Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Most Mangled Song Lyrics Ever

“So that's what they were singing all along?”

When last we gathered, the topic was rock-n-roll lyrics that were just too bizarre to be understood by the average, narcotic-free human being. Those were in their own category ... never really meant to be fathomed.

Well, brothers and sisters, thanks to suggestions from Brian and Abigail and a few other very entertaining readers, today we will touch on a related area of study ... the most accidentally misunderstood rock lyrics ever.

That's misunderstood in the sense of misheard. Like getting the words wrong. Like … just fill in whatever words seem make sense to you.

I'm sure you'll recognize some of these, and I'll even post a small wager that you've mentally rewritten one or two yourself.

Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix
Actual lyric: 'scuse me while I kiss the sky.
Misheard lyric: 'scuse me while I kiss this guy.

If there were a Misheard Musical Hall of Fame, this would be Babe Ruth.

Ever since those four mop-topped lads from Liverpool took over Ed Sullivan's stage and stormed the beach to kick off the British Invasion, buttoned-down, pearl-necklaced parents across America had their suspicions: Rock music in the 1960s was out to redefine their Eisenhower-born, upstanding young men ... long-haired, drug-addled and gay.

Finally, here was the evidence.

The beauty of this particular lyric is that even after you've read the words on the liner notes, and even after you've written the music label's parent company and received a certified, notarized letter confirming that Mr. Hendrix is indeed saying “kiss the sky” … you can still hear it.

“Darn it, Martha, they don't even spell Jimmy right.”

Here are a few more candidates for our mythical Hall of Fame:

You May Be Right, Billy Joel
Actual lyric: You may be right, I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic you're lookin' for
Misheard lyric: You made the rice, I made the gravy,
But it just may be some tuna fish you're lookin' for

Why this almost makes sense:

As a calorically challenged American, there are times when every television show, movie, newspaper article, song and Shakespearean death scene reminds me of food. I not only understand this particular misinterpretation, I celebrate it. It illustrates the plight of all of those who look at a nutritious apple and see apple pie. Who look at a healthy salad, take out the roll they always keep in their pocket and turn it into a hoagie. So I stand tall (actually more wide than tall) and say “Make buns, not war!” Sorry, I get a little emotional on this topic.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
Actual lyric: Where the dogs of society howl.
Misheard lyric: Where the dachshund society howls.

Why this almost makes sense:

With apologies to Elton's lyricist, Bernie Taupin, I think we'll have to conclude that the misheard words are actually a little better than the original ones this time. The image of an entire society of howling wiener dogs is Alice in Wonderland/Wizard of Oz cool and exactly the kind of thing that could be haunting our nighttime hours just as creepily as giant mushrooms or flying monkeys do. So that's one missed opportunity for Bernie, but on the positive side, he got the next one right.

Tiny Dancer, Elton John
Actual lyric: Count the headlights on the highway.
Misheard lyric: Count the head lice on the hiney.

Why this almost makes sense:

This one is tough to defend. Although the sound is extremely close, the refrain “Hold me close up, Tiny Dancer” more or less rules out any perceived danger of infestation. Then there is the decidedly unrocker-like term “hiney,” which no self-respecting cool dude would use. And finally, in all fairness, head lice generally don't go there.

Africa, Toto
Actual lyric: I bless the rains down in Africa.
Misheard lyric: I left Lorraine's down in Africa.

Why this almost makes sense:

This is basically just a variation on the intended theme. Blessing the rains in Africa is a statement on how dry it can get there, right? I like to think that maybe Lorraine's is what we sometimes call a watering hole (but which is actually a tavern); and Africa is a place where you can still find many real-life, functioning watering holes, what with all the hippos and giraffes and such. So this interpretation works on several levels.

Stayin' Alive, The Bee Gees
Actual lyric: Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk
I'm a woman's man, no time to talk.
Misheard lyric: Well you can tell by the way I lose my watch
I'm a woman's man, no time to talk.

Why this almost makes sense:

There's a certain vulnerability to a guy who is always losing things. That fits in well with the Travolta character in Saturday Night Fever, the movie that this song opens. He's a tough guy from the streets, but with a burning desire to dance, dance, dance! Also, the lost watch explains why there's no time to talk in spite of his being a woman's man.

Space Oddity, David Bowie
Actual lyric: Ground control to Major Tom.
(Multiple) Misheard lyrics: Clown control to Mao Tse Tung.
Ground control to Major Tongue.
Ground control, Tomato Tom.

Why this almost makes sense:

I have my suspicions that combining clowns and Chairman Mao was a CIA initiative to discredit the communist Chinese leader at the height of the Cold War. If so, bravo, CIA! But I think my favorite is the “Tomato Tom” misinterpretation. To me, that is taking an already eccentric little song, turning it even more obtuse and saying “Take that, Mr. Bowie.”

Help!, The Beatles
Actual lyric: When I was younger, so much younger than today
Misheard lyric: When I was young the sun was younger than today

Why this almost makes sense:

It's hard to argue with the logic that the sun ages just as we all do. Why that would influence one to never need help in any way is a little harder to explain. But the Beatles were nothing if not, shall we say … experimental in their lyrics. After all, is bringing up the aging of the sun in a plea for help any stranger than picturing oneself “in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies”? I think not.

