Sixteen is a strange age. It’s a period when you feel like both an adult and a child at the same time. No wonder it has been memorialized in tracks by artists through the decades. Here are 25 songs about being 16:
1. Sweet Sixteen — Billy Idol
Sweet Sixteen is a memoir of not one but two teenage relationships. The song was inspired by the story of Coral Castle builder Edward Leedskalnin, who dedicated the castle to his ex-fiancee, Agnes Skuvst. Billy Idol compared the castle to his song, which he wrote in honor of his then-girlfriend, Perri Lister.
2. Sixteen — Thomas Rhett
Sixteen is a look back on being a teenager and thinking that turning 16 was the pinnacle of maturity. As time goes on, however, the singer just wants to be 18, then 21. Finally, now in his mid-20s, he looks back on all the things he wanted as a teenager and laughs at them. Because let’s be honest, who in their right mind actually wants to be 16 ever again?
3. I’m Sixteen — Dolly Parton
The Queen of Country is far older than 16, but this sweet love song isn’t about pretending you don’t age. Instead, it is all about how being with the person you love can make you feel like you’re young and wild. It is particularly sweet when you consider that Dolly Parton has been with her husband Carl Thomas Dean since she herself was a teenager—though not quite since she was 16.
4. Only Sixteen — Craig Douglas
Only Sixteen is a reflection back on a teenage relationship that went awry. The two teenagers thought they were mature enough for a serious relationship, but they were too young and naive to know what love really was. Most of us probably have similar stories about teenage love affairs that got too serious, too fast. The song topped the UK charts through 1959 and became one of Craig Douglas’ signature songs.
5. Sixteen Going On Seventeen — from The Sound of Music
It’s impossible to ignore the classic song Sixteen Going On Seventeen from The Sound of Music. Most of us grew up listening to Charmian Carr sing about growing up while dancing around a gazebo in the rain. Unfortunately, the track highlights the problem with being sixteen: Liesl Von Trapp thinks that she’s mature for her age, but in reality, she’s getting too far in over her head with a dangerous boy.
6. Sixteen Blue — The Replacements
Sixteen Blue is about the uncertainty of the teenage years. Though being 16 is often portrayed as a fun, carefree age, it can also be a time of turmoil for many people. You are questioning everything you ever knew as you stand between childhood and adulthood—your parents, your sexuality, your own beliefs, and even your identity. The lyrics also mention the odd limbo of wishing you had independence but not quite being there yet.
7. You’re Sixteen You’re Beautiful (And You’re Mine) — Ringo Starr
Ringo Starr was 33 when he released his cover of You’re Sixteen You’re Beautiful (And You’re Mine) in 1973, making it a song that modern audiences find a bit creepy rather than sweet. The original version was recorded in 1960 by Johnny Burnette at the age of 26. While it hasn’t exactly aged well, Starr’s version hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 back in the 1970s. It’s sweet if you imagine it being sung by a teenage admirer rather than someone more than twice the girl’s age.
8. Just Sixteen — Velvet Revolver
Velvet Revolver’s Just Sixteen is anything but a carefree song. Instead, the track is about a 16-year-old student engaged in an affair with their teacher. The relationship goes on for a while before they are caught; in court, the student says that it was mutually desired. However, some of the lyrics seem to hint that they knew that it was wrong and that the teacher was taking advantage of their youth.
9. It Hurts To Be 16 — Andrea Carroll
All the way back in 1963, Andrea Carroll was singing about how difficult it was to be 16. It seems like you’re not quite a child or an adult yet. As the lyrics point out: “…I’m much too old to cry, But still too young to find out why… They say that, You’re too old for toys, But still you’re much, Too young for boys.” As it turns out, some experiences are universal no matter how much time goes by.
10. Sweet Sixteen — Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child released Sweet Sixteen in 1999 when most of the members themselves were still teenagers. The song is all about being a teen and thinking that you’re mature enough to act like an adult, then realizing you’re in over your head. Unfortunately for Jackie, the subject of the track, things happened a bit too fast for her to slow down and enjoy her childhood. The song serves as a warning to other teens not to grow up too quickly.
