Sometimes artists make their lyrics deliberately obtuse and abstract, purposefully rendering them indecipherable. Sometimes, of course, they don’t, and stupid listeners conjure wild variants of what’s actually being said. Here is Clash’s chart of our favourite misinterpretations…
25. U2 ‘Mysterious Ways’
SeaWorld staff may have spread the rumour that Bono’s chorus line, “She moves in mysterious ways”, was actually “Shamu, the mysterious whale”, and the song a tribute to their famous killer whale. It wasn’t, and it isn’t.
24. Pixies ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’
Has Frank Black ever been to the west country? He certainly looks like he’s had a pastie or six. Cloth-eared Pixies fans reckoned the song told of a mule’s adventure in South West England, its chorus: “This donkey’s gone to Devon…”
23. The Police ‘Message In A Bottle’
Since tales of Sting’s tantric exploits have been doing the rounds, myriad sexual connotations have apparently been uncovered in his songs. Back in The Police days, was he really singing about a ‘massage in a brothel’?
22. Madonna ‘Erotic’
Birdwatchers the world over rejoiced as their bearded twitching hero was reportedly voice raped by Madge in this cloying romp. “Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, put your hands all over my body,” she supposedly sings. Look at the title, people!
21. The Bee Gees ‘More Than A Woman’
The ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack album sold by the zillions, and every original Gibb brothers song became a chart smashing timeless classic. But why, in a film about a strutting disco king, were they singing about a ‘bald headed woman’?
20. Bob Dylan ‘Lay Lady Lay’
From his ‘Nashville Skyline’ album, this song was one of the most straight-forward love songs Bob had written. But was he inviting the protagonist to “lay across his big brass bed”, or beckon her to ‘lay across my big breast, babe’?
19. R.E.M. ‘Losing My Religion’
“That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight” sang Michael Stipe, a notoriously conceptual wordsmith. Some thought the bald one was suggesting a bit of impromptu toilet action: ‘Let’s pee in the corner, let’s pee in the spotlight.’
18. Joni Mitchell ‘Big Yellow Taxi’
Joni’s 1970 paean to environmental development is wrongly deemed as a homophobic rant. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”, she sang, but dissenters heard: ‘A gay pair of guys put up a parking lot’. Perhaps it was the builders from Village People?
17. Fleetwood Mac ‘Go Your Own Way’
Understandably, with Fleetwood Mac’s reputation for their nefarious self-medication, this track from their 1977 ‘Rumours’ album was perceived by their more open-minded fans as a license to ‘grow your own weed’…
16. Elton John ‘Tiny Dancer’
The title character in Elton’s greatest song was songwriter Bernie Taupin’s girlfriend of the time – he implored her to “Hold me closer, tiny dancer”. Some still believe, however, that it’s the Taxi and Who’s The Boss actor Tony Danza who’s doing the holding…
15. Girls Aloud ‘The Promise’
As Sarah Harding squawks “Here I am, walking Primrose” in this Sixties-lite retro-soul knock-off, surely it wasn’t her bandmates who first interpreted her solo line as: ‘Here I am, a walking bimbo’? Because they’re all best of friends, right? Right?
14. The Beatles ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’
When Bob Dylan first met The Beatles, he told John Lennon he liked that song of theirs where they sing, ‘I get high, I get high’. Lennon embarrassedly pointed out the line was: “I can’t hide, I can’t hide”, before sparking up a doobie with the bard.
13. The Police ‘So Lonely’
For the second appearance of Sting’s cronies in this list, perhaps his most famous lyrical misconception – from repeated warblings of the title emerged the preposterous notion that Gordon Sumner was singing about BBC news anchor and presenter Sue Lawley…
12. David Bowie ‘Sound And Vision’
“Don’t you wonder sometimes,” the Dame ponders in this minimalist 1977 hit, “about sound and vision?” Or was he predicting a pastoral retreat after his Berlin burn-out? Listen closely and you could swear he wonders sometimes about ‘salmon fishing’…
11. Queen ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
In a song brimming with enigmas (who/what is a “Scaramouche”?!) it’s the translation of the line “Spare him his life from this monstrosity” that’s made it into our chart. It’s chuckles all round if you heard it as: ‘Saving his life from this warm sausage tea’.
10. The Rolling Stones ‘Beast Of Burden’
While Mick Jagger struttingly claims, “I’ll never be your beast of burden”, Italian chefs the world over have admired the lippy lothario’s dedication to dough, believing him to promise: ‘I’ll never leave your pizza burnin’’.
9. Madonna ‘La Isla Bonita’
Madonna’s reappearance here comes in the form of her 1987 single, which celebrates the mythical island of San Pedro, wherein lives a “young girl with eyes like the desert” – not, as wrongly implied, a ‘young girl with eyes like potatoes’.
8. Aretha Franklin ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’
Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul, vocal powerhouse, civil rights campaigner, Hall of Fame inductee, winner of eighteen Grammy Awards. Could such a dignified and majestic woman ever really wail the line: ‘You make me feel like a rash on a woman’?
7. Robert Palmer ‘Addicted To Love’
The late Yorkshire-born singer is best remembered for this song’s iconic supermodel-featuring video. Perhaps people should listen closer to the lyrics instead of ogling the girls – ‘Might as well face it,’ they think he sings, ‘you’re a dick with a glove’.
6. Johnny Nash ‘I Can See Clearly Now’
The sporadic success of Johnny Nash culminated in this US 1972 number one, appropriated by Nescafe to soundtrack their 1989 campaign. That’s two generations who joke Nash can ‘see clearly now Lorraine has gone’ and not, as intended, “the rain”.
5. AC/DC ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’
As the only band on this list who would conceivably prefer the misheard lyric to their original, AC/DC are erroneously credited with the woolly declaration on this song that they could offer ‘Dirty deeds and they’re done with sheep’.
4. Bjork ‘Venus As A Boy’
Flitting effortlessly between her native Icelandic and her adopted English, it’s a fair assumption that not all of Bjork’s lyrical output is easily translated. However, this song plainly establishes “He’s Venus as a boy”, and not ‘His penis has a boil’.
3. Isaac Hayes ‘Shaft’
When introducing the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks, Hayes says “He’s a complicated man, and no-one understands him but his woman.” Unfortunately, the bad mother’s reputation was dealt a blow to those who thought he was ‘a carpet-cleaning man’.
2. Jimi Hendrix ‘Purple Haze’
Perhaps the most famous misheard lyric of all time, and one that was actually adopted by the artist, who relished the inference, was Jimi’s “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” surmised to have been ‘’Scuse me while I kiss this guy’.
1. Whitney Houston ‘Saving All My Love For You’
Hardly the most complex song title to get wrong, but undoubtedly the funniest, as the pre-crackhead spritely Whitney reaches the peak of its chorus, could it be more comical to imagine her braying: ‘Cos I’m shaving off my muff for you’?