18 Best Songs about Growing Up and Coming of Age

Growing up is a natural part of life. It happens in nature (the birds fly the nest) and it happens with us humans too.

It’s not without its challenges, though.

For the adolescent, it’s exhilarating. But challenging as well. For the parent (and I speak as one), it’s hard letting go.

The good news? As it’s such a big moment in life, there are some fantastic songs that deal with the subject.

So here’s our favorite songs about growing up. In this playlist, you’ll hear what the best musicians had to say about the subject, from the brilliant Joni Mitchell to ELO’s Jeff Lynne, to The Smiths.

‘When I Was A Boy’ by Jeff Lynne’s ELO

Jeff Lynne has been there and done it all.

He’s not only the songwriter and frontman for one of the longest-running and most respected bands of the last 50 years (ELO), but he’s also a superb producer, a one-time member of the Traveling Wilburys, and a very humble, down-to-earth ‘Brummie’ (the colloquial name given to people from Birmingham, England).

This autobiographical song from their recent Alone in the Universe album crept out without too much fanfare, but boy is it an absolute gem of a track.

The piano intro is reminiscent of Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, and the drums when they come in, sound very Ringo Starr. That only adds to the brilliance of the song though, as both those sounds are agreeable.

Lynne plays all the instruments on the track, except shaker and tambourine (we’ll let him off for not playing those).

‘When You’re Young’ by The Jam

‘When You’re Young’ was The Jam’s eighth single and is widely considered one of their best songs. It appears on various greatest hits albums.

As the singer and songwriter, Paul Weller wrote a lot about growing up disillusioned. Here he sings a cautionary tale about being led on by what society tells you when you’re young and the reality you find when you come of age.

Like many a youth, the protagonist here “can’t wait to be grown up” and looks forward to “acceptance into the capital world.” The future looks bright!

The reality, however, doesn’t pan out. “You find out life isn’t like that” when you’re fully grown. They smash your dreams and “let you think you’re king, but you’re really a pawn.”

The Jam were a “mod revivalist” band and played a heady mix of high energy punk mixed with the sound of ’60s mod bands like The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks.

‘Wake Up’ by Arcade Fire

Another ‘wake-up call’ here from the multi-talented Canadian outfit, Arcade Fire.

This anthemic song is about the moment when some of us realize, later in life, that the life you experienced as a child was not all it seemed: “Now that I’m older / My heart’s colder / And I can see that it’s a lie.”

This song is – unsurprisingly – often played as an encore at their shows.

Here’s a version with David Bowie from 2005. It’s a superb, crowd-rousing version and sadly one of the last times Bowie appeared onstage.

Arcade Fire like to keep it in the family. They’re made up of husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, as well as Win’s younger brother William Butler. Butler’s grandfather was distinguished jazz guitarist and innovator, Alvino Rey.

‘In My Life’ by The Beatles

‘In My Life’ is an autobiographical song written largely by John Lennon (though there is some debate about McCartney’s involvement in its making). Lennon called it “a little piece of artwork” and both he and Paul McCartney called this one of the best Beatles songs.

The lyrics are a moving message to a lover (or friend) that he will love this person more than any “friend or lover” in his life. “In my life, I love you more.”

The piano bit in the middle was played by George Martin on the piano, and sped up to make it sound like a harpsichord. Lennon had asked him to play something “baroque.”

In a survey conducted by Mojo magazine in 2000, a panel of songwriters including Brian Wilson and Carole King named this song the finest song of all time. The song was also played at Kurt Cobain’s funeral who had cited Lennon as his idol.

‘The Circle Game’ by Joni Mitchell 

From Mitchell’s superb Ladies Of The Canyon album (1970), ‘The Circle Game’ is a tale about a child’s journey from childhood to maturity.

The lyrics chart a boy’s life as he grows up (at ages 10, 16, and 20). There’s a touch of sadness (“we’re captive on the carousel of time”), a touch of realism (“his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true”) but also optimism for the future (“there’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty”).

Mitchell uses a carousel as a metaphor for the passing of time (“the painted ponies go up and down”), underlining how we may look back, but we can’t turn back time.

