We all love to sing along with our favorite songs. We sing in the car, in the shower, and at the karaoke bar. The problem is that half the time we don't know what we're singing. We're making up lyrics as we go along and hoping no one will notice. We presume that our secret is safely buried under the pumping bass coming through the speakers. Or else we're certain that NO ONE really knows the lyrics, so it's cool that we're winging it.
Wrong. Everyone knows. They may not know the exact words, but they know it's definitely not what you're singing. In fact, there's a word for this phenomenon. It's called "mondegreen," and it means "the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase, such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song." (There's a great website called kissthisguy.com that's named after the frequently misheard Hendrix song listed below and is dedicated to the cataloging of mondegreens.)
So now that you've been outed, here are a few favorite misunderstood lyrics. Who was it that said, "No one pays attention to the lyrics?" Well, here's the proof.
TOM PETTY: "American Girl"
What people sing: "That Wonderbra that she was gonna keep"
The actual lyric: "She had one little promise she was gonna keep"
This is the second single from Petty's 1977 debut album. Frankly, Tom mumbles so much when he sings that one could be forgiven for misunderstanding him.
QUEEN: "Bohemian Rhapsody"
What people sing: "Scare a moose, scare a moose, will you do my fan Van Gogh?"
The actual lyric: "Scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the fandango?"
Immortalized by everyone from Wayne & Garth to Mig (from "Rock Star: INXS"), Queen's 1975 six-minute single is a lesson in rock grandiosity and made-up lyrics (or at least they sound like it). When the band is digging up words like "Scaramouche," who can blame someone for writing their own lyrics?
BON JOVI: "Livin' on a Prayer"
What people sing: "It doesn't make a difference if we're naked or not"
The actual lyric: "It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not"
When the song comes from an album called "Slippery When Wet," you can bet folks misinterpreted this more than a few ways.
JIMI HENDRIX: "Purple Haze"
What people sing: "Excuse me while I kiss this guy"
The actual lyric: "Excuse me while I kiss the sky"
The granddaddy of famous misunderstood songs, this one has been a joke for over 40 years since its 1967 release. Hendrix said the lyrics were inspired by a dream in which he was walking under the sea. Between the crazy dreams and the crazy stuff running through his veins, Jimi himself probably wasn't sure what he was singing.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: "Blinded by the Light"
What people sing: "Wrapped up like a douche, another loner in the night"
The actual lyric: "Cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night"
Springsteen's tune from his debut album is full of inside Jersey references and non sequitur silliness. A listener can misinterpret lyrics for days. It's the '76 Manfred Mann's Earth Band cover that's responsible for the signature mondegreen on this one.
PEARL JAM: "Even Flow"
What people sing: "Oh, dolphin, he can't help it when he looks at Santa"
The actual lyric: "Oh, dark grin, he can't help, when he's happy looks insane"
I'll pay anyone ten bucks to tell me half of these lyrics. And tell me what they mean. Pearl Jam's 1991 single is supposed to be about homelessness. That and dolphins.
What people sing: "Someone get the door"
The actual lyric: "Soy un perdedor"
Beck only has himself to blame for going bilingual here. No one was ready for that one in 1994. He started a Spanglish craze.
EAGLES: "Hotel California"
What people sing: "Her mind is definitely twisted"
The actual lyric: "Her mind is Tiffany twisted"
I gotta admit it. Before I wrote this blog, I was certain I was singing this Eagles song correctly. In fact, I had to check a few places before I was convinced my version was wrong. You learn something new everyday.