Somewhere in a parallel universe lives a Karma Comedian, a Cheerio Girl, and a one-winged dove. Dirty deeds are done by Thunder Chiefs, and Tony Danza holds us closer…so close. This is the Land of Misheard Lyrics, and it is a silly, silly place. Yet it is a place we are all familiar with, having suffered varying degrees of humiliation during our visits there.
For this installment of Only Noise, I reached out to my friends and fellow music journalists to ask: what lyrics have you tragically misheard in the past? And oh, how the gems rolled in. Some misinterpretations were almost universal in their familiarity. Take one colleague’s aural rendering of a Manfred Mann mega hit: “The best one has to be ‘wrapped up like a douche,’” she said. “I thought those were the lyrics to ‘Blinded By The Light’ for half my life.” I’m still convinced that’s what he’s saying, personally. In fact, if you played that song through text dictation, I bet five dollars the “douche” version would end up on your phone.
Some misinterpretations directly correlated to the age of the listener. For instance, a friend of mine admitted: “I used to think, as a child, that Prince’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’ was ‘Apple Dapple Do.’” Another pal misheard ABBA during “Take a Chance on Me.” “I used to think, when I was a kid, that the lyric ‘Honey I’m still free’ was ‘Olly oxen free.’” And perhaps my favorite instance of pop-music-through-the-ears-of-a-child: Madonna’s chart topping smash hit about a balanced breakfast: “Cheerio Girl.” Madonna wasn’t wrong (she rarely is) when she sang, “We are living in a Cheerio world/and I am a Cheerio girl.”
Similar such nonsense insisted that Steve Miller was not in fact singing “Oh, Oh big ol’ jet airliner” in “Jet Airliner,” but rather, “Bingo Jed had a lina,” whatever the hell that means. Who is this “Bingo Jed” anyhow? Some kind of gambling tycoon at the local retirement home? And what in God’s name is a lina? Only parallel universe Steve Miller can tell us.
The Land of Misheard Lyrics can be goofy, for sure, but it is also a realm of longing, proven by groups such as TLC, who once pleaded, “Don’t go, Jason Waterfalls!” And we must never forget the picturesque isolation painted by Stevie Nicks when she sang, “Just like the one-winged dove/Sings a song/Sounds like she’s singing/Ooo, ooo, ooo.” Those “Ooos” were merely the painful cries of a newly one-winged bird. Now she’ll have to apply for bird disability, and I don’t even know if that’s a thing.
If sad and silly are high rollers in the Land of Misheard Lyrics, then absurdity is king. Remember when Mick Jagger swore he’d never be “Your pizza burnin’,” or when ‘90s dance sensation Eiffel 65 confessed: “I’m blue and I beat up a guy”? Me too. Or what about the time all those “Dirty Deeds” were done by “The Thunder Chief”? Or how ‘bout that darn Karma Comedian, who was perpetually coming and going, for six choruses and a bridge? Ugh. Comedians.
But that’s just the PG side of things. Some folks heard lyrics that Freud would have a grand old time picking apart. Take Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ love ballad, “Sweetheart Come,” which a fellow music writer heard as, “Sweet Hot Cum.” To be fair, I don’t blame her for thinking that. I mean, have you ever listened to the lyrics of “Stagger Lee”? Pervy-ness abounds in the Land of Misheard Lyrics, where Ziggy Stardust can be found “Making love to an eagle,” and Sir Mix-a-Lot likes “Big butts in the candlelight.” Not fluorescent. Not incandescent. Specifically, only in candlelight. To Sir Mix-a-Lot’s nonexistent point, candles are the sexiest light source.
My personal best example of misinterpreted lyrics occurred at age 10, upon the release of “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” by Destiny’s Child. “Ladies leave your man at home,” Beyoncé and the other three sang, “the club is full of ballers and their COCK is full grown.” Say huh? How did this get past the FCC? I wondered. Did my mom, from whose car and therefore radio we were listening to such filth hear what I heard? Furthermore, if the club was full of ballers, and “their” cock was full grown, did that mean that these ballers possessed one, collective cock? The peoples’ cock? I needed answers. All I knew was one thing: you can’t say “cock” on the radio! Or could you? Was this profanity Beyoncé’s fault? Or the DJ’s for not bleeping out the “cock” word? Or was it as the great Jimmy Buffett once sang: “Some people claim that there’s a walnut to blame”? We may never know.