Backup vocalists are billed as ‘The Lookout Mountain United Downstairs Choir,’ Mitchell’s amusing moniker for David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash.

Related: more songs about circles

‘Castle on the Hill’ by Ed Sheeran

For many, leaving your hometown is a big part of growing up. However, when you return, you see things through different eyes.

‘Castle on the Hill’ is a classic coming home song. Ed Sheeran has been away, found fame and fortune, but now “can’t wait to go home” to spend time with his brethren (he grew up in the English countryside town of Framlingham, Suffolk).

In a Radio 1 interview, He said: “This is a love song for Suffolk because I don’t think anyone has ever done that.”

Ed Sheeran struggles to relax when he’s not on stage. “Before I was a musician, my downtime was music so now I’m like, ‘What do I do with my time off?'” he told magazine Teen Vogue.

‘Bros’ by Wolf Alice

Another part of growing up is losing (or seeing less of) childhood friends.

In this superb friends song, Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell reminisces about her steadfast friendship: “there’s there’s no one, there’s no one quite like you.” It’s really a song about growing apart.

But times changed, and Rowsell moved on. While they stay in touch, she admitted, “I miss the intensity of our friendship, our female friendship” in an interview for the New Statesman.

Wolf Alice’s second studio album, Visions of a Life, garnered a heap of praise from music publications and won them the 2018 Mercury Prize.

‘True Faith’ by New Order

A dance-rock classic here, ‘True Faith’ was a standout tune back in 1987.

The consensus is that the song is about substance abuse (frontman and co-writer Bernard Sumner admits in an interview with Q magazine in 1999).

However, it’s also a song about growing up and looking back “to the childhood I lost, replaced by fear.”

Philippe Decouflé directed and choreographed the excellent video, which begins with two guys slapping each other in time to the music (a reference to Marina Abramovi and Ulay’s 1977 video performance ‘Light/ Dark’).

‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham

No list of songs about growing up would be complete without ‘7 Years’, despite it only being released in 2015.

While the song is about growing up – starting at age 7 through to age 60 – it’s also a song about family love, specifically being a good father.

He hopes his “children come and visit, once or twice a month.”

The song has over 1 billion views on YouTube!

‘I Don’t Want to Grow Up’ by Tom Waits

Why should we aspire to be ‘a grown up’, anyway?

That’s the gist of this brilliant non-conformist Tom Waits song from his equally brilliant (and little known) Bone Machine album of 1992.

According to Waits, it “seems like folks turn into things they they’d never want.” He doesn’t want to “put no money down / get a big loan / work them fingers to the bone.”

It “makes me wish that I could be a dog.” Gotta love that line!

Note: The only thing about this song is the first minute is pretty insane. Hang in there; from the one-minute mark, the song is great.

The bonkers video with Waits riding around on a kids bike is by the marvellous director Jim Jarmusch.

‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ by The Smiths

There comes a time in many of our lives when the place we call ‘home’ doesn’t feel much like home anymore. An over-controlling parent (or, like in my case, an absent father) makes you want to get away from it all.

The lyrics from wordsmith Morrissey here talk to that: “I never never want to go home / Because I haven’t got one / Anymore.”

Countless songs cover the topic of feeling estranged from home. One surprising example is Pat Benetar’s ‘Love is a Battlefield,’ which is another great song about the pains of growing up (we include it in our fighting songs playlist).

Side note: I never thought I’d get to include The Smiths and Pat Benatar in the same breathe!

At their mercurial best, even the band were impressed when they heard it back in the studio. According to an interview with Marr in the NME in 2011, if you listen carefully you can hear him saying “That was amazing” at the end.

‘Disco 2000’ by Pulp

Do you know another massive part of growing up? Maybe the biggest part? It’s getting your first crush on someone. Your ‘first love.’

In this song by Pulp, singer Jarvis Cocker propositions his childhood sweetheart ‘Deborah’ to “meet up in the year 2000” (the song was released in ’95).

He ‘fancied’ her in his youth, but she never entertained his advances. Well, how about now, he wonders?!

She’s married with kids, but that doesn’t matter, “you can even bring your baby,” Cocker amusingly adds.

