Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 17th 2018
Lyrics actually do mean something
I am a writer (though success has been harder to come by than I had hoped). I enjoy writing, and I enjoy reading. I find there is nothing better than either disappearing into some author's world or losing myself in a world of my own construction. In fact, regular readers will know by now of my obsession with writing and reading and, when it comes to songs, the lyrics. Lyrics mean something, dammit!
Sometimes, the lyrics are pretty obvious in their meaning. Some songs tell a story, and some are so straightforward it is obvious what the singer is talking about (She Loves You by The Beatles is blatantly and simply about the singer telling another guy that a girl loves him, for example).
Sometimes the lyrics are deliberately couched in language and metaphor to hide their true meaning, like American Pie by Don McLean. Sometimes the lyrics are just random collections of words that have been put together, which is what Freddie Mercury claimed Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was.
Then there are those songs where the meanings of the song is misunderstood because of preconceived ideas. The Beatles' Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was thought to be about drugs (LSD, to be exact), but John Lennon always claimed it was based on a picture his son Julian drew. The same can be said about Mr Tambourine Man (Dylan said it was about his muse, not drugs) and Puff The Magic Dragon (Peter, Paul and Mary claimed it was written before they knew what drugs were, so it wasn`t about drugs).
And this brings us to the list. These songs are not those where the message is obscured. These are songs which have been used completely inappropriately. If you read the lyrics, the meaning of the song is obvious, but clearly people either just read the title or listened to one or two lines and let it go at that. It has meant that there have been some strange song choices…
Okay, let's be serious here – I find it strangely hilarious how some songs are misrepresented. So, apologies for this indulgence.
Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen This is a song that is one of the most powerful protest songs written in the 1980s. It decries the way veterans of the Vietnam War were sill being treated over ten years after the end of the war. I've already discussed this song in a previous column, and the recommendation of listening to the stripped back version still stands, if you want the full lyrical impact.
The Misuse: Ronald Reagan (or, more likely, his handlers) clearly only heard the chorus, thought it was an anthem about the greatness of America, and he used it to promote himself. Fast forward thirty years and, before Springsteen himself put a stop to it, Donald Trump did exactly the same thing. Sure, in the 80s, it was a big hit and the MTV-isation of music meant the image was more important than the message. But now? After we all know about the song? He still tried to use it? Seriously? At least Obama used Hulk Hogan's wrestling them I Am A Real American...
Thnks fr th mmrs by Fall Out Boy This song is a bittersweet song with a pounding beat that is really quite catchy. The lyrics tell the tale of a hook-up and the guy leaving the girl in the morning with nothing more than a text message to say thanks for sleeping with him even if it wasn't the best night. Or it could be about lovers who are only remaining in the relationship for the sex. Both interpretations hold well. It is an angry song, but it is also quite a crude message. For all that, I reckon it is a good song.
The Misuse: In the years from 2007 onwards, this song was used by children. Hang on, what? I was a teacher at the time, and I went to a lot of school end of year concerts. This continued when I was there at my kids' school concerts. This song was selected by many of the graduating year seven classes before they went on into high school to say goodbye to primary school. Because the chorus says "thanks for the memories even if they weren't so great", that is all that is focused on. It makes for quite amusing expressions on the faces of parents when they understand the rest of the lyrics (those that bother listening, of course)…
We've Got Tonight by Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band This is a beautiful song, but the lyrics make it perfectly clear it is about a one night stand between a guy and a girl he has only just met. He's lonely, reckons she is as well, and he is proposing a hook-up. It is sung beautifully; it is as though Bob Seeger is begging for this to happen. Such a sad song, really.
The Misuse: I would have thought this would have been an obvious song to avoid. But I was watching some inane talk show on that YouTube thing and found two semi-famous people (I had no idea who they were) who said that this was 'their song'. Sure, okay, maybe they met like that. I can handle that. So I mentioned it to a group of friends one night. One couple exchanged a concerned glance, and then he asked, "What's wrong with that?" Apparently, it is also 'their' song, and they dance to it whenever they hear it and they're alone. Aww, how sweet – 'their' song is about a one night stand.
Every Breath You Take by The Police
The lyrics of this song were a matter of some consternation when it was released. It sounds like the sort of song a guy might sing to a woman he loves because he is infatuated with her. How nice. But some people took a closer look at the lyrics and worked out that, yes, the singer did love this girl, but he was also stalking her. Suddenly it went from sweet to downright creepy. Good song, but… yikes!
The Misuse: A quick survey of people I know well enough to survey told me that more than half of them had heard this song at either a wedding or engagement party. Sure, maybe it sounds superficially like a guy likes the way a girl looks, but the fact that it's been known since the 1980s that this song was about stalking, that is probably not the greatest way for a relationship to have begun. I even went to a wedding (back in the 1990s) where this was the song the couple danced to. I'll say it again – creepy. (And yet, they're still married…)
Perfect Day by Lou Reed
This song may sound like a jaunty, laid-back song about a perfect day spent with someone special. Its delivery – the piano and Reed's gentle voice – certainly gives that impression, along with the string-drenched chorus. But it is actually about scoring and taking drugs. Uhh… yeah. Perfect. Reed was a user and this song probably puts the thoughts of a drug-user into a perspective that non-users can understand. Drugs make his day perfect, help him "forget himself", think he is "some-one good"… it is actually rather sad and depressing. Beautiful, but sad. Oh, and this message is so obvious that it was even used in the film Trainspotting.
The Misuse: I don't know how many times I've seen videos put together of wonderful things – the birth of a child, a birthday party, even a wedding – where the person who put it together used this song as the over-dub. Oh, look at that cute Christening… why do you need drugs to get through it? Yes, the opening verse does seem like a montage from a rom-com and the chorus is sort of glorious, but it is only about a perfect day where you are out of your head.
Trainspotting video, just to emphasise it.
Now, there's possibly more. But I think these 5 are the most obvious I've seen where a song with a blatant meaning is completely misused by people who, really, should have known better. Any I've missed? Join in on the comments section below and let me know!