Most of us remember our youth fondly, and there was something magical about being 17— on the cusp of adulthood, but still with feet planted firmly in youth. We have urgent feelings of love and a wide-open future looming before us.
There are too many songs about being 17 to list them all, but we’ve put together a collection of some of the best ones.
“Dancing Queen” by ABBA
Song Year: 1976
Maybe this list’s first song should have “17” in the title. That’s fair. But is there anything more evocative of that year in all our lives than falling in love on the dance floor? No, there isn’t. Full stop.
The disco hi-hat drives the whole piece, and the dulcet voices of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad give the whole thing a nice, lilting feel that helps the listener feel the joy of the events in the song.
That the titular queen has the time of her life is the point. It’s subtle, but it’s there: life is great now, but things will get complicated, because that’s how it is.
“I Saw Her Standing There” by The Beatles
Song Year: 1963
Sir Paul wrote the bulk of this iconic song, The Beatles’ second single, and he included the line about the girl being 17 in a calculated effort to appeal to the group’s large contingent of younger female fans.
It worked, though perhaps not immediately. The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard charts in early 1964, but most of us know that things went on to work out pretty well for the four young Brits.
Fun fact— though the band recorded several takes of the song, the version that got released was the first take.
“17” by Avril Lavigne
Song Year: 2013
So many songs about lost love are wistful and melancholy. Avril Lavigne’s “17” is anything but. Like other tunes, the lyrics of “17” look back on the narrator’s life at that tender age, living life and feeling the first flush of love.
She wished she could go back to those days when things were simpler. The lyrics capture that late-teens feeling most of us had— the world is our oyster, we are invincible, and life will always be this joyful.
“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian
Song Year: 1975
As much fun as 17 was for many people, the teen years can be hard on some. Teenagers can be quite cruel. There’s a whole musical about just that.
Janis Ian’s 70s folk music vibe lends a sad resignation to the remembrances of a teenage outcast. She invents boyfriends and thinks of herself as an ugly duckling. The song has been one of Ian’s most enduring, but dang, it’s a downer.
“Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks
Song Year: 1982
Stevie Nicks wrote “Edge of Seventeen” in the throes of grief. One of her beloved uncles and John Lennon died within a week of each other, and the shift in her world was a seismic one.
The white-winged dove, according to Nicks, represents the soul leaving the body. The reference to seventeen in the title came from Nick misunderstanding something Tom Petty’s wife said to her, but she liked the phrase.
Perhaps the loss of innocence that often comes around that age relates to the brutal truth of death that Nicks had to face in December of 1980.
“Let’s Go” by The Cars
Song Year: 1979
The Cars may have had bigger hits than this one, from their second album, but there’s not a single tune that’s more Cars-ian than this one. It’s got it all— bounce and swagger, crunchy guitars, a synth line that sounded super cool then and now has a slight cheese factor to it (that’s not necessarily a bad thing), and hand claps.
The lyrics paint a nostalgic picture of the days when, in our late teens, we feel like there is no time, that life must be lived right this instant, and when we find the right girl or guy, we have to act on it immediately and get as much of their time as possible.
“It Was A Very Good Year” by Frank Sinatra
Song Year: 1965
Easily one of the most popular songs from Old Blue Eyes, “It Was a Very Good Year” only spends part of its lyrical budget on the narrator’s 17th year. But it’s a heart-tugging piece of music.
The lyrics look back over a man’s life as he nears its end, recalling specific times in his life, from living life as a small-town country boy to a civilized young man to a well-heeled adult. He fondly recalls those stages of his life and feels satisfaction as to just how fully he lived it.
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf
Song Year: 1977
When the first line talks about parking a car by the lake with no other cars around, you have some idea of what the song’s about. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” delivers.
As one of Meat Loaf’s signature epic songs (this one clocks in at more than eight minutes long), “Paradise” recounts a young couple anxious to engage in adult activities. The paradise that the narrator can see in the weak light of the car’s dashboard isn’t exactly subtle, but neither is any 17-year-old boy.
“Strawberry Wine” by Deana Carter
Song Year: 1996
As debut singles go, “Strawberry Wine” is a strong one. It went to number one for Deana Carter, and it became her signature song. It’s a bit treacly, but we all get a little maudlin when thinking back to the good old days and first loves.
