Dec 04


Popular14 comments • 5,231 views

#165, 21st March 1964

It’s fair to say time hasn’t smiled on this record. The first verse sets up the singer as a dirty old man – keep the secret, don’t tell on me, etc. But then comes the twist – he’s a teenager trying to cop off with the children’s sister and just wants them out of the way. Well, okay, less promising material has been spun into gold – but even if the nudge-wink child molester stuff was just a bit of fun in the 60s, it sounds decidedly queasy now the gap between comedy pervert and national bogeyman has been narrowed.

If the Dakotas put in a great performance, of course, you might hardly notice the lyrics. But they don’t. “Little Children” lumbers grotesquely, an electric piano mixed unpleasantly high and telegraphing every poor joke while the seasick band rolls along. The intent, surely, was to make a charming record with all-ages appeal, but the clumsy execution turns this into an embarrassment.



  1. 1
    Terri on 20 Oct 2006 #

    Tom, you obviously listened to a later recording of “Little Children” WITHOUT the Dakotas, which I have heard and HATE! Your reference to the electric piano would confirm that as in the 1960s version, the piano was, I believe played on an upright piano…not high pitched, at all…very low, deep chords that sounded awesome. Also, the rhythym guitar in the original is absolutely unique and sounds great. Wish you had heard the original before you commented…it really was a great song.

  2. 2
    David Watson on 9 Nov 2006 #

    I loved this song. It was different and I didn’t really see overtly the dirty old man thing. I loved the chord pattern and production. Harmony, double tracked voice (keynote of the times). What can I say I really enjoy that and still play it from time to time.

  3. 3
    andypalm on 20 May 2007 #

    I was 7 when the original came out. I can still see Billy J in my mind’s eye on a black and white TV. The song was immensely popular, and, if you listen carefully, in a no-judgemental way, will see that it really is an innocent song.
    The chords structure is surprisingly simple yet highly effective.
    Terri, yes, it was an upright piano, quite popular at the time. Gerry and the Pacemakers had a similar line up.

  4. 4
    Doctor Casino on 27 Apr 2008 #

    It’s very clearly an upright piano, so I wonder if Tom did hear a later version. That said, I think most of his complaints apply equally to the hit version – the “seasick” band is still there, and the lyric remains totally unsettling to a present-day listener. I’m surprised this hasn’t been appropriated by Marilyn Manson or someone else whose audience appreciates milking spooky, creepy content out of pop miscellaney.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 21 Jul 2008 #

    TOTP Watch: This is the first number one for which a performance on the show survives. It comes from the edition transmitted on the 26th of February 1964. Also in the studio that week were The Dave Clark 5 (this clip also survived), Cilla Black, Eden Kane, Kathy Kirby, The Bachelors and The Merseybeats. The host was Jimmy Saville.

  6. 6
    Matthew on 12 Jan 2009 #

    Again, I enjoy this one, much as I enjoyed Mike Sarne’s cajoling – I think it’s terrible when 21st century cynicism and knowingness can get in the way of even attempting to enjoy what was certainly a totally innocent proposition at the time.

    I really like the idea that pre-teens might have wanted to buy/listen to this record, since it speaks directly to them instead of *just* horny teenagers for a change!

  7. 7
    wichita lineman on 12 Jan 2009 #

    ‘Totally unsettling’?? It’s a pretty common occurrence – two teenagers trying to cop off while younger siblings keep getting in the way. The ‘seasick’ backing perfectly suits Billy’s slightly overheated amorous intentions.

    I’m sure pop pickers knew exactly what was going on here, don’t think it was any more or less innocent than a 21st century teen tryst. I like the way some of the lines are left half-finished as the pesky kids interrupt the couple once again. Having said all that, Little Children’s a bit of a slog when compared to Billy’s sprightly 45s either side of it, I’ll Keep You Satisfied and the especially fresh sounding From A Window.