11. Jack & Diane — John Mellencamp
Jack & Diane was recorded back in 1982, but it still seems to be on the radio all the time. On the surface, this song is about a teenage relationship. But the deeper meaning is that it is about how most people never achieve the goals that they dream of when they are young and idealistic; therefore, they spend their lives wishing they could go back to how they felt as a teenager.
12. A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More “Touch Me” — Fall Out Boy
Leave it to Fall Out Boy to write a song with a title like this. The track seems to be about a typical teenage relationship that falters when the singer hesitates too long to make his move. However, the music video took things in a slightly different direction, involving a storyline about vampires hunting Pete Wentz. We’ll leave it up to you to parse through the real meaning.
13. When You Were Sweet Sixteen — The Fureys
The Fureys made waves with this song during the 1980s, but the tune was actually nearly a century old by then. When You Were Sweet Sixteen was originally composed in 1898, with the singer expressing how he still loved his wife as he had when she was a teenager. The track has been covered countless times since then.
14. Sixteen — Ellie Goulding
British pop star Ellie Goulding was being highly personal when she released Sixteen, an ode to the chaos of adolescence. Her music video even features photos of herself and her friends during their teen years.
15. 16 Candles — The Crests
Long before the 1980s movie of the same name, 16 Candles was a doo-wop song, released in 1958. The track is a sweet and simple ode to a “teenage queen” celebrating her birthday. It seems to be written from the perspective of a significant other, though the lyrics are fairly ambiguous.
16. Sixteen — No Doubt
No Doubt’s Sixteen is the peak of teen angst, describing how the age is one of the most frustrating times of life. You are neither a child nor an adult, and you don’t really feel like you belong to either group. It’s no wonder that so many teens rebel when they feel so frustrated.
17. Sweet Sixteen — Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff released Sweet Sixteen in 2003 when she herself was 16. The song perfectly encapsulates the bubbly, upbeat feel of pop music in the early 2000s and shows why she was a pop culture sweetheart during that era.
18. 16 @ War — Karina
Sadly, not everyone gets the opportunity to enjoy their teenage years. Karina’s 16 @ War is about a teen girl growing up in troubled circumstances. She comes from a broken home experiencing poverty and hardship; outside her home, it seems like everyone is pressuring her to partake in drugs, fight with other girls, or give in to sexual advances from teenage boys. Sadly, some of these experiences are common for teens around the world.
19. Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen — Neil Sedaka
Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen was written as a prequel to Andrea Carroll’s It Hurts To Be Sixteen. The song is about a boy wishing a childhood friend happy birthday and reflecting back on growing up together; now that they are both teens, he is surprised to find himself developing feelings for her.
20. Sweet Little Sixteen — Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen wasn’t just a chart topper when it was released in 1958; it has also been named one of the best songs of all time. The track is about a teenage pop star dividing her life between the stage and being a regular schoolgirl.
21. 16 Forever — The Nomads
Losing someone at a young age can affect the rest of your life. But many people who have lost loved ones before their time say that it comforts them to know that they will never grow old. The track 16 Forever is about always thinking of a late girl as she was when she died, only 16.
22. You’ll Never Be Sixteen Again — Roy Orbison
Remember your first heartbreak and how it felt like you would never feel better? In You’ll Never Be Sixteen Again, Roy Orbison offers the perspective that those teenage heartaches aren’t as world-ending as they feel at the time; 16-year-olds still have their whole lives ahead of them.
23. Sixteen Again — Buzzcocks
What would you do if you woke up and you were 16 again? The song is a reflection back on being 16 and thinking about how different life was at the time. Some people wish they could go back and make their choices over again with the knowledge they have now.
24. Sixteen Candles — The Jackson 5
Sixteen Candles was one of The Jackson 5’s biggest hits of the early 1970s. This simple birthday song is made perfectly sweet by their five-part harmony;
25. Always Sixteen — Billy Ray Cyrus
In Always Sixteen, Billy Ray Cyrus sings about how to keep the spark alive in a relationship. The trick, he says, is to always act like you did when you were first together; no matter how old you get, remember that your love is only 16 years old.
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