The narrator’s melancholy is amplified near the song’s end when she returns to her old stomping grounds to find that it’s fallen prey to the ravages of time. Hey, Deana— it happens to the best of us.
“Carmen” by Lana Del Rey
Song Year: 2012
Songs about the loss of those simpler days when we were young can be sad. Songs about drug-addicted 17-year-old girls who might be prostitutes, judging from the lyrics, are quite a bit sadder.
“Carmen” occupies that second category and is one of the saddest songs about being 17. It paints a depressing picture of a debauched lifestyle and the deleterious effects it has on young Carmen.
“Sexy + 17” by The Stray Cats
Song Year: 1983
The retro vibe that embodied The Stray Cats is on full display in “Sexy + 17,” a song about cutting class to meet up with a girl. She’s, as you can probably guess, 17, and the narrator thinks she’s sexy. She also might have a little bit of a potty mouth.
In addition to skipping school to see her, the narrator also loves hanging out with her on Friday nights, listening to live music, and drinking 25-cent beers. The good old days, indeed.
“Seventeen” by Alessia Cara
Song Year: 2015
Pop wunderkind Alessia Cara wrote “Seventeen” when she was on the cusp of turning 18. It’s a rare instance of someone not longing for the days of youth and innocence long past, but rather knowing that this time in her life is a sweet one, but is ever fleeting.
She explicitly talks about wishing she could stop the march of time and stay the same age. She also recognizes the folly of her younger days, when all she wanted to do was be older.
It’s a sad song about the way so many of us spend so much time thinking that if we could only have this happen or get that job promotion or reach whatever milestone, then life will be perfect. It never is.
“This Year” by The Mountain Goats
Song Year: 2005
We all have tough years from time to time. The narrator in “This Year” recalls the difficulty of his seventeenth year at the hands of an abusive stepfather. To cope, he drinks to excess, uses drugs, and wills himself to make it to the end of that year. Presumably, at 18, he’ll be free of his tormentor.
While many songs about that time in our lives are sweet, loving, and filled with only good memories, this one is a far cry from that.
“Seventeen Forever” by Metro Station
Song Year: 2008
A pretty big hit for Metro Station, “Seventeen Forever” is pretty creepy. The narrator sings to a young girl that she won’t always be seventeen, and the context isn’t that someday she’ll grow up to be a happy, healthy adult. Instead, he’s desperately waiting for her 18th birthday.
But then, as if upon further reflection, he decides that maybe he can get away with it just this once. It’s probably just a story and not an autobiographical confession of skeezy behavior, but yikes.
“Born In Chicago” by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band
Song Year: 1965
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was a true giant in the world of the blues. These days, most blues bands play more blues-infused music than actual blues. Not these guys.
Using a standard 12-bar blues chord progression, the song weaves a sad tale of a violent upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks in Chicago. But it’s also about the passage of time.
The friends the narrator loses to gun violence throughout the song begin to fall away from memory, making the events even sadder.
“Tree by the River” by Iron & Wine
Song Year: 2011
The rare song that recognizes both the value of the days of youth and the comforts of the present, “Tree by the River” lovingly recalls time spent with a first love. The narrator, though, doesn’t wish for those days to return.
Instead, he remains happy for the experience, but he’s also quite happy with the life he’s gone on to lead as an adult. He’s spending it with a different love, and they’ve built a happy family together.
He doesn’t wish for that old life, but he’s curious about what that first love of his is up to today.
“Seventeen” by Stone Cold Fox
Song Year: 2014
“Seventeen” tells of a man who’s lost the woman he loves and spends his time thinking back to those days before adulthood when he had her. He’s certain that no matter who she’s gone on to be with, they can’t love her as he did.
When he was seventeen, the narrator says, he was happy. Now he wanders the streets looking for a new love, but they all pale in comparison to the one he’s lost.
“The Rock Show” by Blink-182
Song Year: 2001
Blink-182’s music has always had a joyous, wreckless feel to it, and what two adjectives better describe our lives at 17?
“The Rock Show” tells the story of a kid who goes to, well, a rock show and falls in love there. Most of us have one of those stories when we were young and impulsive and saw who we thought was The One.
