I was intrigued when I saw the title of John Robb’s September 18th posting on this blog, “Top 10 misheard lyrics in rock,” as lyrical alteration (whether accidental or not) has always been of great interest to a rockwriter such as I. The two specific examples of misheard lyrics Robb provides are fantastic — the Beatles’ “The girl with colitis walks by,” and Fugazi’s “I am a pastry boy, I bake, I bake,
I bake!” – but in too many of his other listings, he just
gives us a general I-was-young-then-I-didn’t-know-what-they-were-singing-about disclaimer, without telling us what he misheard. Which takes all the fun out of it, of course.
In response, I’d like to report some specific ear-to-brain lyrical gaps of my own experience. My alltime favorite remains the one my girlfriend, Teresa, related to me when we were first dating in the 1960′s. She said that in the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go,” she’d thought for a long time that “With a burning love” was followed not by the actual “That stings like a bee,” but rather, “That steams like a beet”(!) She’d imagined maybe it was some soul-food reference, until she figured out the real lyric. I’ve often thought since then that Holland-Dozier-Holland’s original metaphor is a bit mixed, and that Teresa’s misheard line actually fits the couplet better.
Entering the Seventies, I took a line in England Dan and John Ford Coley’s “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” not as the intended “I’m not talking ’bout moving in,” but “I’m not talking ’bout millennium,” which sort of fits the song’s scenario anyway. Teresa chimed in on Don McLean’s epic “American Pie,” hearing “‘Cause I saw you dancing in the gym” as “dancing chin to chin.” (Fred Astaire, call your office!)
Around the time I was setting out to be a pro rock critic, Eric Clapton had a hit with his cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” — unfortunately, I was unfamiliar with the original song, and the first time I heard Clapton’s version on the radio, I took his “I shot the sheriff/ But I did not shoot the deputy” as “I shot Sherry/ But I did not shoot Debbie.”(!) I figured out my mistake (or had it pointed out to me) early on, but then I went perverse, insisting that my version better expressed Clapton’s own suburban-whitebread verbal and conceptual persona. Even Teresa (she of the legendary mishearings) found my stubborn insistence a bit silly, but as a budding critic, I was dedicated to helping my reviewees (such as Mr. Slowhand) edify their offerings, after all.
After getting off on the right foot and some ”wrong” lyrics, Teresa and I are still together after almost 50 years. I like to think that my love for her still “steams like a beet!”
Feel free to add to this thread with your own misheard lyrics, especially ones that ended up improving the songs.