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10 Famous Songs That Are Secretly Dirty

by Amanda Mannen
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The history of pop music is littered with lyrics that are absolutely filthy. After all, sex and rock and roll go together almost as well as drugs and rock and roll. Most songs about sex, however, are laughably transparent. These songs hid their salacious intent so well that they fooled just about everyone.

10 Ticket To Ride
The Beatles

The Beatles – Ticket To Ride

The classic Beatles song appears to be just another ode to lost love. “The girl that’s driving me mad is going away / She’s got a ticket to ride, and she don’t care,” they sing. The reason she’s going away, though, turns out to be pretty shocking. It sounds as if she’s getting on a train and moving away or something, but “ticket to ride” is actually a double entendre—that was the term John Lennon used to refer to the medical cards German prostitutes carried to prove they were clean. That’s right—his (hopefully fictional) girlfriend is leaving him to become a hooker. No wonder he’s so upset.

9 All My Life
The Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters – All My Life (Official Music Video)

The 2002 hit appears to be about frustration with life and spinning your wheels, with lines like “Something never comes, never leads to nothing / Nothing satisfies but I’m getting close, closer to the prize at the end of the rope / All night long I dream of the day, when it comes around then it’s taken away” and the chorus of “I love it but I hate the taste / Weight keeping me down.” When asked by a fan if “I love it but I hate the taste” might have a more prurient meaning, however, songwriter Dave Grohl was a little too eager to confirm. “That song is a little dirty,” he admitted, adding, “I’m very fond of giving oral sex to women. 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.” If lyrics about how “something never comes” but he’s nevertheless “done and onto the next one” are any indication, though, he can’t be very good at it.

8 Tusk
Fleetwood Mac

“Tusk” was one of Fleetwood Mac’s most ambitious efforts. It’s long and menacing and includes a full marching band. Surely it’s packed full of meaning, right? Nope—it’s an ode to Mick Fleetwood’s junk. “Tusk” was apparently Fleetwood’s favorite euphemism for “penis.” It was such an obvious reference to everyone close to the band that Stevie Nicks threatened to quit if they named a song “Tusk,” let alone the whole album. Yes, the title was so juvenile that it gravely offended a woman who allegedly spent her spare time blowing coke up her bum.

7 Heart-Shaped Box

Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box (Official Music Video)

The meanings of most Nirvana songs are intentionally obscure, so it can be tough to figure out. Everyone was blindsided, though, when Courtney Love claimed, first in 2005 and again earlier this year, that this one’s about her vagina. Obviously, we can’t ask Kurt himself, so that’s awkward, but her evidence is compelling. The song includes the line “throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back,” and “box” is a common slang term. Cobain Biographer Charles Cross notes that the couple were songwriting partners, and her influence appears particularly heavy on this track. So it seems she would know. She even says that she’s the one who wrote those lines, meaning that Courtney Love intentionally infected the airwaves with a song about her own genitals, which is somehow creepier than if it came from someone else.

6 (I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight
Cutting Crew

Cutting Crew – (I Just) Died In Your Arms (Official Music Video)

The one-hit wonder’s, uh, one hit sounds like a perfectly innocent synth pop love song, but there’s actually a deeper—and filthier—layer of meaning. It’s not about a lover’s words affecting you so deeply you could die in their arms. The title came, as it were, to Cutting Crew singer Nick Van Eede’s while he was in bed with his girlfriend, and not just lying there. Yep, the song is about having an orgasm. “I just died in your arms tonight” is a play on words, an interpretation of “le petit mort,” a French term for orgasm that literally means “the little death.”

5 Here’s To The Night
Eve 6

Eve 6 – Here’s To The Night

This is going to be a little awkward for everyone whose class chose this as their graduation song, which is everyone in their late twenties or early thirties. What appears to be a bittersweet nostalgic ballad about saying goodbye to good times passed with friends and lovers is actually about having a one-night stand, according to singer Max Collins. Go ahead, take another look at the lyrics—it makes perfect sense, especially the first verse. In this context, lines like “Are you the now or never kind?” and “Are you willing to be had? Are you cool with just tonight?” become unspeakably dirty.

4 Summer Of ’69
Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams – Summer Of 69 (Official Music Video)

In another ostensibly nostalgic anthem, Bryan Adams recalls his first guitar, as well as his first relationship, in the summer of love. Well, in the summer, anyway—the year 1969 actually holds no real significance to him, Adams has explained. The “69” in question is a sly allusion to the oral sex position. “A lot of people think it’s about the year,” he said, “but actually, it’s more about making love in the summertime, using “69” as a sexual reference.” It turns out the revered songwriter has all the maturity, not to mention subtlety, of a teenager’s XBOX Live username.

3 Rosie
Jackson Browne

The lyrics of this song seem about as straightforward as possible, describing the meeting and courtship of “Rosie,” but it’s not about a woman. “Rosie” is a reference to good ol’ Rosie Palm, aka your left hand. Browne admitted as much in a 2003 interview when, after vehemently denying any sordid double meanings in his song “Red Neck Friend,” he added, “But ‘Rosie’—now that’s about masturbation.” The reference is particularly heavy-handed, as it were, in the chorus, in lines like “Rosie, you’re all right, you wear my ring / When you hold me tight, Rosie, that’s my thing” and “Looks like it’s me and you again tonight, Rosie.” Gross, Jackson Browne.

2 Relax
Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Relax (original version)

The song’s message appears to be summarized by the refrain “Relax, don’t do it,” a commentary upon the excess of ’80s culture and a call for temperance. Indeed, according to a 2013 interview in Wexfordian Magazine with songwriter Mike Horn, “When it first came out we used to pretend it was about motivation.” He goes on, however, to reveal that “Really it was about shagging.” Horn details the story of writing the song after being given some bad drugs and having a vision for a song he was stuck on. He says that he saw “armies of people stretching out onto the horizon waiting to have sex. And Holly standing on top of a tower, like a minaret, calling the faithful to come and make love.” While recording the song, Horn said he wanted it to sound as “orgasmic” as possible, saying, “We kept trying to get the orgasm bigger and bigger.” He is clearly listening to a different version of “Relax” than the rest of us.

1 Sledgehammer
Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer (HD version)

Peter Gabriel’s biggest hit and its iconic video are famously nonsensical. Take a look at the seemingly random objects he’s singing about, though. Sledgehammers, steam trains, airplanes, big dippers, bumper cars—are you noticing a pattern? They’re all pretty phallic. When questioned about his choice of metaphors, Peter Gabriel confirmed the connotation, saying about the song, “Sometimes sex can break through barriers when other forms of communication are not working too well.” It’s nice that one of the greatest mysteries of the ‘80s has been solved, but we might all have been a lot more comfortable never knowing what a “fruit cage” was.

Manna writes and wrongs from sunny Portland, Oregon. You can follow her on Twitter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater