, maybe the dads…
But Cactus, possibly the most romantic song ever written, has more in store. Black Francis asks his beloved to send him a dress so he can “put it on when I grow lonely,” and that would be enough for some people. But not Frank Black. Not by a long shot. “Spill your breakfast and drip your wine,” he says. “Run outside in the desert heat, make your dress all wet,” he says. Ladies faint. Stout gentlemen go all red and huffy. And in the final verse, in a line that should be used as a test for whether you are an okay person or someone who doesn’t really get the Pixies (and therefore most true, good and beautiful things in life), he says: “Bloody your hands on a cactus tree / wipe it on your dress and send it to me.” And a million lightly self-harming teens across continents and generations swoon deeply and pledge allegiance to Charles Thompson IV.
I knew a girl who sent me one of her dresses after I played her this song. Had I been old enough, I would have proposed.
#3: Closer – Nine Inch Nails (1994)
This video is SRSLY NSFW. But actually rather good.
With a video that launched a thousand workplace disciplinary hearings and a simple beat that seems designed to make it the most overplayed song in both Alternative nightclubs and strip-bars, what it lacks in subtlety, Closer makes up for in “I want to fuck you like an animal”. Because that is the chorus.
Finding itself on the not terribly upbeat NIN masterpiece The Downward Spiral, it’s unsurprising that Closer is, whilst undeniably energetic, not what one would call a cheerful song. Trent Reznor himself said at the time that, as the whole album was about the disintegration of a personality (ending in suicide), this perennial gothgirl-pleaser was really about meaning and joy being lost even from the sacred act of sex. Which is totally what everyone else got from it.
The video is really rather good as a statement on sexual values and censorship (as well as a statement on Trent floating in the air with cool boots and a crucified monkey). The spoof video featuring the Star Trek love that dare not speak its name may be better, though.
#4: Bendy Line – The Prayer Chain (1995)
Christian Rock tends not to do songs about sex. I mean, apart from these guys and that’s not really what we’re dealing with here. So, for The Prayer Chain, undersung 90s heroes of non-terrible Christian music, to release a song with the enduringly pretty line: “Beg me please to claw you summer salty warm grassy skin,” was pretty brave. “Keep it to a whisper, let me hear your blue rivers flow,” is still one of the most beautiful ways to begin a song about the act of love, regardless of what Trent “you let me violate you” Reznor says. The title comes from the wonderful image: “I want to travel every bendy line from your throat to your heel,” and bugger me if I haven’t many times wished I’d said that rather than, ‘You keen?’ or: ‘Quick! They’re gone!’
Of course, The Prayer Chain broke up soon after recording this, from which we can glean either: a) They got tired of the Nashville-based Christian music industry before the days of Tooth and Nail Records, or: b) That the Lord thought the album reeked of Brian Eno and was frankly sick of that sound. Serious Christian music critics remain divided.
#5: Passenger – Deftones (2000)
Not to be confused with Iggy Pop’s song of the same name (which, like all Iggy songs, is probably in some way about sex. Dirty, dirty sex), the high-point of the White Pony album features Maynard James Keenan of Tool in possibly the best vocal form of his career, and it’s not even his album. Not since Love in an Elevator has sex in a semi-unusual place been given such a beautiful tribute, and while this ode to back (or indeed front – we’re all friends here) seat friskiness isn’t in ee cummings’ She Being Brand’s league, it really is bloody marvellous. “Roll the windows down,” it says, “this cool night air is curious. Let the whole world look in / who cares who sees anything?” Which, apart from anything else, demonstrates that the Deftones boys are not from England, where they would unconsciously be participating in a sport, and also risking death from (indecent) exposure.
Get Off – Bad Religion: The smartest men in Punk open this anthem to lust thus: “‘Lascivious’ ‒ it’s all that I can think of as I drag my feet, searching like Diogenes.” Which is pretty ambitious for a song with the chorus: “Every time I look at you I just want to do it.”
The Facts of Life – Black Box Recorder: A breathy English voice straight out of 1948 sings lines about the changes boys go through in puberty. The voice belongs to a woman. With breasts. I want to go back to school. The video is awesome, too.
Too Drunk to Fuck – Nouvelle Vague: This jazzy girl cover of the Dead Kennedys classic should on paper be an abomination in the same jokey league as Richard Cheese. Instead, it is charming, Jobimesquely listenable and very, very sexy.
I’ll Do Ya – Whale: Tragically forgotten, Whale were fiercely original, deeply odd and briefly popular. Like all of their singles, this is well worth a listen, and the version of the video featuring the toy car driving over Cia Berg/Soro’s topographical wonders is great for its Ballardian carcrash sex motif.
Venus In Furs – The Velvet Underground: It’s an okay song, but aren’t we all bored with it now? Plus, is anybody still into the whole whips and chains thing? Yawny today but still archaelogically cool.
Shores of California – Dresden Dolls: With more quotable lines per minute than a Hunter S Thompson monologue, this charming musing on the differences between girls (“crying”) and boys (“masturbating”) is more gentle than its content would suggest. As with #1 on this list, it manages to be beautiful and amusing. And surely we need more of that in our lives.