4 Songs With Secret Dark Messages

4 years ago by in Audio, Quotes, Uncategorized

Usually the tone of a song fits the message – anyone who saw the recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby will agree that Lana Del Ray’s haunting melody perfectly matches the melancholy refrain “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”.  But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the lyrics of a song are so subtle and the tune so deceptively upbeat that the casual listener has no idea of the dark message the song actually expresses.

4 Songs With Secret Dark Messages:

1. Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff”

Pretty much everything sounds cheerful when sung in the reggae genre, but the title “I Shot The Sheriff” makes it pretty obvious Marley isn’t singing about rainbows and unicorns.  Still, the true meaning of the song is even darker than a ditty about law enforcement homicide.  “I Shot The Sheriff” is actually about Bob Marley’s fights with his girlfriend over birth control.  “The Sheriff” is the name Marley uses for the doctor who prescribed his girlfriend the pill.

Check out the lyrics:

Sheriff John Brown always hated me,
For what, I don’t know:
Every time I plant a seed,
He said kill it before it grow –
He said kill them before they grow

Makes you kinda sad for all the little Marleys that never got to grow.  Guess Bob should have married Michelle Duggar instead.

2. Harry McClintock’s “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”

There has never been a song that underwent a stranger transformation than “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”.  Your mom probably sang it to you as the Willy Wonka-esque version below:

Oh, the buzzin’ of the bees in the peppermint trees
‘Round the soda water fountains
Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

But when Harry McClintock wrote the song in 1928, it was a ballad describing a hobo recruiting a child to the itinerant life with tales of a bum’s paradise.  It described “cigarette trees” and “streams of alcohol”, not peppermint and lemonade.  It was no sanitized children’s song, as it was based off McClintock’s own experiences riding the rails, defending his life and person from the avaricious and amorous advances of his fellow hobos. Though he never recorded the final stanza, it went like this:

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, “Sandy,
I’ve hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain’t seen any candy.
I’ve hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I’ll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo’s whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.


3. Sixpence None The Richer’s “There She Goes”

Sixpence None The Richer is famous for wistful little romantic numbers like “Kiss Me” that formed the soundtrack to 90s teen shows like Dawson’s Creek and Rachel Leigh Cook’s makeover reveal in She’s All That. The band seems about as hardcore as chain wallets and a hearty spritzing of CK One, but turns out, the song “There She Goes” isn’t another ballad about unspoken love.  In reality, it’s an ode to heroin.

There she goes
There she goes again
Pulsing through my veins
And I just can’t contain
This feeling that remains

There she goes
There she goes again
She calls my name,
Pulls my train
No one else could heal my pain
And I just can’t contain
This feeling that remains

Ecstasy may have been the drug du jour in the 90s, but apparently not for Sixpence.

4. The Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride”

The Beatles seem to show up a lot on these lists, probably because their songs sound deceptively short and simple.  “Ticket To Ride” is another example of a Beatles song that is catchy and upbeat, but loaded with subtext.  I always though it was about a girl hitting the road, but according to John Lennon, the “ticket to ride” was a card carried by Hamburg prostitutes in the 1960s to show they had a clean bill of health and were ready for action.

She said that living with me
Is bringing her down, yeah
For she would never be free
When I was around

Ah, she’s got a ticket to ride
She’s got a ticket to ride
She’s got a ticket to ride
But she don’t care  

I think we can trust Lennon on this, because the Beatles honed their skills in the early days of the band by playing 8 hours a night at clubs in Hamburg, Germany.  Malcolm Gladwell references this experience in his book “Outliers” as proof that the Beatles had at least the 10,000 hours of practice necessary to become truly masterful at their craft long before they made it big in the UK or US.

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