Image by: Carl Lender
Everyone has a song or piece of music that means something special to them – a few chords that evoke a certain memory, a lyric that harks back to an ex-girlfriend, a bar or two that reminds you the first time you got drunk.
Yet sometimes the meaning or words of a song can take on whole, well, meaning and create a mythical life of their own. The story behind the song can be misinterpreted, the lyrics misunderstood, the connotation left hanging in some kind of ambiguous balance.
Whether it’s the singer not singing the words clearly, the listener not paying attention, or a myth surrounding a particular song, these musical misunderstandings can yield some rather amusing and unintentional results. It can be even more surprising when a song you thought you knew like the back of your hand turns out to mean something quite different.
Just as The Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds has been viewed as a song about LSD (John Lennon insisted drugs had nothing to do with it and that was never his intention), here are some of the most misunderstood and misquoted songs ever.
Every Breath You Take – The Police
What is often misinterpreted as a sentimental ode about the beauty of love and relationships actually carries a much more sinister and darker meaning. “Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you” – it’s about an embittered chap keeping a close eye on his ex by stalking her. Those blinkered by love clearly don’t listen – it’s still one of the most popular songs played at weddings.
Mr Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
A song whose meaning has been open to speculation and interpretation since its release, it was long thought that the Tambourine Man of the title was Dyan’s drug dealer who supplied him with LSD (to which some of lyrics and surrealistic imagery could be attributed). Dylan denied this, saying it was about a fellow musician who played tambourine at his recording sessions.
Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen
One of the most patriotic anthems in the history of American rock music, right? Not exactly. It may have taken on that mantle over the years but Springsteen’s original intention was to highlight the scandalous and negligent treatment of post-war of Vietnam veterans. Its misinterpretation – and misrepresentation – evolved after it was used in several political campaigns by Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole. You’d have thought the lyric “Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man” might have been a giveaway.
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
It was the words rather than any underlying meaning that caused confusion with Hendrix’ classic. His original lyrics were “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” but have often been misconstrued as “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.
Losing My Religion – R.E.M.
Original perceived as a man’s resignation to a special higher power in a relationship, to lose one’s religion is actually a Southern phrase that refers to someone running out of patience or becoming increasingly frustrated with a situation. In this case, it’s a man searching for affirmation that his love is not unrequited.
Summer of 69 – Bryan Adams
Forget the idealistic and halcyon notions that this is a nostalgic throwback to the year Adam learned guitar, played in a band and fell in love – he was ten in 1969. No. Not that at all. It’s simply a musical homage to Adams’ favourite sexual position. Sometimes you look down and the floor lights up – the simplest explanations often the right ones.
Have you ever misread a song’s meaning or amusingly got the lyrics wrong?
- License: Creative Commons image source
Gavin Harveyis a fitness fanatic who caught the travelling bug hard in his early twenties. Always somewhat of a free spirit, Gavin now spends his days watching classic movies, listening to music and blogging for Litecraft.