I’ve always been rather notorious for mishearing and misinterpreting lyrics. Scott had a great time convincing me that Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” was not actually “Red Hot Love” when we first started dating. Also that it was by a group called Golden Earring, whose name had passed me by. (And did you know that Golden Earring also did “When the Bullet His the Bone”? Only it’s called “Twilight Zone”. Huh.) As I’m the music aficionado in our duo, this is rather awkward. I mean, I ought to be the one correcting him. But with extremely rare exceptions he’s right about this stuff. (Thank God I knew it was Jackson Browne and not Elton John who sang “The Load Out/Stay”, or he’d have a perfect record. Though neither one of us knew the first part of the title until satellite came into our lives.)
I did already know (or had figured out on my own) some of the worst musical misunderstandings. I didn’t believe for an instant that Jimi Hendrix needed a moment to kiss that guy; however I don’t listen to much Zeppelin. I never thought there was a bathroom on the right. But then, I first heard “Bad Moon Rising” in the context of some werewolf movie I saw with my Dad. (Heard “Werewolves of London” around the same time, in case it matters). And I never thought it was Snoopy being told to hang on, because we tooted out “Hang on Sloopy” in sixth grade band and Ms. Pam Grider explained to us in painful detail how people used to misunderstand the title.
Others were sorted out for me in childhood. My Dad just about lost his mind trying to convince my friend Jenny and I that Falco was singing “Rock me Amadeus” not “Rock me Hot Potatoes” the year I was five or so. And I heard “Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma, camellia” until my friend Elizabeth (who was also four years old to my five at the time) explained that it was “karma chameleon”. I forgot what she said for years, because I sang it wrong for ages after that. It took seeing it on a music video to remember what she told me. So when Sam got into a tremendous fight the other day with Caroline because he thinks Eddie Money’s “Midnight Blue” is “Goodnight Blue”, my heart hearkened back to my youth.
These days, it’s more that I’m often close to right, just close enough to be completely wrong. I listen to a lot of songs without knowing the precise title or who sings it. A lot of the time, this means that I’ll just mistake a portion of the chorus for the title. If you’d asked me, I’d have said Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill was “I’ve Come To Take You Home”, or that the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Pop” was “Oi, Oh, Let’s Go”. I always thought Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” was called “I Was Struck By Lightning” or possibly “Leave Your Body at the Door”. And I had no idea it was an Oingo Boingo tune. In fact, I wondered vaguely what they’d ever done anyway until I got my fancy satellite stations and realized I know some of their songs quite well. Prior to the advent of satellite, ZZ Top’s “My Head’s in Mississippi” was surely called “That Night in Memphis” or maybe “Invisible Seven Eleven”. Because seriously, if you had the chance to name a song after a drug trip, wouldn’t you? I like my title better for that one, but I doubt the Gentlemen Topp would share my opinion.
Every time I turn on the radio in our new car, it’s an education. That display has cleared up so much for me. Before, if I had been stupid enough to open my mouth, I’d have gotten all kinds of hell for attributing to David Bowie songs that are actually by The Cars or things sung by Erasure to Depeche mode. And vice versa. I couldn’t have guessed that The Go Gos were responsible for “Our Lips Are Sealed”, and I wouldn’t have known where to start a search, because I thought it was sung in incomprehensible French with a few English words thrown in here and there, with a title something like “Ah-min so ciel”. Something about the sky then. I had a basis for thinking this. It was released in the era of Falco and “99 Red Balloons”. Falco sang “Rock Me Amadeus” largely in German. And half the time the red balloons were “Luft-ballons” and there
weren’t “Ninety nine” of them but “neunundneunzig” or so. (And yes, I did have to look up the German pronunciation and spelling of 99.) Speaking of which, thanks to satellite radio, I heard the German language version of “Der Kommissar” for the first time and realized it’s not by Falco or The Clash. Oops. A last example and I’ll move on, I swear. I had never heard of Billy Squier before I read his name on the radio display.
I don’t know who I thought sang “The Stroke”, or “My Kind of Lover”, but I’m pretty sure I attributed “Lonely Is The Night” to Jackson Browne because I got it mixed up with “Tender is The Night”, even though the two songs sound nothing alike whatsoever. It’s just that the Jackson Browne is what sticks with me and ‘lonely’ and ‘tender’ both have two syllables.
Speaking of rhythm, when I’m not guess-titling from the chorus, I’ll just move syllables, maybe mess up a word or two, and never make the leap to put them together right, like the French sky the Go Gos never sang about up there. I “Mairzy Doats” things in reverse. My stubbornly phonetic ear sometimes gets right what others miss. I think most Queen fans would agree that Freddie Mercury actually says “Fried Chicken” at the very end of “One Vision”, even though the liner notes claim he repeats the title. (Or the cassette tape liner notes did, anyway. That one is so well known that the printer may have caved to popular pressure and put in fried chicken by now.) More often, though, I find myself singing my own strange bastardizations of well known songs. When it first came out, I was singing not “Love in an Elevator” but “La vie na nela vayda” to the then new Aerosmith hit. That one sorted itself out before anybody had to gently correct me. I understood most of the rest of the words, and eventually put together “Goooing Dowwn” with the bit about faxing in the mailroom and got the light to turn on about the chorus. Also, I may have heard the title as spoken by a DJ.
But it took a l-o-n-g time.
Thanks to satellite, lyrics I mishear that also appear in the song titles now get instant correction, bonus! Like that girl in “867-5309”? Yeah, her name’s Jenny, not Janet like I always thought. Also, it’s by somebody called Tommy Tutone who I’d never heard of. I’m sure I thought it was by Chicago or something. If the mistaken lyric is somewhere else in the song, I’m liable to just keep on singing it my own way until somebody else notices, (you should hear what I do to “La Macarena”) but satellite is saving me from at least some humiliation.
It’s one of my favorite new toys in a long time, and I won’t be giving it up any time soon. It’s not perfect, and I’ve got a rather lengthy critique to offer. (How often do I not?) But I’ll save that for tomorrow. Because tomorrow is another play. Or something like that.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.