In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
It’s not necessarily creepy. But it’s creepy enough. The idea of “Go Away Little Girl” is that the guy singing the song can’t stand to be alone with one particular girl because he’s afraid he can’t control himself around her. He doesn’t want to cheat on his significant other, and so he tells this other girl to just leave. That Mike Pence-esque refusal to simply be in a room with another woman, combined with the patronizing phrase “little girl” — which, to be fair, was pretty common in the pop songs of the era — makes “Go Away Little Girl” into a sort of accidental ode to toxic masculinity.
It would be one thing if “Go Away Little Girl” was a good song. It’s not. The team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King, the married couple responsible for so many of the era’s biggest hits, wrote “Go Away Little Girl” for Bobby Vee. Vee’s version of the song is a boring whitebread plod, but he at least sells the song, and he sounds enough like a teenager that it’s not wholly offputting. But the version of the song that hit #1 came from Steve Lawrence, an easy-listening singer and occasional actor who usually performed with his wife Eydie Gormé. And Lawrence’s version is way worse.
Lawrence sounds like a grown man on “Go Away Little Girl,” which adds a whole new ooky layer to the song. You can also hear him smiling all through, which makes it pretty obvious that he does not want the little girl to go away. It’s not a song about self-torture and trying to do the right thing. It’s Lawrence flirting. And it’s Lawrence flirting over plinky-plonk pianos and strings that I can only describe as whiny. It’s a fucking travesty. There’s not a single good thing about it — musically, lyrically, or culturally.
And yet the song endured. Donny Osmond, who at least had the common decency to be a child when he was recording it, took another version of the song to #1 in 1971, making it the first of only nine songs to hit #1 twice. That never should’ve happened. The song should’ve taken its own advice and gone away.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Lawrence singing the vocal version of the theme to the sitcom Bewitched: