A few weeks ago, I was listening to WERS, the independent radio station of Emerson College in Boston and heard this Police classic, “Canary in a Coal Mine.” I immediately was brought back to high school, laughing at my funny sister and her college friends who sang it as “Can Harry have a clothesline?” This became a staple line with my own group of friends. When I looked it up to see what album it came from (Zenyatta Mondatta), I found an online reminiscence of a woman and her friend who thought it was “Canary in coma,” which is also pretty funny.
It made me wonder, what other lyrics have people misheard? Yeah, I know there are a million of these lists out there, but these belong to me and mine. I polled my friends and got a bunch of great responses that can be broken down into sub categories. I also learned some of us seem to thrive on the cheekiness of it more than others, with my sister’s and my friends leading the pack. Hmmm, birds of a feather?
All-Time Most Confusing Lyrics
“Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band has got to the song that wins the “most messed up misheard lyrics” category. The main reason, of course, is the real lyrics are pretty incomprehensible anyway. I mean who among us has heard correctly this stanza:
Blinded by the light.
Revved up like a deuce
Another runner in the night.
I mean, what’s a deuce? Why is it revved up and running in the night? No one knows, which is why we all have our own versions. My friend Kami’s brother, when he was about 6, sang it (rightly to my mind) as:
Blinded by the light
Another roader in the night
She says, ” ‘Rackaflackadouchinal’ is still a word we toss around in the family…even 40 years later.” I can understand why and will start singing it myself that way. She goes on to say that when they tried to correct it, they heard it as “Wrapped up like a douche/Another roader in the night.” I confess I heard “douche” too, but I heard “Wrapped up like a douche/into the roller in the night.”
My friend Becky agreed that these lines have been the subject of “many debates and bifurcated lyrics.” Amen, sistah. She also thought the words were “Wrapped up like a douche.” Her “corrected” version was “Revved up like a goose,” and, really if you’ve seen a pissed off goose, that one actually makes some kind of sense. Her second line is “another roamer in the night.” Roader/roller/roamer—that mad goose really gets around.
Misheard Lyrics from Kids
Kids don’t have a lot of words in the first place, so this is a naturally rich ground for misunderstanding. When my son was in preschool, he came home singing “Queenay, Queenay, eBay Queenay.” His dad and I were puzzled, so we’d ask “Who’s Queenay?” Lucas thought this was hilarious and so added it to the end of his song. It took us about six months to figure out it was from a Barney song (we avoided that show like the plague), “Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up.” I’m sure the preschool staff must have loved it when he sang the “Who’s Queenay” part, as if he were saying, who’s everybody? Not me—I’m not cleaning up anything!
My friend Gloria’s daughter proudly sang when she was 4, “No tellin’ on the mountain that Jesus Price is born.” Apparently no one told, so that’s why this is the first we’re hearing of it.
Classic Misheard Lyrics
I got a number of people who sent in the Jimi Hendrix lyric, “ ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy.” In fact, I would argue that is the true lyric, and that the alternate lyric, “Kiss the sky” was made up by the record label to avoid controversy. As my friend David noted, Jimi was clearly ahead of his time in support of marriage equality.
Bridget sent me the Jimi one and this classic one from Credence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”: “There’s a bathroom on the right,” which maybe should be “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” but who’s to say?
These Lyrics Kind of Make Sense
Sometimes the words make enough sense that you may not even know they are wrong. Susan offered a line from a song by Zoe Lewis, an indie singer: she thought the song said, “enormouses of pachyderms,” which kind of makes sense in a poetic way—elephants are pretty enormous, and it seems like an indie singer thing to say. The real lyrics are “enormous ears of pachyderms”—kind of a let down, really. Susan also thought the Petula Clark song, “Downtown” was “Down, down,” which is pretty funny because she grew up around New York City, so she would know a downtown better than those of us in the suburbs. But she is kind of right that the first lines of the song make sense with her lyric: “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go down, down.” Thankfully the real lyrics are a little more uplifting, unless you hate cities, then you’re really down, down.
Too Cute to Correct
In the 70’s there was a song called “You Can’t Change That,” by Raydio. My beloved grandmother was good about putting the radio on a station we kids would like, and she always sang along to this song, but with the words, “And the cat came back,” while doing this cute little dance. We were about to correct her, but then she told us how it reminded her of this old song about a cat coming back that made her laugh when she was a kid. We started singing it her way with her and doing her little dance, and as far as I’m concerned, that song is about a cat.
Misheard Lyrics That May or May Not Involve Alcohol
Whether the alcohol initially influenced mishearing the lyric or inspired a better wrong lyric, these are pretty funny, submitted by my sister and her college crew:
Pat Benetar’s “Hit me with your best shot” became “Hit me with your lead pipe,” or “Hit me with your kumquat.”
The Go-Gos “Our lips are sealed” became “Our tits are feeled,” which was probably true given how much they drank at her college.
Real Lyrics I Just Learned About as a Result of This Blog, Plus an Overactive Imagination
My sister said my brother-in-law sings the Jimmy Buffet, “Margaritaville” song line, “Blew out my flip flop/stepped on a pop top” as “stepped on a pop tart,” which is pretty funny. But I was like, wait, “pop top”? I always thought it was “pop pop,” which I imagined was a cool island name for those weird black poisonous spiny urchin things you find in the Caribbean waters. Did I mention I am terrified of those things? Of course now that I think about it, why would he sing about a dangerous creature in such a laid back song? But it must be an island thing…yeah, right.
