We’re all unreliable narrators, that’s why when asked to recall what you did last Tuesday, or the lyrics to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s ‘Blinded By The Light’, the result is a jumbled mess of false memories and mangled lyrics like these: “Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche when you’re rollin’ in the night.”
While Bruce Springsteen first recorded the song, it wasn’t until Mann covered it, that the song revved to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and spawned a hilarious ode to female sanitary products.
Blame it on particular annunciation or the general population’s selective hearing, whatever the case may be, we’ve all been guilty of mishearing and perpetuating the wrong lyrics to some of the biggest hits in music history. In fact, it’s so common there’s even a technical term for it: mondegreen.
In a 1954 piece for Harper’s magazine, writer Sylvia Wright spoke of one of her favourite verses in Reliques Of Ancient English Poetry, a 1765 book of popular poems and ballads. It began with the lines, “Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands / Oh, where hae ye been? / They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.” Except there was no lady to speak of, Amurray was slain and they “laid him on the green”.
While most people don’t belt out ancient English poetry in the shower, they have misconstrued Jimi Hendrix’s sexual orientation on the iconic hit ‘Purple Haze’ with “Scuse me while I kiss this guy” among many other offenses.
This oratory issue spans both sides of the pond, according to data from Spotify. While Mann and Hendrix hold the majority in misquoting stateside, 28 poll respondents in the UK are under the impression that “Sweet Dreams are made of... cheese” in the classic Eurythmics song.
Coming in a close second is repeat offender, Elton John. You can chalk this up to the Americans, who believed the opening track on John’s 1971 album Madman Across The Water, ‘Tiny Dancer’, was really an ode the sitcom star Tony Danza. Just a few years later on his ’73 hit ‘Bennie And The Jets’ people mistook his sartorial observations “She's got electric boots, a mohair suit,” to be “She’s got electric boobs, a bowl of soup”.
Whether it’s a Freudian slip or just rubbish radio quality, here are some other songs that have been misquoted, mangled and otherwise distorted by the general public.
‘Blank Space’, Taylor Swift
“All the lonely Starbucks lovers”
Taylor Swift isn’t wistfully recalling unrequited love over lattes but talking about her old flames.
Actual lyric: “Got a long list of ex-lovers”
‘Beast Of Burden’, The Rolling Stones
“I’ll never leave your pizza burning”
Sadly, Mick is not pledging to never to burn your crust but rather pledging never to be a pushover.
Actual lyric: “I’ll never be your beast of burden”
‘Hotel California’, Eagles
“On a dark desert highway, cool whip in my hair”
Is this Don Henley’s ode to the desert or desserts?
Actual lyric: “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair”
‘Take A Chance On Me’, ABBA
“If you change your mind Jackie Chan, I’m the first in line Jackie Chan”
Rumble In The Bronx was released in 1996, but that didn’t stop people from thinking ABBA’s a cappella vocal rounds were about the martial-arts star.
Actual lyric: “If you change your mind take a chance, I’m the first in line, take a chance”
‘Good Vibrations’, The Beach Boys
“I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s giving me her citations”
Are The Beach Boys excited about female flirtations or a woman’s rigorous commitment to formatting abridged material?
Actual lyric: I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s giving me excitations”
‘Food for Thought’, UB40
“I’m a prima dona, dying in the dust. Waiting for the manna coming from the west”.
Is UB40 speaking of a high maintenance expat dying for exported moisturizer or an indictment of politicians’ refusal to relieve African famine?
Actual Lyric: “Ivory Madonna, dying in the dust. Waiting for the manna coming from the west”.
‘I Try’, Macy Gray
“I blow bubbles when you are not here”
Macy is not merely bored but devastated when her lover is away.
Actual lyric: “My world crumbles when you are not near”
‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, Bon Jovi
“It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”
This striving 80s hair metal anthem refers to self-motivation rather than nudity helping you to achieve your goals.
Actual lyric: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not”
‘Good Times’ Theme Song, Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams
“Good Times, hangin' in a chow line".
Even to the most trained ear, this lyric can be tricky, so much so it inspired a skit by Dave Chappelle on his eponymous TV show. After testing quiz show contestants on their knowledge of black culture, they’re all stumped by the lyric in this catchy TV theme song from the 70s sitcom.
Actual lyric: “Good times, hanging in and jiving”.
‘Ask’, The Smiths
“Because if it's not love, then it's the bum, the bum, the bum, the bum, the bum, the bum, the bum, that will bring us together”.
Morrissey has always been mum on the subject of his sexuality, but that doesn’t stop people from speculating on the topic and this misheard lyric only fuels the fire.
Actual lyric: “Because if it's not love, then it's the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, that will bring us together”.