Believe it or not, some of the biggest hits in the music industry have succeeded in capturing our attention with songs that we have often misunderstood in terms of the meaning of their lyrics. Indeed, it is not uncommon for us to have misinterpreted the lyrics of some well-known songs. Sometimes, artists slip extremely mysterious metaphors into their songs. They are so mysterious that even their biggest fans do not detect them! Here is a list of the most misunderstood famous songs in the history of modern music with what the artists really meant when they put the songs on paper. You’ll never hear your favourite songs the same way again.
1. “Blackbird” by the Beatles (1968)
The Beatles’ “Blackbird” is one of the most captivating, quiet and uncomplicated ballads available. But don’t let the sound of bird chirps recorded on the track mislead you. It actually represents humans.
Paul McCartney wrote the song while the Beatles were on a meditation retreat in India in 1968. Although he has given different explanations over time, the one he mentions most often is that he was actually referring to the Black Power movement in the United States, seeing people of colour standing up and talking. Remember that “bird” means “woman” in English slang.
2. “American Woman” by The Guess Who (1970)
Any woman in the United States probably strutted around proudly to this song as if she described it perfectly. But once you have learned the lyrics of the song, you will realize that this rock song is far from idolizing you: in fact, the band is laughing at you!
When you understand that The Guess Who, comes from across the Canadian border, it suddenly becomes clearer that they are making fun of their neighbours. In fact, when they were invited to play in the White House, Nixon’s wife specifically asked not to hear this jam.
3. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler (1983)
The raucous voice of Welsh diva Bonnie Tyler, instantly memorable, combined with some of the decade’s most dramatic song lyrics, has made “Total Eclipse of the Heart” a cultural piece. But what was going on in that weird video? Perhaps the secret lies in the origins of the song.
Believe it or not, this song was originally a ballad about a musical about vampires. Composer Jim Steinman, famous for working on songs with Meat Loaf, originally wanted to release the song in a Nosferatu show entitled “Vampires In Love”!
4. “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins (1981)
If you thought this song was about Phil Collins not being able to save a man from drowning, you are not the only person. Eminem also took the lyrics of the song literally when he quoted it in “Stan”. However, it turns out that the urban legend surrounding the genesis of the song is just a bunch of lies.
Phil Collins has been talked about in the press and talk shows in recent years just to silence rumours about this legendary and melancholic song. He said that he was going through a difficult separation when he wrote the tune and that he channelled that anger into a song for which he himself cannot give a complete explanation.
5. “Imagine” by John Lennon (1971)
“Imagine” is easily one of the most famous songs on the planet, even more so after the death of John Lennon. With its soft tones and call for peace, it is easy to forget how politically charged the song’s lyrics are. And that’s precisely what Lennon intended to do, even if it had negative effects.
The message conveyed by “Imagine” is violently anti-capitalist, it also stands against religion (but not against faith) and nationalism. John Lennon said that he did not identify with any political movement, but that the elements of the song were more or less a reformulation of the Communist Manifesto.
6. “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)
With this huge American flag as a backdrop and this melody full of hope, one could easily think that this main title of the 1984 eponymous album was a rallying cry for patriotism. Indeed, many forces surrounding President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign did not fully understand the refrain and were therefore fooled. It is wise in this case to listen to the lyrics of the song more closely.
Indeed, the most catchy chorus is written with bitter irony. The critical song makes it American society. She seeks to understand both the negative effects of the Vietnam War on a whole generation and the shame and ostracism of the American population towards Southeast Asian veterans upon their return home. It is not a patriotic song, far from it…
7. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police (1983)
One of the best-selling songs of the 1980s was The Police. However, she managed to severely distract her listeners from her real message. No, she’s not romantic, quite the contrary. This song from The Police tells the story of a stalker.
Escaping the attention of the press about his romantic life, Sting hid in Jamaica with writer Ian Fleming and began writing. He thought of a lover, driven mad by the obsession with a past flame.
8. “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan (1997)
“Angel” is one of the most touching and evocative songs ever written, driven by the soft piano and ethereal voice of Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan. Presented in the romance of Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, “City of Angels”, this song has become for many people linked to the feelings of the film where an angel falls in love with a mortal.
However, the story of the song is really heartbreaking. Sarah McLachlan dedicated the hymn to the keyboard player on tour of the rock group The Smashing Pumpkins, who succumbed to addiction. With her words, she aims to explore the dark feelings of helplessness and loneliness that can lead a person down this tragic path.
9. “The One I Love” by REM (1987)
Of course, the title and the first line of this hit by the university rock giants REM could make the listener think that this song is a romantic ballad. But once again, it is time to pay more attention to the lyrics of the song and its general tone. The song is wildly dark.
His vision of love reduces the partner to a mere accessory, and singer Michael Stipe has stated in interviews that the song is “incredibly violent”, and brutally honest in his acerbic vision. Because so many listeners did not understand the message, he also said that at this point they should perhaps continue to believe what they believe.