An autobiographical song, Cocker said in a BBC 6 Music interview that “the only bit that isn’t true is the woodchip wallpaper”.

‘1979’ by The Smashing Pumpkins

Most songs about growing up are about the (often painful and confusing) transition out of youth and into adulthood. Say goodbye to relying on your parents for everything, and say hello to ‘responsibilities.’ Oh God no!

“June bug skipping like a stone / With the headlights pointed at the dawn / We were sure we’d never see an end to it all”

The ‘smashing’ in the band name is meant as an adjective (as in ‘wonderful’) and doesn’t mean to smash apart.

‘Forever Young’ by Rod Stewart

If you’ve raised kids, songs like ‘Forever Young’ take us on a trip down our own ‘personal memory lanes.’ It’s a heartfelt song about taking stock of your kids while they’re young, cos they won’t be there forever.

In the sweet video, we see Stewart singing to one of his kids (played by Alex Zuckerman) with scenes of rural America rolling by in the background.

The song title and structure owes a lot of Dylan’s song of the same name. So much that the royalties from the song are shared between the two of them.

‘There Goes My Life’ by Kenny Chesney

There is a great little story here about a guy who gets his teenage girlfriend pregnant and thinks his life is over (“there goes my life”).

The song tracks the man’s life, all the way from his daughter’s birth to her leaving home for college. By the end of it, his daughter has become his life, and the “there goes my life” feeling happens all over again.

It’s a great piece of songwriting that really tugs on the heartstrings.

The song was #1 on the US Country charts for seven consecutive weeks, making it one of the most popular country songs of recent years.

‘Time’ by Pink Floyd

You wouldn’t immediately think of ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd as a coming-of-age song, but it so is. wasting

It’s a song about time passing too quickly and not realising it until it’s too late. So you waste time “waiting for something or someone to show you the way.”

But don’t. Before you know it, “the time is gone, the song is over.” So make the most of your life, NOW!

The cacophony of clocks chiming at the beginning was recorded by engineer Alan Parsons, who went on a tour of antique shops and recorded each seperately (then blended them together in the studio).

‘Growin’ Up’ by Bruce Springsteen

School is tough for a lot of kids, and that includes a young Bruce Springsteen.

Here’s a song about adolescence from the brilliant songwriter. It appears he had an issue with authority figures: “when they said, “Sit down”, I stood up”!

Springsteen also appears to do a bit of a Dylan impersonation 🙂

Plenty of people have covered this song, from David Bowie to Eddie Vedder.

‘Sugar Mountain’ by Neil Young

Written by Young on his 19th birthday, this is a song about growing up and lamenting lost youth. Suddenly you’re too old to do the things you did as a teenager. Now, what you’re gonna do?

“You can’t be twenty on sugar mountain, though you’re thinking that you’re leaving there too soon.”

The song inspired Joni Mitchell (a friend of Youngs) to write ‘The Circle Game’ that’s also on this list. She’s on record as saying she wrote this song “for him and for myself, to just sort of give me some hope”.

More songs about growing up

  • ‘Best Day of My Life’ by George Strait
  • ‘Stop This Train’ by John Mayer
  • ‘Cats in the Cradle’ by Harry Chaplin
  • ‘Jack and Diane’ by John Mellencamp
  • ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac
  • ‘Ready, Set, Don’t Go’ by Billy Ray Cyrus
  • ‘Boy’ by Lee Price
  • ‘West Coast’ by Fidlar
  • ‘Growing Pains’ by Ludacris
  • ‘Tennis Court’ by Lorde
  • ‘Ghost’ by Kid Cudi
  • ‘My Little Girl’ by Tim McGraw
  • ‘Still Fighting It’ by Ben Folds
  • ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ by The White Stripes
  • ‘Patience’ by Tame Impala
  • ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’ by Martina McBride
  • ‘Garden Song’ by Phoebe Bridges
  • ‘Teenagers’ by My Chemical Romance
  • ‘Ready, Set, Go’ by Tokio Hotel
  • ‘Hold You Down‘ by Childish Gambino
  • ‘Young’ by The Chainsmokers
  • ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ by Swedish House Mafia Feat. John Martin

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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