Top 10 Misunderstood Songs

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We’ve all been known to sing distorted lyrics to our favorite songs – take Madonna’s classic, which doesn’t go: “Like a virgin touched for the thirty-first time”, or Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which doesn’t go: “The algebra has a devil for a sidekick meee!” However, misinterpreting a whole song is something else. Whatever the lyricist intended for the following hit tracks, the public didn’t quite get – with hilarious consequences.

10.  Killing an Arab – The Cure

The shock-tactic title of this song certainly worked in The Cure’s favor – it was their first single and lead to huge chart success for the album “Boys Don’t Cry”. The track is often misinterpreted as promoting violence toward Arabs, and it even came packaged with a sticker advising against racist usage upon its US release in 1986. In fact, the song is a poetic interpretation of the beach scene in the Albert Camus novel “The Stranger”.

9. You’re Gorgeous – Babybird

The catchy chorus was the thing that tricked fans of this song. People in love began singing it to their beaus and it even featured in some couples’ weddings as they danced to the throes of “Because you’re gorgeous – I’d do anything for you.” What Stephen Jones was actually talking about in this tune, was an aspiring model tricked into a soft-porn photo shoot by a charming photographer.

8. You Can Leave Your Hat On – Randy Newman / Tom Jones

This two-time hit single is the track of choice for strippers everywhere, mainly thanks to Brit flick “The Full Monty”. However, the song isn’t about someone being completely nude, bar a hat, rather someone being so pig ugly that they’re advised by their lust interest to keep their hat on and hide their face.

7. Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan

This signature song of the sixties isn’t really about some happy hippie playing his tambourine – it’s actually an ode to a drug dealer who provides the means for Dylan to hallucinate and be high. As penning overt songs about narcotics was illegal in the 60s, this happy ditty hid the meaning with lines like “Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind…” and “My senses have been stripped, My hands can’t feel to grip”.

6. Dancing with Myself – Billy Idol

While hundreds of teens crooned to this classic 80s hit in the discos, hundreds of others sniggered at the covert meaning to the tune. With lyrics such as “With the mirror reflection, I’m dancing with myself” and “When there’s no-one else in sight, In the crowded lonely night”, it’s a wonder no one realized sooner. Billy belatedly protested to this interpretation, however, saying the track was about Japanese night clubbers watching themselves dance in space-enhancing mirrors. Yeah, right!

5.  Turning Japanese – The Vapors

While we’re on the subject, this nu-wave Brit pop band were also accused of releasing a song about self love. Many people thought the lyrics “I’ve got your picture, I’ve got your picture, I’d like a million of you all to myself” were referring to a love-sick teen alone in his room, comforting himself, so to speak. The “Turning Japanese” part of the song allegedly refers to the face one pulls when in the throes of personal passion. But in truth the lyrics really refer to someone who lost their girlfriend and is going crazy and turning into something they didn’t expect…like turning Japanese. See the video if you disagree. This comes from the band itself.

4. Harder To Breathe – Maroon 5

Given the very obvious nature of Maroon 5’s hit album “Songs About Jane”, one would presume this track alludes to irrepressible love. However, this particular track isn’t about the named-and-shamed Jane, but about the record company deal that bullied the band into releasing song after song. They wrote lyrics such as “Does it kill, Does it burn, Is it painful to learn, That it’s me that has all the control” to get back at them – and ironically it was an instant hit.

3. Every Breath You Take – The Police

The fact that this song was covered by Puff Daddy (as he was known then) in a tribute to Notorious B.I.G doesn’t do anything to help ascertain the real meaning. Although interpreted as a lovey-dovey song about devotion, the somewhat darker meaning of the song charts the actions of a sinister, controlling character after the break-up of a relationship: “Every step you take, Ill be watching you”. Creepy.

2. In the Air Tonight – Phil Collins

Despite the various rumors, this world-wide hit is actually about… nothing. “This is one song out of all the songs that I’ve ever written… that I really don’t know what it’s about” says Phil. The most common misinterpretation is that Phil witnessed an onlooker who could have saved someone from drowning, but didn’t. The urban legend goes on to elaborate that Collins invited the apathetic onlooker to a concert one night and turned the spotlight on him at the front row once the song started.

1. Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

This sing-along-song of the eighties even had President Ronald Reagan fooled into thinking it was patriotic, when in fact it was a political message about the Vietnam War. Those that listened to the passionate and catchy chorus of “BORN IN THE USA! I’m a cool rockin’ Daddy in the USA!”, ignored the embittered verse, which went: “Sent me off to a foreign land, To go and kill the yellow man”.