10. “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath (1970)
The title of the song and its subject have nothing to do with Marvel Comics’ superhero Iron Man, even though Stan Lee and his collaborators had created the character a few years earlier. The song tells the story of a man who returns from the future and tries to warn humanity of his impending apocalypse. He is unhappy to be ignored and tries to vent his anger.
11. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett (1980)
With this song and its nasty lyrics, Joan Jett, a former member of the band Runaways, entered the music scene and proved that she was quite an artist. The thing is, she wasn’t just trying to impress listeners with a bad girl image. She was writing from experience in an industry that didn’t want her.
This punk rock legend had trouble getting his album out, which was rejected by no less than 23 record companies. After the astronomical success of her timeless success “I Love Rock’n’ Roll” the following year, she released a video for “Bad Reputation”, making fun of the record companies that had refused her, which scandalized many people.
12. “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton (1974)
Dolly Parton’s insistence on retaining the publishing rights to the song she wrote proved to be one of the best deals in the history of music thanks to Whitney Houston. From the lyrics of the song, it could easily be deduced that it is the most epic love song ever.
However, Dolly Parton wrote this song about a non-romantic break-up. She had made the decision to professionally separate from her long-time mentor, Porter Wagoner, after having partnered with him as a musical duo for seven years. She wanted to make sure that he knew that she would always respect him and wished him the best.
13. “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind (1997)
As catchy as the melody was, the original intention of the song’s lyrics was something much more sinister, something that was eventually censored for broadcast on the airwaves. The fans had no idea what was behind the writing process.
Songwriter and singer Stephan Jenkins was disturbed to see how many of his friends at the time had been victims of substance abuse, and even wrote explicit references in the song’s original lyrics. The meaning of the song was therefore lost when it was put in order to make it more marketable.
14. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
Nirvana has succeeded in redefining the musical world and giving a voice to a whole generation. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is undoubtedly one of the most famous songs on the planet, yet, as the parody of “Weird Al” Yankovic evokes, we still don’t know what it is.
Is it a way to get angry and confuse, or is it something else? Is it a teenage revolution, as the video clip in a high school gym suggests? Some have even suggested that this is Kurt Cobain’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend. Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl told listeners not to analyze the lyrics too much, that the song may not have a message at all.
15. “MMMBop” by Hanson (1997)
As the wave of pop bubblegum in the late 1990s began to turn into a tsunami, just as the boy bands began to conquer the planet, these three teenage brothers from Oklahoma emitted a ray of sunlight and just as quickly disappeared. But what was that strange word they had built around a song?
When the brothers explain themselves, the lyrics of the song become a little less dark. They had invented this absurd word “mmmbop” to describe a measure of time, a bit like a flash or a jiffy. The message is to live life to the full and to be in the present moment because, in an instant, everything can change.
16. “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga (2008)
You didn’t think that this song was entirely dedicated to card games, did you?
We can deduce from the lyrics of the song that Gaga may be trying to please or impress a male suitor while hiding his true feelings. In fact, the song was a way for Lady Gaga to express her bisexuality.
17. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna (1984)
She became a superstar thanks in large part to the shy lyrics of this pop hit and her exceptional performance on MTV VMAs in her wedding dress. In fact, Jim Broadbent’s eccentric cover in Moulin Rouge was not too far from what it was supposed to be in the first place.
The song was written by two men, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. If it makes you uncomfortable, don’t be: when the song was written, Steinberg had just started a new and growing romantic relationship after leaving a relationship that had collapsed. He wrote it not knowing it would be sung by a woman!
18. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day (1997)
The nostalgic tone and melody force the listener to remember the joyful moments of the past, a life well lived, even old loves. But that’s not the intention behind the song at all.
The Green Day singer and guitarist, Billie Joe Armstrong, had to wait seven years before releasing the song, as it came up against a lot of material from his band. It was written at a bitter moment in his life when his girlfriend abandoned him in 1990 to settle in Ecuador.
19. “Rock The Casbah” by The Clash (1982)
The precursors of punk, The Clash, had been invited by their manager to write shorter songs. Drummer Topper Headon wrote most of the song, but singer Joe Strummer threw out the old lyrics. After hearing about the ban on Ayatollah radio in Iran after the Islamic revolution, he was furious.
A colleague told him that simply owning a disco record in fundamentalist Iran could cost the owner 20 lashes. Thus, while appropriating the jargon of various Middle Eastern languages, he wrote a tune about a king’s unsuccessful attempts to prevent his subjects from listening to rock music.
20. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles (1967)
It was the 1960s, and everyone was opening and expanding their minds, sometimes with the use of chemicals. It is therefore understandable that many listeners heard this trippy song with psychedelic lyrics and assumed that it was more than what we think. The truth is much simpler than that.
Julian, John Lennon’s three-year-old son, was in kindergarten and came home with his father and drummer Ringo Starr, holding a painting he had drawn. He explained that it was his classmate Lucy, flying in the sky with diamonds! John loved the sound, and he put a pen on the paper.