The same week I planned to do a teenage rebellion round in my weekly quiz, this suggestion came in from the Lodgeman and it fits the bill perfectly. One of the reasons Rod Stewart has stuck around as long as he has is because he moves with the times and tries new things. In the late 70s he embraced the disco boom with Da Ya Think I’m Sexy and was rewarded with a chart-topping single. Now he looked towards the New Wave scene and this song was inspired by one of Rod’s favourite New Waves bands at the time.
Young Turks falls into a limited category of songs that don’t quite mention the whole title in the lyrics. There are hundreds of songs that don’t mention the title at all, but like Ken Boothe’s version of Everything I Own, he actually sings Anything I Own, Rod sings Young Hearts but not Young Turks. Why? Well the reason is not totally definitive. A young Turk is a slang term originating in an early 20th-century political party in Turkey. It’s used to describe a rebellious youth who acts in the opposite way of what is expected by society. I wonder if Matt Hancock or Dominic Cummings are reading this?! If Rod, or even the record company, were worried about offending young Turks, why call it that in the first place?
The song was co-written by Rod with Carmine Appice who he has had associations with since the 60s and joined Rod’s backing group in 1977 along with Kevin Savigar and Duane Hitchings. Savigar is a session keyboard player who has worked with Rod for many years as well as people like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Pat Benatar and Peter Frampton to name a few.
The song began with a pacey, pulsing synthesiser sound which was created by co-writer and synch keyboard player Duane Hitchings who said, “I started the idea because Devo was really big and one of my favourite groups and of course Rod did a great job! I got a bit of help with a nice instrumental line from Kevin Savigar also.” As for the lyrics, they were penned by Rod and tells the story of two young lovers, Billy and Patti who didn’t have much money but wanted to run away together to be free and do what they wanted to do. Appice told Songfacts, “Rod was always trying to be on the cutting edge at that time, so we did the drum machine stuff. Duane had just gotten a sequencer, so we started screwing around and came up with the chords and melodies and we presented it to Rod. This one was easy because he used the whole concept that we came up with. We just transferred it from the 8-track that Duane had going right onto the 24-track. We used the drum machine and everything. Once we gave Rod the music, he wrote the lyrics.”
The story starts with Billy leaving home with only a dollar in his pocket but a head full of dreams. Maybe they were more mature than the song gives them credit for as ‘Billy’ says, ‘We got but one shot at life, let’s take it while we’re still not afraid,’ quite a mature thing to say for a young heart. But, then there is a youthful immaturity to it as the next verse states, ‘Billy pierced his ears, drove a pickup like a lunatic.’
They spent many nights in bedsits and had time to think about what they were doing. Billy has an element of guilt for his girlfriend’s folks because we hear, ‘Billy wrote a letter back home to Patti’s parents tryin’ to explain, he said we’re both real sorry that it had to turn out this way, but there ain’t no point in talking when there’s nobody listening, so we just ran away.’
As expected, she falls pregnant and then, voila! ‘Patti gave birth to a 10-pound baby boy,’ but that is where the story ends really and the rest of the song refrains the chorus of, ‘Young hearts gotta run free, be free, live free, time is on, time is on your side.’
Young Turks was the second single from Rod’s 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours – the title track being the first. It peaked at number 11 in the UK, but it was the first video played on newly-launched MTV that contained breakdancing. It also featured 70s singer Linda Lewis on backing vocals.
Videos were a fairly new phenomenon in the early 80s and Rod has just turned 40. “The videos were cutting edge,” revealed Appice. Rod had top-of-the line people. When I first joined him, the first video we did was for Hot Legs, and that was a great video. It was played all over the world. For every album we did with Rod, we did two or three videos. There were a lot of stations that would play videos. There were video outlets in Australia and England. Top of The Pops would play the videos all the time.” In the Russell Mulcahy-directed video for Young Turks we see lots of kids dancing in the street and on car roof’s and bonnets in Los Angeles. Rod and his band are on stage and the part of Patti was played by the actress E.G. Daily whose real name is Elizabeth Ann Guttman who later went on to voice characters in Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls and, in 1994, provided the voice of Bamm-Bamm in the film version of The Flintstones. Billy was played by Dale Pauley whose only other known work was as the fat bloke in Olivia Newton-John’s video to physical.
There’s a good chance that The Weeknd was inspired by this song as it has a great similarity to his seven-week 2020 chart-topper Blinding Lights.