Like a Virgin, Madonna
Actual lyric: Like a virgin, touched for the very first time.
Misheard lyric: Like a virgin, touched for the thirty-first time.

Why this almost makes sense:

This would seem to make no sense at all until you consider the reputation of Madonna back in the day. She was the very definition of what used to be known as a “party girl” ... Spears and Lohan and Hilton rolled into one (having said this, Madonna did manage to have the grace to exit a limo properly pantied). Even so, thirty-one times does seem like a lot of touches to maintain that particular classification. It brings to mind a statement often attributed to Groucho Marx: “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”

Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival
Actual lyric: There's a bad moon on the rise.
Misheard lyric: There's a bathroom on the right.

Why this almost makes sense:

If you listen to enough Creedence, it becomes very clear that lead singer John Fogerty is begging listeners to get the words wrong. There is the song “Sweet Hitchhiker,” which sounds more like “Sweet Itchy-Yike-Her,” and John claims (in a perfect Curly Howard accent) to have “hoid it through the grapevine” that not much longer would she be his. On another level, since he is warning us not to go out at night because it's bound to take our life … at some point, we'll most definitely need to know where the bathroom is located.

In conclusion ...

Most of us are vaguely aware that we may not have gotten these words exactly right, and as a result seldom sing them out loud. But there are few experiences in life as fun as watching someone so confident in his misunderstanding that he blissfully belts out the song, complete with his own personalized words.

Cherish those moments when you come across them.


  1. From Tina F.

    Love this Jack! Cracking up right now in a client reception room. Just the other day this topic. Came up, my boss the thought the lyrics: every rose has its' thorn was: every road has its' stone.

  2. From Virginia L.

    Funny! I have made up my own words to songs myself.

  3. From Joanne H.

    I only hope you never run out of material...I really enjoyed this one

  4. From Pete M.

    This is a list that could go on forever. Mine was 'I'm not talking 'bout movin in. I thought it was "I'm not talking bout Lydia!.I don't even know who did that song "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight". All I know is that this song still gets waaaaayyyyyyy too much air time. I truly do not know one person who ever even considered buying that recording........which could be a subject for another blog. Great, as always, Jack!!!

  5. From Judy K.

    I love this kind of stuff - my sons had a slew of lyrics to Jimmy Buffett songs - and a college friend could sing any song a split second after she heard the words- or what she thought were the words! Very funny!

  6. From Trisha C.

    From a high school friend: AC/DC -- "Rock and roll ain't noise pollution" to "Rock and roll ain't just for losers."
    From Lily: Skynyrd -- "Sweet home Alabama" to "Mean old Alabama."

  7. From Ray S.

    The Groucho quote made me spit out my breakfast soft pretzel. In “Tiny Dancer,” I always heard “Hole me closah, Tony Danza.” My ex-wife thought the Who were singing about “Teenage Waitress” instead of “Teenage Wasteland.” Another winner.

  8. From Ellen W.

    Yes the list does go on and on...the line i always got wrong was in the song Rocket man by Elton John...rocket man burning down the bla bla bla bla bla

  9. From Boyd M.

    Not on the list, but for years I thought the 1910 Fruitgum Company were singing “Yummy yummy yummy I’ve got love in my tummy…”

    Oh wait. That’s what they were singing.

  10. From Lisa G.

    I have fought to the death with someone that it’s really not “Ground Control to Major Tongue”!

  11. From Tom B.

    My friend's mother thought 10th Avenue Freeze-out was Red Devil in the treehouse.

  12. From Carol R.

    Childhood friend used to sing along to Lesley Gore: It's my body and I'll cry if I want to.

  13. From Dawn K.

    My sister always thought the 1980's song "Borrowed Love" by S.O.S. Band was: What could make me think that I could live on farmer's love?
    It was a laugh riot the first time I heard her singing that at the top of her lungs with all the confidence in the world that she had it right!

  14. From Art H.

    Who can forget "I ate a one ton tomato" for Guantanamera?

  15. Dang! You mean it WASN'T "Dead devil in the freezer?" The song now seems far less interesting.

    The one I remember, or misremember, best is from the Moody Blues. When they sang
    "Then the tide rushes in
    And washes my castles away.
    Then I'm really not so sure
    Which side of the bed I should lay"
    I thought sure I was hearing that the tide "wahes my passes away." This made perfect sense to me based on the line that followed it.
    Must've been those mind-altering substances.

  16. Someone should do an album of all these misremembered songs, Eileen. I think I'd spend a few bucks on the downloads!

  17. Technically these are called "Mondegreens" - and they ARE classsic!
    I loved Aerosmith when they were "Loving an alligator" (Love in an Elevator)

    Or the Clash when Joe sang "A grape skin rots in the hot sun, I fought the lawn and the lawn won"
    (Breaking rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won)

  18. These are great, Loreli ... thanks ... and thanks for the technical knowledge, too!!

  19. From Larry C.

    Aretha Franklin.
    I hear: "I didn't even know you, you couldn't have been too much Puddin' Tane"
    but Aretha sings: "I didn't even know you, you couldn't have been too much more than ten"

    And on Al Green's "Tired Of Being Alone" I hear:
    ..."I'm so tired of being alone/I'm so tired of pulling my own"
    but the actual lyrics are:
    "I'm so tired of being alone/I'm so tired of pulling my own"
    (and nobody can convice me otherwise)