When I was eight years old, I heard a radio disc jockey lamenting about the new music that kids were listening to. He couldn’t understand the appeal and didn’t know why Frank Sinatra music wasn’t good enough for the younger generation. Heck, he explained, he couldn’t even understand the words to these new songs. With Frank the lyrics were easy to understand. “I did it MY way.” Simple. Straightforward. What’s not to get?
He continued. The Beatles, for example, had a new song that was popular with the kids, and it made no sense at all. It was a song that was about a dirty story and a dirty man. That much he could understand. What he didn’t get was the song’s hook. “It’s a bad Chrysler.” What? Why write a confusing song that is about a story AND a car?
Even though I was just a kid and too young to really appreciate the song “Paperback Writer,” at least I knew the correct title of the song. I guess I was just born that way. I can clearly hear song titles that other people, my wife for instance, just don’t hear correctly. Where I heard “Paperback Writer” at age eight, the professional radio disc jockey heard “It’s a bad Chrysler.” I can remember thinking to myself, “He’s not a very good listener.”
Mishearing lyrics is actually a thing. There is a term for it: “mondegreen.” Evidently the word has been around since the 1950s. The mishearing of lyrics and song titles has been around much longer than that.
There are people who study and collect their favorite mondegreens. They are all new to me, since I have this knack for knowing exactly what lyrics are being sung. Some people might call it a gift. For example, I never made what I guess is a common mistake: mishearing the lyric from “Bad Moon Rising” to say “there’s a bathroom on the right”, rather than “there’s a bad moon on the rise.” I mean, come on! It’s in the title of the song. Bathroom on the right? You’ve got to be kidding me.
There are more, and some of them just as famous as what I call the Bad Moondegreen. People think Jeff Lynne is singing BRUUUUUUUCE in the song “Don’t Bring Me Down.” He’s not. Of course, the word is “grooss.” And no, Jimi Hendrix did not sing, “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy” in the classic song, “Purple Haze.”
I would never make such a mistake, though apparently a lot of folks do. Here is a list of my favorite mondegreens. These are songs where I know the correct title, but sadly most people don’t.
#1 Song title that I have right and you probably have wrong:
SECRET ASIAN MAN—JOHNNY RIVERS. This 1966 classic is about a James Bond type person in the far east.
#2 Song title that I have right and you probably have wrong:
BALD HEADED WOMAN—THE BEE GEES. A touching tribute by the three siblings to a woman (perhaps a relative or a local shopkeeper) who sadly lost all of her hair.
#3 Song Title that I have right and you probably have wrong:
LETS GET A DOG—MARVIN GAYE. Marvin pulls no punches in this classic. He wants a puppy, and he wants his woman to know it.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve misheard the lyrics to these and other songs over the years. Most people have. I’m just one of the fortunate few.
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