Another overly imaginative, but quite fun misheard lyric is from John, who heard Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff” as “Eye shocker Shari.” He wrote “I guess it shows where my 8th grade brain was. It had to be about some sexy girl named Shari. Eye shocker Shari–and how did it fit with the rest of the song? ‘I did not kill the deputy’ Well, I don’t know, maybe the guy was so hot for Shari, he was simply out of his mind. Or maybe I was.” Well, John, I call it writer’s imagination, and clearly some of us may be a little too good at this. Which brings me to the…
Misheard Lyrics All Stars
So back to the birds of a feather thing. This batch is from my ex, who is probably the best at mishearing lyrics, and my girls and their peeps—we’ve known each other from before high school and they still make me laugh.
From my ex: In the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams,” the end of the chorus is, “When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know,” but the way Stevie Nicks puts the emphasis on the second syllable of “washes” my ex heard it as, “When the rainbow shaves you clean you’ll know.” I’m guessing that’s true—you will definitely know.
The other one of his that is priceless is the B-52s song, “Roam.” He heard the line, “Roam if you want to” as “Row misty watoo,” which makes no sense, but is wicked fun to say.
Sue (via her college friend): In the Police’s song “Every Breath You Take,” the line, “How my poor heart aches with every step you take,” became “I’m a pool hall ace with every step you take.” Who doesn’t want to be a pool hall ace?
Sue’s husband John: Billy Joel’s, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” The line “Brenda and Eddie (were the popular steadies)” he heard as “Brenda Rinetti,” which makes sense because it was an Italian restaurant, get it?
Gloria offered Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” as “Reverend Blue Jeans.” He’s adored enough for that one to fly.
She also heard Adele’s “Rumor Has It” as “Cooper has it.” And he needs to give it back!
Colleen: From the 70s song by 10cc, “I’m Not in Love,” when they sing/whisper “Big boys don’t cry,” she thought it was “Be questing quiet.” (“Who knows?” she added.) Sounds like a Zen thing to me, Col.
She also heard “It’s too late to apologize” by OneRepublic as “It’s too late to call the judge.” It really does sound like it, and you know, it often is too late to call the judge.
Deb and her peeps had a delicious boatload of them—mishearing seems to run in her family:
The Stones “I’ll never be your beast of burden,” was, “I’ll never be your big suburban.” And hybrid owners will agree.
The Stevie Nicks song, “White winged dove,” was “One winged dove,” and she even took her mishearing to the next level: At the concert, she put one arm up like a wing and flapped it. I like that kind of commitment.
Deb’s sister Donna: Instead of Elton John’s “Oh little Jeannie,” she heard “Oh little G-man.” Well, Elton was looking for a man…
And these two are my favorites: Deb’s uncle Frank thought the Bee Gees “More than a woman,” was “Four letter woman.” I kinda want to be one of those, now.
Deb’s childhood friend thought “Do the Hustle” was “To the hacksaw,” which sums up many a disco hater’s feelings.
Best All-Time Misheard Lyric
As subjectively judged by me and the person who misheard it, the all-time winner is a Police song, “The Bed’s too Big Without You,” from the album Regatta de Blanc. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s has a reggae beat and Sting sings that line three times. On the third repetition, he pauses in the middle of it for a few beats and then croons Sting-like “Without you!” Jeanette sang it quite seriously as “Let’s do things without shoes, let’s do things without shoes, let’s do things…without shoes!!!” Sting, you can use the lyrics but you gotta pay Jeanette royalties
What are your favorite misheard lyrics? You know you have them—lay ’em on me!
Loved your post, Sandy, but I have to tell you that “Blinded by the Light” is a Bruce Springsteen song. His original version is MUCH better than the cheesy Manfred Mann cover. And although I can’t remember them, every obscure phrase has a street meaning.
Ahhh! I did know it was a Bruce Springsteen song, but did not know about the street meaning–now THAT makes sense! Thanks!
Love it! Here’s a good “kids” one: when they were little, one of my daughters once begged me to play the “sister song” that she had heard on my car CD player. I was mystified, and did not know what song they were talking about. Sometime later, I had a Steely Dan album on — and in the song “Bad Sneakers,” there is a line, “…transistor and a large sum of money to spend.” That was their “sister song”!
Ha ha! I love it when my “sister” has a large sum of money to spend 🙂
When I was a kid, there was a company, Gwaltney, that made meat products like bacon. They had a commercial with the jingle “Feeding your family with Gwaltney.” I misheard it and sang the jingle around the house as, “Eating your family on Sunday.”
Oooh, that’s really really good! Ha ha ha! That should be the name of a band!
Well, I understand the local band Chicken Slacks honors a misheard lyric from Twisting the Night Away. Someone’s actually “dancing with the chick in slacks”, but I’m no judge of what is better. When I was a teenager and devoted to my work with The Rhode Island Shakespeare Theater (TRIST), of course I sang it as TRISTing the night away. Which I did. You could also tryst the night away, if you are a groovy Jane Austen character? By the way, this was so funny I forgot I was reading it at work today…oops.
I vote for both TRISTing and trysting–so very literary! And I’m very glad I made you forget work! That is a fine bar for me to strive for.