Now here’s one song about which I’m not exactly thrilled to write about. I figured I’d come across one of these hit songs eventually – the types of traditional pop long songs that were the absolute rage among young listeners, but now come off as an embarrassingly dated relic of the pre-Beatles era. And yes, it’s true that pop songs of the 50s and early 60s aren’t the only ones that are vulnerable to this aging process. Just take a listen to “Babe” or even “A Whole New World”, both slow, romantic ballads with elements of its sound that so blatantly mark it as part of its era. I would argue, though, that “Go Away Little Girl” is something a bit more… revolting.
I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself though. Let’s offer a tiny bit of background. “Go away Little Girl” comes from the songwriting duo of Goffin & King – that is, Gerry Goffin and Carole King. If you aren’t familiar with the relevancy of those names, you should be: they are the partnership who brought us many legendary hits of this period, including The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, Bobby Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby”, Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion”, Skeeter Davis’s “I Can’t Stay Mad At You”, and The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day”. Together, they had a real knack for crafting some of the most quintessentially teenager-like songs of their time, both in sound and in lyrics. In my opinion, they are especially great at crafting a sense of naive innocence that often accompanies teens and young adults entering in a whirlwind relationship, this especially notable in the fatalistic lyrics of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and the tragic irony of “Take Good Care of My Baby”.
Unfortunately, the tunnel vision so connected to the coming-of-age experience isn’t always so cute as these examples. “I Can’t Stay Mad At You” (which went to #7 in the US) details a relationship that seems one-sided at best, abusive at worst – yet the speaker insists that her love for her troublesome mate will prevail and make everything better. It’s true that every relationship has its ups and downs, and it’s natural that music and other media to depict countless variations of life. Nonetheless, it’s doubtful that many of the young listeners who entertain themselves with songs with this message (and believe me, Davis’s song does not exist in a vacuum at all) are thinking very critically about how this could be a reflection of some very real ideas and opinions about how these things should be done.
In particular, many of these songs about young romance tend to deprive girls and women in the narrative of any true autonomy – which is where “Go Away Little Girl” comes into play. The story is a simple one: the speaker in the song is insisting that a young woman leave him alone, because he “belongs to somebody else and must be true”. Amidst a lone marching piano and a few whistles here and there, singer Steve Lawrence implies that if he were to be unfaithful to his partner, it would be entirely her fault. There doesn’t even seem to be any indication that the other woman is even flirting with him – not that there would be much to tease out of the single verse and insistent repetition of the song’s title. There are just a few mentions of how “her lips are sweet” and “it’s hurting me more each minute that you delay”.
I hate this song partially for the utter lack of responsibility that the speaker seems to have in this situation – as if it’s her fault that she is “hard to resist” and it’s on her to ensure that he doesn’t “beg her to say”. Additionally, I also hate it because of its utterly patronizing tone, especially with the consistent referrals to her as “little girl”. Many have commonly misinterpreted this as a love song toward an actual minor, but I really don’t think it’s that egregious. “Little girl” is a term of endearment more commonly used by men of this era, in an attempt to woo (adult) women while still maintaining a sense of superiority in the partnership. Maybe this would have been adorable back in early 1963 (when it went to #1 for two weeks), but its dated nature comes off really, really awkward now.
But even if all of these troublesome qualities weren’t all that bad, there’s no denying that Lawrence himself isn’t very enthusiastic of a performer. The tone of his voice is awfully flat, even on the higher notes, and the clockwork-like tempo and rhythm doesn’t help things. It’s a real bore of a song when you don’t listen to the lyrics, and awfully loathsome when you do. Nonetheless, the song did somehow manage to make it to the top spot for a second time in the following decade, this time performed by Donny Osmond. So writing about that one should be a real blast, yes…