The narrator lost her, but he holds tight to a great memory.
“17” – Kings Of Leon
Song Year: 2008
Admittedly, many of Kings of Leon’s lyrics are mercurial at best. But “17” refers to a 17-year-old Spanish girl who seems wise beyond her years. The narrator has encountered her and presumably fallen for her.
The reference to a bloody mary for breakfast tells us the woman, though young, has enough experience with alcohol to know a good hangover cure. There are also repeated references to brothers, so perhaps the narrator loves her despite her family’s disapproval.
“He’s Seventeen” by The Supremes
Song Year: 1962
The B-side to 1962’s “Your Heart Belongs to Me” is an embodiment of the youth, innocence, and ebullience of early Motown music. The Supremes sing about loving the boy, who’s only a year older than the narrator.
The number of 16-year-olds who know what love is might be small, but maybe it happens. It’s a sweet song that will make all but the sourest listener smile.
“White Teeth Teens” by Lorde
Song Year: 2013
When David Bowie calls you “the future of music,” you’re probably onto something. New Zealander Lorde does, indeed have something. For one thing, she’s got a gift for language, writing lyrics that paint nuanced pictures in novel ways.
“White Teeth Teens” follows that model, decrying the appearance vs. reality discrepancy of life in the time of Instagram. The teens with white teeth present a curated image to the world and lose sight of reality. They become obsessed with their imperfections and struggle to hide them from the world. In the end, they lose themselves.
“Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl” by Broken Social Scene
Song Year: 2002
The 17-year-old girl in this song is one to whom the younger narrator looked up. The lyrics tell of the passage of time and how it changes us and those around us— physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It’s a sad song full of longing and bittersweet memories. And a lot of repetition.
“Damn You Seventeen” by Lady A
Song Year: 2014
A reference to a Def Leppard song may not scream 17 to some people, but to others, it’s a direct shot to the memory banks. This is another song about the fleeting nature of youth. But it’s also about the loss of innocence and the good old days.
The title seems to say that the narrator wishes she’d never experienced the age of 17. Since she did, she’s fully aware of what she’s missing and what she’s lost.
“Damn You Seventeen” isn’t a song about the most well-adjusted adult in the world, but most of us can relate to the sentiment, at least a little.
“Seventeen Ain’t So Sweet” by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
Song Year: 2006
The lyrics of “Seventeen Ain’t So Sweet” evoke the It Gets Better campaign. The girl to whom the narrator sings isn’t dealing with coming out of the closet, but there’s still a whole vibe to the song regarding how life won’t always suck.
Let’s face it, for all the nostalgia and longing for youth, the teen years are tough for everyone, though they’re harder for some than others.
“17 Again” by Eurythmics
Song Year: 2000
One of Eurythmics’ most personal and autobiographical songs, “17 Again” finds Annie Lennox reminiscing about her time with bandmate Dave Stewart. Though in 2000, the group was far from hanging up their musical cleats, they’d still been around long enough to look back wistfully on a full career.
At the song’s end, Lennox sings a snippet from “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” the group’s signature song and a nice, nostalgic touch.
“Seventeen” by Tim McGraw
Song Year: 1999
When it comes to heartfelt songs, Tim McGraw stands out. “Seventeen” continues that tradition. While it’s yet another song about how life was simpler, better, more fun, whatever way back then, McGraw sings lyrics that capture it with less of a morose tone than some others.
The idea that you’re only 17 permeates the song, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of wishing to go back to those days. After all, when McGraw was 17, he wasn’t rich and married to a beautiful woman.
“Seventeen” by Winger
Song Year: 1988
Kip Winger was the lead singer and bassist for Winger when “Seventeen” hit the charts. It’s a deceptively complicated song, musically, much more than mindless rock dreck.
It was a hit, driven not in small part by the singer’s good looks and the soft-core vibes he gives off in the video. He speaks of meeting a girl who says she’s 17.
All that said, the song is infectious and more fun than it should be.
Best Songs About Being 17, Final Thoughts
Not all the songs about being 17 are fun, happy, or even remember it all that fondly, but nearly everyone can find something to relate to in these songs about that formative time in our lives. But did we leave out your favorite one? Let us know.