Note the dates:
“16 Candles” was a celebration song about coming-of-age in the 50s, when teenagers were taking over the music market with their 45rpm record changers. My sister got one her 16th birthday in ’58, two years before she fell in love with a man named John F Kennedy. (It took her another 40 years to fall out of love with him, but that’s a story for another day.)
About “16 Candles”, don’t rely on Wikipedia, as they list three different release dates, as late as 1961, and it’s little trivia things like that that should give a hint as to just how inefficient (or incompetent or indifferent) Wikipedia is compared to ordinary encyclopedias, which are put together more professionally and fact-oriented. But Billboard records show that “16 Candles” hit the #2 spot in 1959, which sounds about right, as it was the first song I ever slow-danced to as a “new” teenager in the summer of my 13th year, celebrating my own entry-into teenager-hood. That was a big deal then, and one which didn’t involve either alcohol or drugs in those days.
I was raised in a coal town and that big brick building, just across the highway from that big brick store. It’s that big building in the lower right-hand corner, next to that long street coming down the hill. I lived almost at the top of that street, a two-minute walk. It had been the local movie theater for years, where I used to watch Saturday matinees for a quarter featuring Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Lash Larue with Flash Gordon and Commando Cody serials. It had been just been converted into a youth center.
Only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and later, Tuesdays, the age-limit was 12 to 18, and the hours were from 6 PM to 11 on weekends, and 10 PM on weekdays. With a much larger coal town (US Steel) up the creek, and a big business town (population over 5000) down the creek, our Youth Center had become the rockingest youth joint in this end of the county. The music was provided by a big jukebox that cost a dime or three plays for a quarter.
It was there I learned to fast dance thanks to a few older 8th grade girls who lived in that string of houses on the left side of the photo. I became pretty good at “jitterbugging” as we called it, having watched them dance on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” from Philadelphia.
(I’d be a college senior before I found out about Philly girls.) I already knew how to slow dance (we actually called it a “waltz” long before I found out it meant a very different kind of dance altogether, and had nothing to do with cheek-to-cheek), but I learned that from my sister. I’d never really tried it out.
So, it was sometime in 1959 when “16 Candles” first played on our jukebox that I walked over to a booth where sat Becky Hall and some other girls from Lynch, the coal town up the creek. She stood up and we walked to the floor, but, dammit all, she was close to a foot taller than me, and damned near put out my right eye when she snuggled real close to get cheek-to-cheek. So, instead of humming the tune into her ear I has humming into her shoulder. Sis never showed me any of that. Nor did sis wear those new-fangled bras, reinforced with steel, that jutted out like battering rams. (Boys called them “pencil tits”.)
Teaching point is, I’ll never forget “16 Candles”. And the next year, Johnny Burnette came out with yet another 16-year old theme, “You’re 16, You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine”, which also made it on the Billboard charts, and was kept alive another decade in England when Ringo Starr recorded it after the Beatles broke up.
“Age of consent” was never a thing a kid in my generation ever thought about, but clearly, 16 was the official age of consent in the teenage world of Rock n’ Roll.
Below, one of Elvis most memorable, the song really is “happy feet” at its best. There were several versions published over the years.
So tell me, can you tell me the over-and-under age of these girls? From 14 to 18?
The Law and the consensus Age of Consent are generally in agreement, as are most of the world’s religions, only they never pinned it down to a particular age.
But in every society there is an age that is too young.
In fact, it’s pretty fluid. On my way to ROTC summer camp on a bus in ’67, I sat next to another cadet, from Mississippi, who said he was engaged to a 12-year old girl back home, then, before I could get out a response,…”But we won’t be married until I get out of the Army.”…estimated time, 4-5 years. (There was a war on.) But he did say parents could consent to marriage in his state.
So, I looked it up, and just like having babies before Roe v Wade (1973) the several states (according to the 10th Amendment of the Constitution) were responsible for determining the Age of Consent…and sure enough, “16 Candles” was largely right. Of the 50 states, 33 set that age at 16. The other 17 states stretched it to 17 and 18, but also with a variety of exemptions. For instance girls under 16 could “go steady” with guys, and enjoy the connubial bliss of the backseat of Daddy’s Ford, so long as the guy was 19 or under. If he was 20 or older, jail. (If they got caught, or her name was Amber.)
Having “legal” sex and marriage are not the same thing. Before 1960, even in New York City, there weren’t armies of little bureaucrats in the school systems nosing around about who was dating who after school hours. High schools and middle schools were usually segregated in separate buildings. But in my high school in Kentucky in the 50’s, it was grades 1 through 12 under one roof. So I got to learn that some girls blossomed earlier than others, and while churches all proclaimed against sex before marriage, they could not rely on the law to keep younger girls from advertising…for whatever reason. We had in my school a girl named Dusty Favero, who had fully blossomed by 8th Grade (when I was in 10th), and wore that blossom with great daring, earning whispers and glares from upperclass females and gawks from guys. (Tight skirts were ‘in’ in 1960.) Since she never came to the Youth Center I never danced with her or even talked to her, still the whispers and ugly looks from the older girls said it all in the hallways at school.
And in truth, when I was an underage kid it was easier to buy beer than buy condoms, in part because the drug store guy always knew our dads and moms.
There were also shotgun marriages in those days, and while psychologists today insist that was a bad arrangement, I’ve known a couple that literally worked until death did them part.
I don’t have a particular point here, just food for thought. But who’s crawling into the backseat of some dad’s Ford is none of my business…unless Dad was renting it out, if you know what I mean.