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”.