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Saturday, February 23

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Airbags

Several years ago, 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: And Other Misheard Lyrics by Gavin Edwards caught my eye on one of my many trips to the bookstore. I was amused to discover that I wasn't the only one who thought Jimi Hendrix had been talking about smooching a dude — not that's there's anything wrong with that — and I immediately started paging through to see other examples. As expected, the Rolling Stones, Elton John and the Steve Miller Band were heavily represented. These fellas are not the best enunciators. Two of my favorite examples:

Misheard Lyrics: Hold me closer, Tony Danza / Count the head lice on the highway
Actual Lyrics: Hold me closer, tiny dancer / Count the headlights on the highway
"Tiny Dancer," Elton John (first appears at -3:42)

Misheard Lyric: Chug-a-lug, strawberry man
Actual Lyric: Jungle love, it's driving me mad
"Jungle Love," the Steve Miller Band (first appears at -2:23)

There is a term for this phenomenon: mondegreen. As Edwards explains:

The term "mondegreen" was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child, young Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines "They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen." As is customary with misheard lyrics, she didn't realize her mistake for years. The song was not about the tragic fate of Lady Mondegreen, but rather, the continuing plight of the good earl: "They had slain the Earl of Moray/And laid him on the green."

I bought 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy as well as the sequels When a Man Loves a Walnut, He's Got the Whole World in His Pants and the holiday offering Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly: And Other Misheard Christmas Lyrics. (Sadly, the latter three seem to be out of print.) I have shared them with many of my friends who, like me now often sing misheard lyrics rather than the real words. It's much more entertaining, and that way we can pass along the best ones. I've included five below — three of mine and two from friends — that I've proudly added to the Misheard Lyrics Lexicon.

Misheard Lyric: I can see all popsicles in my brain
Actual Lyric: I can see all obstacles in my brain
"I Can See Clearly Now," Johnny Nash (appears at -2:27)

This was most likely my first mondegreen, which I picked up as a kid in the 1970s. It's not that different from some of the weirder stuff the Beatles described, and it was easy to imagine a Yellow Submarine sort of cartoon with a person in a an odd costume literally imagining a bunch of frozen treats in his or her noggin. I sussed out the real lyrics sooner rather than later, but I think my version has a sort of naïve poetry about it.

Misheard Lyric: I spent four lonely days in a brown leather case
Actual Lyric: I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A. haze
"Come Monday," Jimmy Buffet (first appears at -2:29)

Another childhood mistake that was soon corrected, but it still makes me wonder. Which would be worse: being trapped inside a suitcase for several days or breathing in the toxicity that is Los Angeles (and I'm not just talking about the smog)?

Misheard Lyric: And don't forget about my blowjob
Actual Lyric: And don't forget what I told you
"Your Love," The Outfield (appears at 1:57)

This one is from Megan, a college acquaintance who refused to believe that the wee British lead singer wasn't singing about oral sex. Because this was in The Time Before The Internets — "Your Love" was a hit in 1985 — we didn't have a handy way to search for lyrics, and no one we knew admitted to owning the LP or tape. Without liner notes, we were forced to play the song over and over again. She remained unconvinced. Keep in mind, though, that "Your Love" came from the debut album Play Deep, which was followed by an album called Bangin'. Hmmm. Perhaps Megan was onto something.

Misheard Lyric: Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore
Actual Lyric: Tell me more, tell me more
"Summer Nights," John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (first appears at 0:22)

A former co-worker admitted this one to me during a slow night at our dive bar. She said for the longest time, she couldn't figure out why, in Grease, Danny and Sandy were talking about some guy named Tommy. It makes an odd sort of sense, really. "Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore, did you get very far? Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore, like, does he have a car? Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore, was it love at first sight? Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore, did she put up a fight? Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore, but you don't gotta brag. Tommy Moore, Tommy Moore, 'cause he sounds like a drag." Man, Tommy sure gets around, doesn't he? Perhaps he's the one at the cafeteria table behind Newton-John when she sings "It turns colder, that's where it ends."

Misheard Lyric: If you're all alone with a pretty purse of gold
Actual Lyric: If you're all alone when the pretty birds have flown
"Take a Chance on Me," ABBA (first appears at -3:44)

I love ABBA, perhaps unhealthily so. When I made the switch (late) from vinyl/cassettes to CDs, ABBA Gold and a version of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony were my first purchases. "Take a Chance on Me" is one of if not my favorite tune from the Swedish super group (although newer-to-me discoveries of "People Need Love" and "So Long" have pushed it to the back of my playlist). So imagine my shock and awe when I recently realized — I'm talking within the last few weeks, here — that Benny, Björn, Frida and Agnetha were not harmonizing about glittery fashion accessories but about a deserting aviary flock instead. I can only defend myself by saying that it isn't too much of a reach to imagine this quartet rhapsodizing about shiny handbags.

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Comments

Jenn / May 28, 2008 4:44 PM

To this day I can't get the lyrics to any Natalie Merchant song right. I don't know what it is about her voice but it confuses the hell out of me.

 

About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the CW's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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