What Did That Song Say? Mondegreens and Misunderstood Song
By: John Shepler
OK, we're going to have a little sing along here. I'll start
with a line from a famous television series theme song and you
fill in the lyrics to the next line. This is easy. It's the Flintstones
"Let's ride with the family down the street."
Now it's YOUR turn for the next line. Ready? Sing!
"Um......" Did you by any chance sing "Wilma,
will you see if Fred's asleep?"
The real lyrics are "through the courtesy of Fred's two
feet." But how many people caught that? I think I remember
it as "through the courtesy of Frank and Pete." Whoever
Frank and Pete are. Maybe they were producers on the show or
something. Anyway, I kept that to myself as it might be too embarrassing
if the words were really something quite different...and for
You've probably misunderstood the lyrics to a song at sometime
yourself. Oh, come on. Admit it. We all have. Well, be embarrassed
no more. No matter how crazy you've interpreted song lyrics,
someone else has botched them even worse. Now there's even a
place to find out what others have heard in your favorite songs,
compare notes (so to speak) and confess your mondegreens to the
Mondegreens? Yes, that's the technical term for misunderstood
song lyrics, as stated by Scot Hacker who is a collector and
publisher of these things. He has over 1,780 different ones archived
at his web site, The Archive of Misheard Lyrics. It's at KissThisGuy.com,
which is a story in itself.
One of the most famous mondegreens is attributed to rock guitarist
Jimi Hendrix. In the late 1960's psychedelic rock ruled, and
Hendrix was a legend. He is best known for the song Purple Haze,
in which he plays some pretty wild guitar riffs and pauses to
sing this famous lyric: "Scuse me while I kiss the sky."
In 1967, kissing the sky wouldn't have been considered all that
out of the ordinary, but there was just enough distortion in
the mix of guitar and vocal that a lot of the concert and radio
audience heard him say "Scuse me while I kiss this guy!"
Just to muddy the waters further, Jimi reportedly caught on
to what people thought they heard and started including the misinterpretation
in his act. One report of a Hendrix concert at Washington D.
C.'s Ambassador Theater has him goofing with fellow singer Noel
Redding on stage. Every time the questionable lyric came up in
the song, Jimi would point at Noel and sing "Scuse me while
I kiss this guy!," puckering his lips in Redding's direction.
I suppose this is how history gets rewritten. Speaking of written,
there is also a book with the title "Scuse Me While I Kiss
This Guy" by Gavin Edwards, who has a collection of books
on the subject.
So where does this term "mondegreen" come from?
It was coined in the fifties by columnist Sylvia Wright who wrote
about misinterpreted song lyrics. She had mistakenly heard a
line in the Scottish folk song, "The Bonny Earl Of Morray,"
as "Oh, they have slain the Earl o' Morray and Lady Mondegreen."
It was supposed to be "Oh, they have slain the Earl o' Morray
and laid him on the green." This is according to another
web site of misunderstood lyrics called "The Ants are My
Friends." You remember when Bob Dylan sang "the ants
are my friends, they're blowing in the wind," don't you?
websites are soliciting online contributions from readers who,
seeing what others have posted, now have the courage to come
forth with their own unique mondegreens. No style of music is
immune. Garth Brooks' country hit "I've Got Friends in Low
Places" has been misheard to be "I'm not big on harsh
abrasives, think I'll slip on down to the horse races."
John Cougar Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses" comes
out to some as "little bitty cows for you and me."
Rapper M.C. Hammer's famous "Can't Touch This" has
no less than four misinterpretations. "King Tut Says,"
"Can't Trust Him," "King Justice," and would
you believe "Kentucky?"
Even the most classic songs of all time get jumbled in the
listening. "Making spirits bright" in "Jingle
Bells" sounds like "making spare ribs right,"
especially if you've been caroling too long between meals. "In
the Army Now" becomes "in Miami now." "Bei
mir bist du schoen" becomes "My dear Mr. Shane."
But that's easy if you don't know the song is in German.
One of my favorites is the story by Brian Henry who, at age
17, realized that the Fifth Dimension were not singing "this
is the dawning of the age of malaria" but instead "the
age of Aquarius." Seems his dad had gone along with it for
some time and told him the song title was really "Ode to
It's nice to know there are places to check out those questionable
lyrics BEFORE you embarrass yourself to friends and family. Of
course, these may not help if you grew up being taught that the
correct lyrics to Stars and Stripes Forever have to do with being
kind to web footed friends!
Books of Interest:
When a Man Loves a Walnut: And Even More Misheard Lyrics
by Gavin Edwards. The author who gave you two other volumes of
misunderstood song lyrics, "Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy"
and "He's Got the Whole World in His Pants," returns.
This edition pokes fun at hard-to-understand warblings from such
rockers as Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, and Bruce Springsteen.
Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: And Other Misheard Lyrics
by Gavin Edwards, Chris Kalb (Illustrator). Drawing on thousands
of letters which Details magazine received in response to a column
on misheard lyrics, Edwards identifies the songs and the artists
and presents the wrong and right lyrics to dozens of popular
songs. 100 line illustrations.
He's Got the Whole World in His Pants: And More Misheard
Lyrics by Gavin Edwards, Seth (Illustrator). This sequel
to "Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy" carries on with
even more misheard songs, including the most popular misconceptions
about the true lyrics to "Louie, Louie."
Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly: And Other Misheard Christmas
Lyrics by Gavin Edwards, Ted Stearn (Illustrator). Not even
Christmas songs are not immune from being misunderstood. How
about "He's making a list, chicken and rice." Too much
Christmas cheer can be hard on the lyrics.
Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs by Dave Barry. More
than 10,000 readers responded to Dave Barry when he asked readers
about their least favorite tunes. This witty volume compiles
the lyrics of some of those horrible songs, with hilarious results.