Lyrics to 50 famously misunderstood songs, explained
The word mondegreen is defined as a misheard word or phrase that makes sense in your head, but is, in fact, incorrect. The term was coined in a November 1954 Harper’s Bazaar piece, where the author, Sylvia Wright, recalled a childhood mishearing. According to the author, when she was young her mother would read to her from a book called “Reliques of Ancient Verse.” Her favorite poem from the 1765 book went like this: “Ye Highland and Ye Lowlands / Oh where have you been? / They have slain the Earl o’Moray / And laid him on the green.” Wright, however, heard the last line as “And Lady Mondegreen.”
A mondegreen actually takes place between auditory perception (the physical act of hearing) and meaning-making (when our brains imbibe the noises with significance). This is essentially what happens in the childhood game of telephone. As one friend whispers a word or phrase into another’s ear, it can become wildly distorted, and a totally different word or phrase can come out the other side. The acoustic information that’s received and the interpretation a brain comes up with simply don’t match up. It’s not exactly entirely clear why this happens, we just know that it does.
One instance we see this happen a lot is in song lyrics. You can blame it on the overwhelming amount of auditory signals, like instruments and background singers, or the fact that some words and phrases just sound remarkably like others, but chances are you’ve had at least one instance in your life where you’ve misheard what the singer is saying. Today, we’re here to help you out. Stacker has rounded up 50 famously misheard songs, explaining what’s actually being said. From “hold me closer Tony Danza” to “there’s a wino down the road,” read on for lyrics to 50 famously misunderstood songs.
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'Tiny Dancer' by Elton John
- Misheard: “Hold me closer Tony Danza”
- Correct: “Hold me closer tiny dancer”
One of the most frequently misheard lyrics, this Elton John blooper has spawned a life of its own. For example, the single, which went three-times platinum in April 2018, spawned a joke on an episode of “Friends.” When discussing the most romantic songs of all time, Phoebe says that, in her opinion, it’s “the one that Elton John wrote for that guy on ‘Who’s the Boss’.”
'We Built This City' by Starship
- Misheard: “We built this city on sausage rolls”
- Correct: “We built this city on rock and roll”
This misheard lyric from Starship’s first-ever single is so common that it prompted a parody song. YouTuber LadBaby (aka Mark Hoyle) held the #1 position on the U.K. singles charts during the 2018 holiday season for his cover about pork-stuffed pastries. Beating out artists like Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey for the honor, all proceeds from his track were donated to the Trussell Trust, a food bank charity.
'Drift Away' by Uncle Kracker
- Misheard: “Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul”
- Correct: “Give me the beat boys and free my soul”
Peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Drift Away” is one of Uncle Kracker’s most famous songs. Unbeknownst to most people, it’s also a cover. The original version of the song belongs to soul singer Dobie Gray, which was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1973.
'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift
- Misheard: “All the lonely Starbucks lovers”
- Correct: “Got a long list of ex-lovers”
This lyric was misheard so frequently by Taylor Swift fans, that the singer actually poked fun at her own song on Valentine’s Day in 2015. In a now-deleted tweet, she wrote: “Sending my love to all the lonely Starbucks lovers out there this Valentine’s Day… even though that is not the correct lyric.” To which the coffee chain playfully replied: “Wait, it’s not?”
'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen
- Misheard: “Saving his life from this warm sausage tea”
- Correct: “Spare him his life from this monstrosity”
Anything less than a piping hot cup of tea is an actual nightmare for most Brits, but it turns out that’s not actually what one of their most famous musicians was crooning about. The song’s popularity in the country has endured regardless. As of 2018, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the third-best-selling U.K. single of all time, and is often cited as one of the greatest rock songs world-wide.
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'Baby Got Back' by Sir Mix-A-Lot
- Misheard: “I like big butts in a can of limes”
- Correct: “I like big butts and I can not lie”
When Sir Mix-A-Lot’s famously irreverent song made its debut in 1992, its equally outrageous video was briefly banned by MTV due to its bootylicious nature. Rather than squashing the song’s popularity, the ban actually boosted it, and in the end, the track spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
'Message in a Bottle' by The Police
- Misheard: “A year has passed since I broke my nose”
- Correct: “A year has passed since I wrote my note”
The Police considered “Message in a Bottle” one of their most lyrically deep songs. In fact, when discussing the song in “1000 UK Number Ones,” Sting said, “I think the lyrics are subtle and well-crafted enough to hit people on a different level from something you just sing along to.”
'Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In' by Fifth Dimension
- Misheard: “This is the dawning of the Age of Asparagus”
- Correct: “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”
A true hippie anthem, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” is actually a mashup of two songs written for the musical “Hair.” It’s also somewhat of a rarity in the music industry as it was recorded by the group in two different cities: Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Despite its nontraditional origins, the single was certified platinum by the RIAA in August 1991, 22 years after its original release.
'Waterfalls' by TLC
- Misheard: “Don’t go Jason Waterfalls”
- Correct: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”
In 1995, TLC won the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year for this signature track, which spent seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, that didn’t keep fans from actually knowing all the lyrics to the now-classic track. The “Jason Waterfalls” lyric even has its own Urban Dictionary page, setting fans straight on their mistakes once and for all.
'Smells like Teen Spirit' by Nirvana
- Misheard: “Here we are now in containers”
- Correct: “Here we are now, entertain us”
Legend has it, Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s lead singer, used to use the correct line, “here we are, now entertain us” whenever he entered a party. It was such a signature for him, that he found a way to work it into the song, only to have it misheard frequently by listeners. The confusion didn’t stop the alternative track from reaching #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.