Almost half a century ago this month, the Beatles released their first U.S. single, "Please Please Me." Though a fine example of the group's early pop sound, it wasn't an immediate smash in the States. After being issued in England on the EMI-owned Parlophone label on Jan. 12, 1963, Capitol Records, EMI's U.S. label, rejected it. Atlantic passed, too.
A minor, Chicago-based label named Vee Jay finally released "Please Please Me" stateside on Feb. 25, 1963. The band's name was misspelled on the single's first pressing, and the song was a flop. It would be nearly a year until "Please Please Me" became a hit when it was re-released in the wake of the Beatles' appearance on the Jack Paar Show. Soon, Beatlemania would be in full swing.
"Please Please Me" wasn't only notable for being the Fab Four's first American single, however. It was also the group's first recorded usage of a double entendre in a song title. Using double meanings to inject a bit of sexy sleaze into songs was a common practice in the early R&B tunes that heavily influenced the Beatles during this period, and Lennon and McCartney would become masters in their own right with songs like "Honey Pie," "Drive My Car" and (ick) "Come Together."
The Beatles were nothing if not trend setters. Double-entendres, both obvious and oblique, have littered rock and roll titles for going on five decades now. Here are 10 of our favorite examples.
10. "Pass the Dutchie," Musical Youth: Musical Youth claimed that the lyrics in this hit from 1982 referred to a cooking vessel (presumably a Dutch oven) in the Caribbean, but it's pretty safe to assume that nobody listening to it was thinking about cooking. Baking, maybe. Whatever the group really meant, the instructional lyrics certainly haven't stopped Rastafarian wannabes from fucking up the rotation for the past 30 years.
9. "Big Balls," AC/DC: Few bands in rock history have taken more delight in thinly veiled sexual references than Australia's AC/DC, and "Big Balls" is perhaps their thinnest (and best). The always-shy Bon Scott was practically chortling with glee as he recorded lyrics like, "My balls are always bouncing, to the left and to the right/It's my belief that my big balls should be held every night." As juvenile as they come, the song would be truly embarrassing if it wasn't so much fun to sing along to.
8. "Puff the Magic Dragon," Peter, Paul and Mary Folk superstars Peter, Paul and Mary always maintained that this whimsical classic contained no drug references whatsoever, but come on. Maybe the lyrics do refer to a dragon rather than "draggin,'" and we suppose it could be merely coincidental that Puff's constant companion is named Paper. But without the imagined allusions to chiefin' trees, this song is just sort of... lame.
7. "Pearl Necklace," ZZ Top: "And that's not jewelry she's talkin' about." ZZ Top have never shied away from a good double entendre, and this classic cut off of El Loco is easily their naughtiest. Thanks to that little ol' band from Texas, pearl necklaces have been offered up as romantic gifts by frugal gentlemen since 1981.
6. "Big Ten Inch Record," Aerosmith: While it's easy to imagine Steven Tyler finding the phallic imagery in any object, this song is actually a cover of an old blues tune by Bull Moose Jackson. It's lucky for both men that this pointed little ditty was recorded in the vinyl era--Lord knows their ladyfriends might not have been nearly so enthusiastic about a big 4.7-inch CD or 1.4-inch MP3 flashdrive.
5. "Summer of '69," Bryan Adams: In the summer of 1969, Bryan Adams was 10 years old. Make of that what you will. Adams himself has conceded that the song's lyrics refer instead to the sex position that launched 1,000 Spencer Gifts posters, even though co-writer Jim Vallance claims no double meaning. This one definitely flew over our heads back in 1985, but maybe that was because the mental image of a square like Bryan Adams sixty-nining some lost teenage love was simply too unpalatable (we were five at the time).
4. "My Ding-a-Ling," Chuck Berry: It's a crime that this naughty little novelty was the only No. 1 hit of Chuck Berry's career, but its (ahem) staying power is undeniable. Upon its release in 1972, the song even caused a bit of a scandal: More than a few radio stations refused to play it, and British morality crusader Mary Whitehouse tried unsuccessfully to get "My Ding-a-Ling" banned in the U.K. Ding-a-ling, indeed.
3. "She Bop" by Cyndi Lauper: Cyndi Lauper proved that pop paens to the pleasures of self-love aren't restricted to the guys with this synthy hit from 1984. "She Bop" was innocent enough to receive widespread airplay, but dirty enough to make the PMRC's "Filthy Fifteen" the year after its release. We may have to grudgingly give the win to Tipper Gore on this one --"She Bop" seems to have mostly disappeared in the ensuing decades.
2. "Turning Japanese," the Vapors: "I sit there staring and there's nothing else to do," sang the Vapors' frontman David Fenton on the band's sole hit in 1980. Been there, Dave. If the song's lyrics are to be believed, Fenton must have developed quite the stroke if his solitary pleasures had him questioning his own ethnic identity. Never before (or since) has casual, inscrutable racism been quite so catchy.
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1. "The Stroke," Billy Squier: Speaking of strokes, no rocker has ever topped Billy Squier in that department. Or really even tried, we guess. On his first hit single, Squier advised a massive rock-radio audience to put their right hands out and give a firm hand shake back in 1981. To this day, the song remains rock and roll's most macho celebration of self-abuse set to wax.