Yahoo! On the Road

Misunderstood Songs: A Look Behind the Lyrics

Yahoo On the Road

Pop stars may go through media training seminars, but they don't necessarily attend elocution classes. That doesn't stop us from singing along in the car or shower, though, regardless of whether we think Jimi Hendrix is singing "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy." And sometimes we fail to comprehend the meanings even when we understand the words, leaving us to think a lyrically downbeat song like fun.'s "We Are Young" was actually written to be fun.

This summer, Yahoo!'s On the Road concert series has artists like fun., Imagine Dragons, John Legend, the Lumineers, Fall Out Boy, Kendrick Lamar, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis reaching music fans across the country. Let's take a look at some of the unusual ways their hits have been misinterpreted, as well as the frequently mangled classics (Yahoo! Answers brings up some funny examples of lyrical mayhem). Because if loving misheard lyrics is wrong, we don't want to be right!

FUN.: "We Are Young"

This is one of the biggest hits of the past decade, having sold almost 7 million downloads. So surely we've all got the lyrics to this one right ... right? Those lyrics being: "We are yum/ So let's set the wood on fire/ We can cook 'em right up/ Venison."

OK, so unless you've got a wild-deer barbecue on the brain, you probably have a better idea of what the words to this song really say. Or at least the chorus. If you're like most people, though, you haven't given much thought to the verses, which make it clear that the tune is not the gleeful celebration of youthful joy and abandon that it appears to be from just the sing-along portion.

It describes getting plastered in a bar with some friends and running into an ex-girlfriend, who is still upset over "a scar" the narrator gave her "months ago" (presumably a metaphorical scar). By song's end, he's given up on having his apology accepted by the ex or reconciling with her, and he's found a friend to "carry (him) home." "The lyrics came after my worst drinking night of all time," Nate Ruess told Rolling Stone. "Have you ever been kicked out of a cab for puking all over the place? I have. The cabbie was demanding all this money, and all I could do was stand on the corner with my head against the wall. It took me another day before I was a functioning adult and could actually write down the verses."

("We Are Remorseful and Hung Over" just wouldn't have the same ring to it, would it?)

FALL OUT BOY: "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race"

Dig that catchy chorus: "I'm a little man, and I'm also evil, also into cats, also into cats..." Well, who isn't?

In fact, the 2007 smash was not about Dr. Evil, nor was it about the military-industrial complex. Rather, it was about Pete Wentz's conflicted feelings about the competitiveness fueling the subgenres Fall Out Boy was considered to be a part of, like emo. ("Bandwagon's full, please catch another...")

Oh, and those real chorus lyrics? "I'm the leading man, and the lies I weave are oh so intricate, oh so intricate..."


One of the greatest misunderstood lyrics of all time came in the spooky coda of "Strawberry Fields Forever," when a slowed-down voice appeared to say, "I buried Paul." At least, the voice appeared to be saying it to anyone naive enough to believe that Paul McCartney had died in 1966 and the three survivors were covering it up (yet, counterintuitively, layering all their recordings and artwork with clues about his untimely demise). What John Lennon was really saying: "Cranberry sauce."

Beatle-isms have often been in the ear of the beholder. As widely misunderstood as Bob Dylan has been, he misheard the lyrics to "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Where they sang "I can't hide, I can't hide," Dylan thought they were singing "I get high, I get high." He famously figured this was a marijuana reference and was described by a witness as "incredulous" when he met them and discovered that not only were they not sending out drug code, but they'd never even smoked dope at that point.

Whether or not we think that "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was supposed to refer to LSD — which Lennon always denied, though McCartney seemed to confirm it — we can probably agree that the lyrics do not contain the phrase "The girl with colitis goes by." Unless we're just stubborn that way.

After the Beatles broke up, McCartney ran into some trouble with the BBC over a misheard lyric. The English radio service banned Wings' "Hi, Hi, Hi" because someone believed that McCartney was singing "get you ready for my body gun," which was deemed too sexually explicit in the early '70s. In fact, he was singing "get you ready for my polygon." How delighted the math teachers of the world were when this was all cleared up!

WHEN SINGERS EMBRACE MISHEARD LYRICS: Fogerty, ELO, Lofgren, and Ronstadt Go for It

Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" has a cheerful-sounding melody, despite the ominous lyrics, which may account for why, at some point, some fans heard "There's a bathroom on the right" in place of "There's a bad moon on the rise." John Fogerty enjoyed that so much that he often deliberately enunciates the wrong "bathroom" line once over the course of singing the classic in concert, while he gestures to the right. It's one of rock's great ongoing in-jokes. Now, if Jimi Hendrix had only lived long enough to embrace kissing one of his fellow musicians while singing "Purple Haze."

In ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down," it's often assumed that Jeff Lynne is singing "Broooce" in the corner, as if he were at a Springsteen show. In fact, he's singing the German word "gruss," which means "greetings," more or less. But if you can't beat 'em, join 'em — so Lynne admitted that he started deliberately singing "Bruce" instead in the latter-day ELO shows.

Speaking of Springsteen, his guitar player Nils Lofgren once covered the Rolling Stones' "Happy" on one of his solo albums. But he understood the line "Never kept a dollar past sunset" to be "Never kept a daughter past sunset" and sang it that way — even though that adds a gentlemanly tone to the tune that it's hard to imagine the Stones ever intending. Reportedly, Keith Richards told Lofgren he liked the messed-up line better than the one he originally wrote.

The other big Richards song from that Stones era, "Tumbling Dice," got covered by Linda Ronstadt. Instead of the opening line "Women think I'm tasty," she sang "People try to rape me" — although whether that's because she thought Richards was singing "rape me" or she just liked her version better has never been definitively established.

MISHEARINGS THROUGH THE AGES: Adele, Steely Dan, the Bee Gees, Sting, and More!

Is there any classic misheard lyric more venerable than "Olive, the other reindeer" — which actually inspired its own cottage industry of a book, movie, and merchandise line?

Flash-forward a good number of decades, and you've got people hearing Adele ask the musical question: "Should I just keep chasing penguins?" Because, honestly, how much more sense did "chasing pavements" make to most of us?

In between, a few other oldies but goodies:

"We were cool on Christ..." — Wang Chung ("Dance Hall Days")

"Did you realize that you were Italian in their eyes?" — Steely Dan ("Kid Charlemagne")

"Requesting quad..." — 10cc ("I'm Not in Love")

"Bald-headed woman to me..." — the Bee Gees ("More Than a Woman")

"Hold me close, Tony Danza..." — Elton John ("Tiny Dancer")

"My pool hall aches..." — the Police ("Every Breath You Take")

And, everyone's mush-mouthed perennial favorite:

"Wrapped up like a douche..." — Manfred Mann's Earth Band, covering Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light"

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