A lot of praise is given to song that speak to some experience you’ve had to the point that songs have been made about such songs. Kind of circular, really. Not everything has to speak to pain and suffering though. It can be about having a good time or just some silly moment, something we can relate to indirectly but not directly.
Almost all of us have had some high school crush, a girl or boy who we were drawn to but didn’t have the guts to talk to. I know I did and that’s all I’ll say on that. To my best knowledge however she never posed for Playboy and I can imagine that would be a punch to the face…in part because of this song.
“Centerfold” was written by Seth Justman, keyboardist for the J. Geils Band, a music group formed by guitarist John Geils. It’s a single from their 1981 album “Freeze Frame”, which also is the name of a song off of that album. “Centerfold” was the first single and hit #1 in the US, Belgium, and Canada, was at least in the top five overseas. I don’t know if Justman himself had this experience but I imagine it might have been something like this:
I kind of imagine the shop keep is suddenly behind him, reminding him that “guess I gotta buy it”, probably damaging the magazine in his disappointment. This was 1981. The girly mags were on the top shelf of newsracks so the kids were distracted by comic book at the convenience store. Those days are long gone.
I don’t think the song is trying to shame her for showing up in the magazine. I mean, the dude was reading it. It’s more of how he saw her, as this innocent angel who suddenly traded those mysterious tight sweaters for a negligee that probably showed off…those things the sweater was hiding. It’s a childhood memory ramming face first into adult reality. Rather than be turned out by it, the narrator (Peter Wolf as vocalist) is just so thrown off that the girl he crushed on for her innocence shows up looking the opposite of how he saw and remembered her. Although if you think about it, a lot of these girls were innocent high schoolers so I imagine a few guys have actually experienced this in magazines and videos.
It’s a short but simple story of innocence lost…though how innocent is our narrator if he’s reading porn in a convenience store or some smoke shop. (Or possibly adult bookstore. Given how old I was in 1981 I couldn’t tell you if they existed and I really don’t care today.) It’s just one of those little surprises life hits you with. I kind of wonder what the class reunion was like though.