You Never Knew What These Misunderstood Songs Were Really About
Music will never let you down. No matter if you are going through a sad or happy moment, music is always there to support you. A single song is enough to inspire you to change the world today, or to tell someone that you love them, or to think about that aha-moment from your youth… It’s no secret that songs are more complex than we believe them to be. Some have hidden meanings; some are personal, while others have a deeper meaning than meets the eye.
Even some of the most popular songs ever have been misconstrued by people over the years that the original intention was completely lost. Whether it’s because of misleading chords, of urban legend, or just plain misinterpretation, when the public gets the hold of a song, it can go into something completely new. Is it for better or for worse? It’s a personal view. Scroll down to see commonly misunderstood songs and see if your favorite song is here.
35. ‘The One I Love’ – R.E.M.
This song was never supposed to be a love song. R.E.M. members almost scratch off this song, because according to them it was too brutal really violent, and awful. That’s at least what the lead singer, Michael Stipe, said.
Yes, the title is definitely misleading, but the lyrics are far from that. Calling your lover “a simple prop to occupy my time” sure doesn’t sound like a romantic move.
34. ‘Alive’ – Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam is one of the most popular bands of the ’90s. Their every song would great a lot of buzz among the youth. Their hit from 1991, ‘Alive’, was no exception. At first, this song may sound like an anthem of perseverance, but when you listen to it carefully, you realize that is much more.
The entire track is based around learning as a teenager that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather, and that his biological father was dead. “He’s still dealing with love, he’s still dealing with the death of his father. All he knows is ‘I’m still alive’… That’s totally out of burden,” Vedder once explained to Rolling Stone.
33. ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)’ – Green Day
Green Day had many hits, but this acoustic ballad became a huge hit – partially thanks to its use in the Seinfeld finale — in 1998. The track was singing about the passage of time and in no time it was one of the most popular songs on big gathering, including weddings and proms.
However, this song isn’t about a happy beginning, but rather about anger. Yes, this soft song is an angry rebuke against a girlfriend who will one day regret leaving the “time of her life.”
32. ‘Closing Time’ – Semisonic
Semisonic’s “Closing Time” has become an anthem for last calls around the world, as every corner played this song, at least once during the night. However, the song’s lyrics are far from having anything o do with the bar.
Singer Dan Wilson wrote this popular song about his girlfriend’s pregnancy. The band realized the bar connection early on and admitted that’s what audiences would think the song’s about.
31. ‘In The Air Tonight’ – Phil Collins
Phil Collins is known for many hits during his prosperous career. However, this song is the one with the darkest moment of all time. Even an urban legend tells the story of a man watching another man drown and doing nothing to save him, and Collins himself saw this. The singer then wrote the song, invited the man to a show, and sang it right to his face.
The story spread and even Eminem mentions it in his hit ‘Stan’, with lyrics “You know the song by Phil Collins, ‘In the Air of the Night’ (sic) about that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drownin’, but didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?” However, this story is just fake, and the sound itself has no specific story behind, but Phil’s emotions after his divorce.
30. ‘American Girl’ – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
“American Girl” is one of Petty’s most beloved songs. The track became popular with late 1970s punk/new wave influences to become a classic. Although this song has a status as a rock classic, the song’s lyrics often have been misunderstood.
For years, many believed the song is about a girl who committed suicide by throwing herself from a residential tower at the University of Florida, which is located in Petty’s hometown of Gainesville. However, Petty claims that this is just an urban legend. In his book Conversations With Tom Petty, Petty explained that this song’s inspiration came from his time living in California.
29. ‘Every Breath You Take’ – The Police
When you need a romantic song, you can never go wrong by choosing The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”. This song just has that love vibe and a magical sound, which is why many newlyweds choose to use it as their first wedding dance. However, his tack isn’t about love at all. This song is actually about obsession.
Even Sting said, “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly, and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song when it’s quite the opposite.”
28. ‘Blackbird’ – The Beatles
“Blackbird” has been one of the most debated Beatles songs. Paul McCartney wrote this famous hit. On the surface, Blackbird sounds like any other easy-to-sing love song.
However, according to the group members, the song’s lyrics are actually a reference to the Civil Rights Movement, which was happening in the United States at the time.
27. ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ – Third Eye Blind
Third Eye Blind’s 1997 smash hit is best remembered for its pop sound and an ear-worm chorus of “doot doot doot, dootdodootdoot.” Interestingly, that pop sound is actually very dark. Songwriter and the lead singer, Stephan Jenkins have explained that the song is actually about addiction.
“It’s about a time in my life when it seemed like all of my friends just sort of tapped out on speed.” On the song’s sound, he’s said it’s “bright and shiny on the surface, and then it just pulls you down in this lockjawed mess. … The music that I wrote for it is not intended to be bright and shiny for bright and shiny’s sake.”
26. ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” has been consistently misunderstood for more than 30 years. Yes, for three decades people had a completely wrong interpretation of this song. The song’s lyrics tell the story of a young man’s experience being drafted, and how the Vietnam War harmed him, and what psychological scars came home with him.
Because strong chorus of “Born in the U.S.A.” many believed that the song is kind of an anthem. Yet, Springsteen tried to explain in many interviews what the song was really about.
25.’Total Eclipse of the Heart’ – Bonnie Tyler
“total eclipse of the heart” is one of the biggest power ballads ever, it has an amazing bit, goes perfectly with every action scene, and can instantly pump your heart with the desire of amazing love. It appeared on bonnie Tyler’s fifth studio album, faster than the speed of night, and it remained on the charts all year round. Little is known that, but this song actually began as a love song for vampires.
The song was written for Tyler by producer Jim Steinman, who at the time was wrong on a musical version of nosferatu, called “vampires in love.” today, this is one of the greatest ballads of all time.
24. ‘Love Song’ – Sara Bareilles
If you listened to the radio in 2007, you couldn’t hear this famous music creation title’ Love Song’. Now, with such a title it seems only fitting that song talks about emotions, right? However, it turns out that this song was never about specific love, or a boy, or even a girl.
Bareilles wrote the song in a fit of frustration after her record label reacted coldly to songs she had written. “Love Song” was her way of saying to her label, “This is me, take it or leave it.”
23. ‘London Calling’ – The Clash
The Clash is one of the most influential groups of all time. The rules the UK scene for years, although they harshly criticized British politics and its international relations.
In 1979, a British newspaper ran a headline that warned that, with rapid global warming, there was a risk that the Thames river might overflow and flood London. So, when Mick Jones heard about this his blood started pumping. Basically, the song is more about a fear of drowning, than its about politics.
22. ‘Pink Houses’ – John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp wrote “Pink Houses” as a rebuke of the early 1980s Reaganomics. His chorus “Ain’t that America” often has led to the song being misunderstood as a simple patriotic tune.
Those who misunderstood the song used the song to introduce conservative political candidates and even organizations who’ he used this popular song to receive a public rebuke from the staunchly liberal Mellencamp.
21. ‘Higher’ – Creed
Creed’s “Higher” was one of the biggest hits of 1999’s and in no time this song was the band’s signature song. Some claim that this song is emblematic of the post-grunge rock scene of the time.
Many claim that this song was about opiate use, while others were sure that this song was Creed’s attempt to publicized Christianity. However, the song is actually about neither. According to lead singer, Scott Stapp, the song is about the concept of lucid dreaming.
20. ‘Buddy Holly’ – Weezer
Lyrics “You know I’m yours/and I know you’re mine/and that’s for all time,” are so strong that we all were sure they are about romantic relationships.
However, singer Rivers Cuomo told us a different story: “It’s about a particular girl I knew; … it’s about my commitment to her, … my willingness to defend her. It’s very platonic. Not a romantic thing at all.” Just listen to the song carefully and you will realize that talks the truth.
19. ‘Always’ – Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi just knows how to make great hits. this group gave us so memorable songs, that we must them forever for that. In 1994, the group scored two major hits, “I’ll Be There for You” and “Bed of Roses.” Not even these hits, could compare with the popularity that came with lyrics of “Always.”
Jon Bon Jovi explained the lyrics, “It’s a sick little twisted lyric. So many people feel it’s so romantic and so wonderful, but truthfully, this guy is practically a stalker. He’s a sick human being.”
18. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ – Bob Dylan
Many believe that Bob Dylan’s 1965 classic “Mr. Tambourine Man” – later famously covered by The Byrds – was an autobiographical song. Moreover, many thought that the singer dedicated this song to pills.
However, both theories are wrong. The singer dedicated this song as a tribute to touring musical Bruce Langhorne, who played in Dylan’s band.
