Retro Top Ten Chart 1968: Million seller “Young Girl” lyrics have not stood the test of time

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap on the cover of "Young Girl".

1 Young GirlThe Union Gap

2 A Man Without Love Engelbert Humperdinck

3 Honey Bobby Goldsboro

4 Lazy Sunday The Small Faces

5 What A Wonderful World/Cabaret Louis Armstrong

6 I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die The Herd

7 Simon Says 1910 Fruitgum Company

8 Can’t Take My Eyes Off You Andy Williams

9 Rainbow Valley The Love Affair

10 White Horses Jacky

It’s 55 years since American singer Gary Puckett and the Union Gap climbed to number one in the UK charts with “Young Girl”, a million-selling hit written by the band’s producer Jerry Fuller.

The recording features instrumental backing from members of The Wrecking Crew, the loose collective of talented Los Angeles-based session musicians whose services were used on a large number of hits in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the end of 1968, “Young Girl” was the fifth-biggest selling song of the year in the UK (ahead of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”) and the 15th best selling single of 1968 across the Atlantic on the Billboard chart in the US.

As well as reaching number one in the UK, the song also topped the charts in Ireland, Canada and New Zealand. It had a three-week run at No. 2 in the Billboard Hot 100, stuck behind Otis Redding’s majestic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”. Re-released in 1974 as part of a CBS “Hall of Fame Hits” series, “Young Girl” enjoyed a second UK Top Ten chart run, peaking at number six.

Five decades from its release, the single can still be heard on the airwaves, but some outlets will not play it. Sung from the standpoint of a man who has come to learn that the object of his affections - a nameless “young girl” - is under the age of consent, its lyrics are not considered acceptable in modern society.

They are “a relic of a disturbing past” according to Aphoristic Album Reviews in a list of “The 10 Worst Songs of the 1960s”. Similarly, in a list of “10 songs that just aren’t OK any more”, NME’s Jordan Bassett says: “It was never OK, but post-Yewtree, the song now sounds apocalyptically bad”. NME cites the song’s worst lyric as: “You led me to believe you’re not old enough/ To give me love/ And now it hurts to know the truth”.

Singer Gary Puckett has commented on the controversy in interviews. In 2020 he told Rich Monetti on Vocal Media’s Beat: “The only controversy, in my opinion, is people like to find the underbelly of things before they look on the positive side. So if you look at the lyrics and dissect it, the guy is really saying, you said you were old enough to give me love. Now I realise, I find out the truth so you need to go away. But people like to think”.

From 1967 to ‘69, the Union Gap had five top ten singles in the US charts. After “Young Girl”, they scored one more top ten hit in the UK (“Lady Willpower”) but the next single did not make the top 40. By 1970 the hits were drying up for the band and Puckett had started to record as a solo act, but with limited success.

Over the years he has become a regular on the ‘oldies’ circuit, with his current line-up sometimes billed as The Union Gap.