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25 Comments

  1. Pearl Jam are the kings of misinterpreted songs.

    To add to Every Breath You Take, Sting actually hates the fact that it's used as a love song. Even when I was young I realized this song was about a stalker. Why would a love song include the lines "Every heart you BREAK, I'll be watching you"?

  2. TrixRabbi has two valid points, but Pearl Jam should probably be on a list of indecipherable songs rather than misinterpreted songs – not unlike "Louie, Louie" which makes sense when you read the lyrics. (It's about a sailor missing his lady.) Still, I am surprised that the Phil Collins song isn't clear to everyone. A guy done wrong is in that tense moment before a confrontation with the one who did him wrong. Listen with this in mind and it becomes crystal clear. Phil was being coy because he didn't want people speculating about his divorce…duh. As for Bruce – proud Americans, especially those of us who have served our country, don't mind the fact that we occasionally have to go to foreign lands to fight white, yellow, black, or brown people as long as we're fighting FOR the USA and/or its principals!

  3. The lyrics to ''Leave your hat on'' don't provide any clue as to the interpretation you give here. Look it up, guys. There's nothing about ugly in it at all.

    ???

    • Yeah, I kind of have to disagree with the interpretation of “Leave Your Hat On” as well, especially when there is a line that says “Go over there, turn on the light. No, all the lights.” Why would you want all the lights on if you were with someone pig ugly? Also, a hat wouldn’t hide someone’s entire face, especially while..ahem…”engaged in the act.”

      The song seems to be pretty clearly a stripper song. It’s a song about a man watching a woman do a strip tease, take off her clothes slowly, stand on a chair, and shake her boobs. The hat in this case is just a prop, like the stiletto heels that some strippers wear on stage.

      • Randy Newman Fan on

        You’re right, their interpretation if the song is so wrong it’s hilarious.

        It’s actually about a pervert (the narrator) who is having sleazy desires about a beautiful woman and is frightening himself by what he’s telling her to do. The man is a loser and and the song was not written to be sexy at all, completely the opposite actually.

        Randy Newman’s original really shows this side of the song. He explained in an interview, “it’s really about a bully’.

        As usual, Jones completely misunderstood the song. Just like ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’, which Randy wrote about a teenager being at an orgy.

  4. Another good one is REM's "Losing My Religion." If I had a dime for every idjit who thought that the song was about — or against — religion, I'd be a zillionaire. It actually refers to a saying common in some parts of the southern US; "I'm losing my religion" is saying "I'm at the end of my rope." It's about despair, not faith.

    • MOST Nirvana songs… they’re another group for indecipherable lyrics… Taking their most popular song in consideration, what do a mosquito and his libido have in common with an albino?

  5. wat is the source? i see nothing online about the leave your hat on track, apart from another top ten misinterperted list which also has no sources. can anyone help me out?

  6. One by U2 is often seen as a beautiful love song, when it was actually written about The Edge's marriage break-up and subsequent divorce. It is a song about break-up and heart ache. Actually the entire Achtung Baby! album is around this theme.

  7. Don't forget "American Woman" by The Guess Who. It seems to be popular in the States even though the entire song is about pushing away American influence.

  8. @toptenz my dad is the king is misunderstood songs- everyone loves ‘the girl with colitis goes by’ – the beatles

  9. REM's "The One I Love" is not a love song, but rather a song about meaningless hook-ups. You don't describe someone that you actually truly love as "A simple prop to occupy my mind".

  10. Your interpretation of You Can Leave Your Hat On makes no sense. If the woman was “pig ugly” as you put it, why would the singer say to turn on all the lights? And since when does a hat hide your whole face? Plus, stripping scene in 9 1/2 Week was many years before The Full Monty.

  11. A common one is “Lips of an Angel” by Hinder… people are using that as their wedding song when it’s about adultery. :S And it’s kinda hard to get the lovey-dovey version with lyrics like “she’s in the other room, but right now i wish she was you.”

  12. “House of the Rising Sun” is about an opium den. That one’s been misinterpreted since the Animals covered it nearly fifty years ago.

  13. “you can leave your hat on”…..meaning, anything that will take the attention off your face…..and the ugly pig doesnt acknowledge to herself that shes ugly, thats why she dont mind turned on bright lights…

  14. Life On Mars by David Bowie – not about aliens. Losing My Religion by REM – not about religion or God. No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley – not about happiness at being single. Puff The Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary – not about drugs.

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