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 misunderstood lyrics like these: “Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche when you’re rollin’ in the night.”
While Bruce Springsteen, AKA The Boss, first recorded the song, it wasn’t until Mann covered it that “Blinded By The Light” revved to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and spawned a hilarious ode to female sanitary products.
Blame it on particular pronunciation or the general population’s selective hearing, whatever the case may be, we’ve all been guilty of perpetuating misunderstood 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 favorite 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 issue spans both sides of the pond, according to data from Spotify. While Mann and Hendrix are among the most misheard stateside, 28 poll respondents in the UK are under the impression that Annie Lennox believes “Sweet Dreams are made of… cheese” in the classic Eurythmics song.
Coming in a close second is 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 to the sitcom star Tony Danza. (An episode of Friends probably didn’t help matters.) Just a few years later on his 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 with misheard lyrics that have been mangled and otherwise distorted by the general public.
Taylor Swift – Blank Space
Misheard lyric: “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”
The Rolling Stones – Beast Of Burden
Misheard lyric: “I’ll never leave your pizza burning”
Sadly, Mick is not pledging never to burn your crust, but rather pledging never to be a pushover.
Actual lyric: “I’ll never be your beast of burden”
Journey – Open Arms
Misheard lyric: “So here I am with broken arms”
This early 80s power ballad has often been misheard as a painful injury.
Actual lyric: “So here I am with open arms”
Michael Jackson – Man in the Mirror
Misheard lyric: “And no Mrs. could have been any clever”
It feels a bit ironic, but this line from Michael Jackson often gets misheard in a variety of ways.
Actual lyric: “And no message could be clearer”
Eagles – Hotel California
Misheard lyric: “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”
ABBA – Take A Chance On Me
Misheard lyric: “If you change your mind, Jackie Chan, I’m the first in line, Jackie Chan”
It’s possible that the Swedish pop superstars were huge fans of the martial arts action star, but it’s unlikely that they knew about him in 1977, when this song was written.
Actual lyric: “If you change your mind, take a chance, I’m the first in line, take a chance”
Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
Misheard lyric: “In New York, concrete jungle, wet dream, tomato…”
It’s not a surrealistic rap. Instead, this chorus is an ode to one of the most celebrated cities in the world.
Actual lyric: “In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh… ”
The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
Misheard lyric: “I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, she’s giving me her citations”
The misheard song lyric here makes you wonder: 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”
UB40 – Food for Thought
Misheard lyric: “I’m a prima donna, dying in the dust. Waiting for the manna coming from the west.”
Is UB40 speaking of a high maintenance ex-pat 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.”
Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Misheard lyric: “Mama say, mama say, mama applesap”
This one is a Dutch mishearing, but it’s so interesting we couldn’t help but include it. Apparently, Dutch children have misunderstood the ending of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” as another kid asking for apple juice. The joke name has since become the language’s official name for the phenomenon.
Actual lyric: “Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa”
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Misheard lyric: Various words like skittle, beetle, etc.
Kurt Cobain’s abstract lyrics were never the easiest to understand, but this line from one of their biggest hits is probably the most misunderstood.
Actual lyric: “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido.”
Eminem ft. Rihanna – Monster
Misheard lyric: “I’m friends with the mustard under my bed”
Once you hear it as this condiment, you may have trouble hearing it any other way.
Actual lyric: “I’m friends with the monster under my bed.”
Macy Gray – I Try
Misheard lyric: “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”
Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer
Misheard lyric: “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”
N’Sync – It’s Gonna Be Me
Misheard lyric: “It’s gonna be May”
“It’s gonna be May” is just one of the many ways that this song title, sung by Justin Timberlake, has been misunderstood over the years, leading to a meme or two each year on May 1st.
Actual lyric: “It’s gonna be me”
Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams – Good Times Theme Song
Misheard lyric: “Good times, hangin’ in a chow line”
Even to the most trained ear, the song lyrics here can be tricky, so much so that 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”
ABBA – Dancing Queen
Misheard lyric: “See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen”
It’s hard to imagine the bright and sunny Swedish pop stars ever singing lyrics so deranged, but plenty of folks have misunderstood it that way.
Actual lyric: “See that girl, watch that scene, diggin’ the Dancing Queen”
The Smiths – Ask
Misheard lyric: “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 misunderstood 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”
R.E.M – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Misheard lyric: “Calling Jamaica”
Michael Stipe is renowned for his ability to provide a tough-to-decipher lyric, but this may be one of the most misunderstood lyrics he’s ever sung.
Actual lyric: “Call me when you try to wake her up”
Blind Melon – No Rain
Misheard lyric: “I like to keep my teeth extracted”
This misheard lyric from the 90s classic sounds painful, but is instead just incredibly depressing.
