There may be people out there who listen to and comprehend every lyric of every song, no matter how obscure (even Beck, who I’m fairly certain is playing mad libs with lines from a handbook on clinic depression). But for most of us, we hear the most obvious parts of the hook and the melody, and get a vague idea of the meaning that is sometimes completely misleading.
4 More Songs That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do:
1. “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin
Bing Crosby first sang the song “White Christmas” in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, then reprised it as the climactic finale of the 1954 film White Christmas (alongside Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and the delightfully anorexic Vera-Ellen). In both films, the song is sung in the midst of snow, pine trees, and the most Swiss Miss hot-cocoa Christmas you can imagine. But the actual first verse of the song is as follows:
The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm tree sway
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A
But it’s December, the twenty fourth
And I am longing to be up north
What now? It actually makes sense if you think about – Irving Berlin was “dreaming of a white Christmas” because he was in the middle of hot, sunny L.A., not in a cabin in the mountains watching the reindeer frolic. But still, the original lyrics don’t seem to fit with the old-timey tone of the song. It’s hard to imagine L.A. boulevards alongside lyrics like “tree tops glisten / and children listen / to hear sleigh bells in the snow” that could refer to the pioneer era.
2. Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”
There are plenty of theories about exactly what “Like A Virgin” means, but most people agree it’s an expression of female sexuality and female sensation in a new relationship. But actually, the song was written by a man (lyricist Billy Steinberg) based on his own personal experiences. Billy said:
I was saying … that I may not really be a virgin – I’ve been battered romantically and emotionally like many people – but I’m starting a new relationship and it just feels so good, it’s healing all the wounds and making me feel like I’ve never done this before, because it’s so much deeper and more profound than anything I’ve ever felt.
So it’s more about emotional experience vs. sexual experience.
3. “Tutti Fruitti” by Little Richard
Now here’s a song that actually is about sex. Specifically, back door hookups.
“What?!” you might be saying, “I partied to Tutti Fruitti at my third grade dance.”
Yes, you did. But it’s still a totally nasty song. A few of the lyrics were sanitized for the radio version, but when Little Richard sang it live he left no doubt about the real meaning. The clean version says this:
Got a gal named Daisy
She almost drives me crazy
She knows how to love me
Yes indeed, boy you don’t know
What she does to me
A hint of naughtiness, but not too bad. Little Richard sang this:
Tutti Frutti, good booty
If it don’t fit, don’t force it
You can grease it, make it easy.
Yikes. I feel greasy just reading that.
4. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”
At first listen, this sounds like a romantic song about constant devotion. On more careful examination, the lyrics start to sound like some creepy stalker constantly watching the object of his desire. But in truth, “Every Breath You Take” is about neither.
According to Sting, the song was based on his divorce. He wanted to feel control, but couldn’t. Hence he wrote lyrics with a hint of 1984:
I woke up in the middle of the night…sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, n aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.
Sting says the propensity to play the song at weddings disturbs him.
One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, ‘Well, good luck.’.
He told BBC Radio:
I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.