Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mondegreens, Misinterpretation, and Mick

"José Can You See?..."  So begins the U.S. national anthem.

M is for Mondegreens or misheard lyrics.

I’m sure that everyone at one time or another has misheard some song lyrics and then found to their surprise that they had been singing the wrong words for perhaps years.

The term "Mondegreen" was coined in 1954 by a woman by the name of Sylvia Wright who got the words wrong to the line of an old poem. The line read,  “And laid him on the green" What she heard was “And Lady Mondegreen”.

There have been some common mondegreens such as the misinterpretation of the line “'Scuse me while I kiss the sky” from Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. Many people have heard that line as “'Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.

I can think of two examples of songs lyrics I've screwed up. A 1979 song by Al Stewart has the line “You’re on my mind like a song on the radio”. The song title is Song On The Radio, but I didn’t know that. I thought Al Stewart was singing, “You’re on my mind like the Sun on Laredo”. It made sense to me. I would imagine the Sun in Laredo Texas can be quite intense; so if anyone was on my mind to that degree then they would be making quite an impression.

The other lyrics are from the 1976 song You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees. The line I had misheard sounds to me like, “Whatcha doin’ in your neighbor's bed?...”. Allegedly, the lyrics are, “What you doin' on your back...” But if you count out the syllables in the utterance of that line, those words don’t seem to fit. I think there are a couple of sound chamber echoes of the word “back” which would account for this. I like my lyrics better.

Even better is the misinterpretation of the same line that I read on some web site. Someone had heard the words as “Whatcha doin’ on your rump, rump, rump...”

A classmate of mine from high school thought the song Me and You and a Dog Named Boo was “Me and You and Dormy-Poo” Dormy-Poo! Doesn’t that sound like a pet name for some sleepy-head; “How’s my little Dormy-Poo?”

The humor columnist Dave Barry had fun with the song Help Me Rhonda by the Beach Boys. The first line of that song is “Since she put me down I've been out doin' in my head", whatever the heck that means. Mr. Barry jokingly interpreted it as “Since she put me down there's been owls pukin' in my bed”.

Some songs (including a great deal from today’s “music”) sound completely unintelligible. For example, I’ve never been able to figure out more than five or six words from the 1972 song Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress by the Hollies. They might as well be singing the lyrics to Sukiyaki.

Here's a joke that contains a deliberate mondegreen:

Mick Jagger was invited by Hugh Hefner to a party at the Playboy Mansion. 
“Who else will be there?” asked Mick. 
“Do you know Dennis Weaver from the television show McCloud? He said he would be there”, replied Hef.
“Well,” thought Mick, “not what I would call an A list star. But what the heck.”
“Sure I’d love to come.” he told Hugh.
It was Jagger’s first time visiting the debauched dwelling and he was surprised to find the place practically deserted — no Hefner, no Weaver. So he decided to explore Hugh’s huge house . Snooping around upstairs, he came upon a closed door and heard some unusual noises on the other side. Curiosity got the best of Mick, so he opened the door and found Hefner and Dennis Weaver in bed together, going at it like newlyweds. Shocked, Mick sang out, “Hey, Hugh! Get off of McCloud!”  

I'll leave you with these lyrics from Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress:

Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga kobore naiyouni
Omoidasu harunohi
Hitoribotchi no yoru


  1. If my calculations are correct, this post should put me halfway through the A to Z challenge. Let’s see — 26 letters in the alphabet, divided by one-half, no, wait a minute, divide by 2, minus X (let’s face it, X is going to be a real factor in this challenge) so let’s add X back, and that equals M. Hey, I was right!

  2. To funny. My husband is famous (to me, anyway) for purposely singing the wrong words to a song, and then HIS version ends up sticking in my head. One song that's been misheard by a bunch of people is Creedance Clearwater's "There's a bathroom on the right." ("There's a bad moon on the rise.)

    1. That reminds me of the comedian Alan Sherman who once wanted to write a song parody about "Aquarius" with the line "This is the morning for a plate of asparagus" but he couldn't come up with a whole song about asparagus. Still the lyrics stuck with me and I always think of that song with those words.

    2. And now I'm going to always think "There's a bathroom on the right" whenever I hear Bad Moon Rising.

  3. Yes - we are halfway now. Great post - nothing comes to mind right now, but I sing along with the radio all the time and am certain I'm getting lyrics wrong. :)

    1. Thanks Lynn. When I sing along with the radio, I get the impression that I have the words correct. It's when I'm caterwauling some song in the shower that I start to doubt that I have the words right. But when I sing in the shower I'm usually in such a good mood that I don't care.

  4. Wow! I never knew there was a word for it! Very cool. I, too, sing along a lot (too much probably) to music especially in my car. I have probably made many mistakes but the only one that comes to mind is the one from "Blinded By the Light". But I won't write it as it is rather high on the "ick-factor".

    1. I know the notorious line, which in reality is "revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night". I won't say what I thought it was either.