    Writer Mort Shuman went on to translate Jacques Brel’s work into English, lyrics which included more than the odd sly fumble and flash of knicker.

    A friend of mine recalls a teenage instance in which, while snogging his girlfriend when his parents were out, his little brother came in, whacked him in the groin and shouted “I’ll crack your stiffy!” This was, I should add, in Australia.

  8. 8
    Lena on 12 Jul 2011 #

    Meanwhile, in Manchester…http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/07/that-stunning-moment-hollies-just-one.html – merci for reading as always!

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 17 Mar 2015 #

    maybe if this was sped up bit and played more for laughs it might sound more like ‘I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus’ but as it is this lopes along drearily making you wonder what his girlfriend sees in him that he is so oppressed by her young siblings

  10. 10
    chrisew71 on 29 Mar 2018 #

    Glad that I’m not the only creeped out by this song. It takes so long to get to the point, it virtually dares the listener to not read something pervy into it.

    Even without that, a terrible song.

  11. 11
    Mark G on 3 Apr 2018 #

    A snapshot of the early sixties. It’s not perving on young kids – that sort of thing didn’t happen in those days. Well, it did obviously, but the prevailing mood was to pretend it didn’t so we could all pretend everything was lovely. Which meant, obviously, that the kids had no idea and were more vulnerable. And were not believed – I can recall millions of TV shows and films that would have the “pay no attention, the kids are making it up” about so many things – usually about how “Bonzo Can Talk” or “there’s a flood coming” or whatever, but the inference was there.

    Anyway, Billy.

    Back in these days, Billy J and the Daks were looked on as being the more mature option, compared to the Beatles and Gerry&thePacemakers. And in those days, the more mature option was commonly regarded as the better one – not for too much longer as we all know.

    And this song is a reflection about how there wasn’t much space for young people to get close – the living room being full of these little bros and sisters, and often enough cousins and ‘aunts/uncles that are younger than you are how about that?’ – Yep, I remember I was there..

    Eventually, we’d all become that exploitable feature – young people with disposable income – and there’d be more than plenty places to go.

    Unless the weather is rubbish. Obviously.

  12. 12
    Paulito on 9 Apr 2018 #

    I really don’t believe the ‘nudge-wink’ stuff is intended – that’s surely an interpolation from today’s less innocent times. Even allowing for the fact that child molestation wasn’t taken as seriously back then, it strikes me as far-fetched that a ‘matinee idol’-type balladeer from the Epstein stable would consciously riff on such a topic for an intended humorous effect. (Moreover, had that been the intention, I doubt he would have given the game away with that “I wish they would go away” ad lib as he leads into the second verse .) The song is clearly trying to charm the listener, rather than subject them to drawn-out innuendos on a theme that would have been considered puerile in any era.

    No, I think the lyricist was merely trying – in a half-arsed and ham-fisted manner – to inject some novelty into a mediocre song by creating a bit of ‘mystery’ as to why the singer has an issue with the titular chisellers. Unfortunately, to modern ears – and yes, presumably to some more worldly or smut-sensitive listeners of the time – it just sounds like the singer’s a paedo innit?

  13. 13
    enitharmon on 10 Apr 2018 #

    I believe I always saw this in terms of Robert Brown trying to get little brother William and his friends out of the way so he can spend some uninterrupted time with his latest girlfriend. At the time this first came out I was in thrall to the William books and never saw anything creepy there, more half a crown for a bag of sherbet lemons and an afternoon at the pictures.

    There were certainly a few paedophile predators about – this was when the Moors Murders were in full swing and Ray Morris was prowling the West Midlands, and we had regular warnings about accepting gifts or lifts from strangers. I can’t recall anybody making the link to the song. It was a more innocent time without the obsession with paedophiles lurking in every crevice. True, a lot of child abuse went unreported, or reported and not believed, but possibly the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

  14. 14
    Gareth Parker on 8 Jun 2021 #

    Fairly slight, but reasonably enjoyable in my opinion. 5/10.

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