Actual lyric: “I’d like to keep my cheeks dry today”
Deep Purple – Highway Star
Misheard lyric: “She eats coleslaw every day”
Coleslaw isn’t exactly known as a food you eat in the car, but that hasn’t stopped folks from mishearing this Deep Purple gem.
Actual lyric: “She stays close on every bend”
Eddie Money – Two Tickets To Paradise
Misheard lyric: “Two chickens in a pot of rice”
To be fair, two chickens in a pot of rice isn’t a bad thing, but Eddie Money’s promise of two tickets to paradise sounds more enticing.
Actual lyric: “Two tickets to paradise”
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising
Misheard lyric: “There’s a bathroom on the right”
A friendly bit of direction or a dark portent? This often misunderstood lyric comes from one of Creedence’s most famous tunes.
Actual lyric: “Bad moon on the rise”
The Beach Boys – Help Me, Rhonda
Misheard lyric: “Well, since you put me down there’s been owls pukin’ in my bed”
Both sound like pretty horrible situations, but the correct lyric for this Beach Boys classic at least doesn’t involve a bird in Al Jardine’s house.
Actual lyric: “Well, since she put me down I’ve been out doin’ in my head”
The Rascals: Groovin’
Misheard lyric: “Life would be ecstasy, you and me and Leslie/Groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon”
This Young Rascals classic tune is much more chaste than this misheard lyric might suggest.
Actual lyric: “Life would be ecstasy, you and me endlessly/Groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon”
Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back
Misheard lyric: “I like big butts and a can of limes”
It’s possible Sir Mix-A-Lot enjoys limes, but that’s not the lyric he’s rapping on this pop rap classic.
Actual lyric: “I like big butts and I cannot lie”
The Clash – Rock The Casbah
Misheard lyric: “Rock the cash bar, rock the cash bar”
Many folks are unfamiliar with North African architecture, so it’s unsurprising to know that this is one of the most misunderstood lyrics of the 80s.
Actual lyric: “Rock the Casbah, rock the Casbah”
Madonna – Like a Virgin
Misheard lyric: “Like a virgin, hey/Touched for the 31st time”
It’s hard to imagine mishearing this one, considering the content of the song, but plenty have done so over the years.
Actual lyric: “Like a virgin, hey/Touched for the very first time”
Starship – We Built This City
Misheard lyric: “We built this city on sausage rolls”
There are probably plenty of cities that would make the claim that they’ve been built on a culinary speciality, but that’s not what Starship was singing about here.
Actual lyric: “We built this city on rock ‘n’ roll”
Toto – Africa
Misheard lyric: “Ain’t nothin’ that a hundred men on Mars could ever do”
It would be strange to go from Mars to Africa in the span of a song, but many have misunderstood this lyric from Toto’s biggest hit.
Actual lyric: “There’s nothin’ that a hundred men or more could ever do.”
The Beatles – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Misheard lyric: “A girl with colitis goes by”
Colitis is a deeply unpleasant medical condition and, thankfully, something The Beatles weren’t singing about when they put together this psychedelic classic.
Actual lyric: “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes”
Bee Gees: More Than A Woman
Misheard lyric: “Bald headed woman”
One of the most enduring songs from the group, this often misheard lyric first emerged on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Actual lyric: “More than a woman”
Adele – Chasing Pavements
Misheard lyric: “Should I give up, or should I just keep chasing penguins, even if it leads nowhere?”
To be fair, chasing penguins would also likely lead nowhere, but this Adele classic is instead about pavements.
Actual lyric: “Should I give up, or should I just keep chasing pavements, even if it leads nowhere?”
Johnny Nash – I Can See Clearly Now
Misheard lyric: “I can see Deirdre now/Lorraine has gone”
Johnny Nash’s iconic song doesn’t feature any names specifically, just the general idea that happy times are here again.
Actual lyric: “I can see clearly now/The rain has gone”
Robert Palmer – Addicted to Love
Misheard lyric: “Might as well face it/You’re a dick with a glove”
Robert Palmer’s classic song has been misunderstood in many ways over the years. Needless to say, we can’t print them all here.
Actual lyric: “Might as well face it/You’re addicted to love”
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind
Misheard lyric: “The ants are my friends”
Bob Dylan’s unique accent has made for a good number of misunderstood lyrics over the years. This is just one of the most famous.
Actual lyric: “The answer, my friend”
TLC – Waterfalls
Misheard lyric: “Don’t go, Jason Waterfalls”
Unless we missed something in the music video, the TLC lyric is more about general waterfalls as opposed to a guy named Jason.
Actual lyric: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”
Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire
Misheard lyric: “Ohh, dyslexics on fire”
A dark mishearing of what should be a fun and sensual lyric from Kings of Leon’s big hit.
Actual lyric: “Ohh, this sex is on fire”