17. ‘Waterfalls’ – TLC
TLC is one of many groups that ruled the music scene in the 1990s. On e oft heir biggest hits were “Waterfalls”. The song tells about better choices, calmer life, appreciating what we have, and not rushing into life.
There is some truth to that, but the rest of the song is about social issues of the mid-90s, including explicit references to HIV and AIDS in the lyrics.
16. ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ – Peter, Paul and Mary
You have probably heard many claiming how popular the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” is about pills, right? Well, sorry, but there is a big disaapoiment ahead of you. Peter, Paul, and Mary’s 1963 hit isn’t about any tyope of illegal actions.
Lyrics of the song were based on a poem by a friend of band member peter yarrow, named Leonard Lipton. So, the song talks about a child who played with an imaginary dragon named puff, before getting too old for his imaginary friend.
15. ‘Perfect Day’ – Lou Reed
Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” has been used in a various chipper, many commercials for various products, including Sony’s Playstation 4 and AT&T’s cellular service and so on.
Maybe, just maybe this wouldn’t be so unusual it the song wasn’t about using heroin. All those lyrics where they talk about the power of love is actually about the high one feels after using narcotics.
14. ‘Like a Virgin’ – Madonna
Madonna has many hits during her career, but this one is one of the loudest ones. It seems obvious that this song is actually an ode to a young woman being intimate for the first time.
One cannot mention the word virgin without thinking about intimacy, right? Well, it turns out that this song was actually about how vulnerable a human being is when getting into a new relationship. Now the song has a much deeper meaning, doesn’t it?
13. ‘Harder to Breath’ – Maroon 5
Maroon 5 are no strangers to great songs and many awards. Their album, Songs About Jane was so successful, that fans still talk about a single song. We all know that Levine’s ex-girlfriends inspired this album, so it seems logical to think how the song “Harder to Breathe,” was inspired by said relationship.
However, according to the singer, the song came about due to pressure from the band’s record company. Levine said, “That song comes sheerly from wanting to throw something. It was the 11th hour, and the label wanted more songs. It was the last crack. I was just pissed. I wanted to make a record and the label was applying a lot of pressure, but I’m glad they did.”
12. ‘Summer of ’69’ – Bryan Adams
Even younger generations love to listen to Bryan Adams today. In every decade, Bryan delivered amazing hits and with each song you get that blas tof nostalgia. However, nothing brings nostalgia back like Adams’ “Summer of ’69”. Bryan and his writing partner, Jim Vallance, wrote it about their own times as teenagers in 1969.
Bear in mind that Adamas was only nine-years-old in 1969, so summer 1969 doesn’t soudn realistic from his point of view. On the other hand, Bryan claims that the number 69 was a reference to the 69 intimate positions.
11. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Nirvana
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has been hailed as a generational masterpiece ever since it was released in far 1991. The only issue with this song is that no one really knows what this song is really about. Not even Kurt Cobain had an idea what’s the song about.
In Michael Azerrad’s Nirvana biography, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana, Cobain said that he intended to “describe what I felt about my surroundings and my generation and people my age.” Drummer – and future Foo Fighters leader – Dave Grohl has gone on record as saying the lyrics have no actual meaning.
10. ‘Paper Planes’ – M.I.A.
Many believe that M.I.A.’s 2008 hit “Paper Planes” was about a pill trader, but they were wrong. According to M.I.A. herself, the song is actually about the immigrant experience in the United States.
She explained, “I was thinking about living [in Bed-Stuy], waking up every morning – it’s such an African neighborhood. I was going to get patties at my local and just thinking that really the worst thing that anyone can say [to someone these days] is some s*** like: ‘What I wanna do is come and get your money.’ She also adds that’s up to the listener, as always, how they want to interpret the song.
9. ‘Ticket to Ride’ – The Beatles
The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” is one of their most loved songs. Fans believe that the song is about a young woman riding a train to see her boyfriend. However, John Lennon has another background for this song.
According to him, this song actually referenced cards indicating a clean bill of health, carried by German prostitutes in the 1960s. Before they become a world phenomenon, the Beatles used to play in Hamburg, Germany frequently.
8. ‘Slide’ – Goo Goo Dolls
In 1998, the Goo Goo Dolls’ published their album Dizzy Up the Girl, that automatically gave them the star status. Their single ‘Slide’ helped them become globally knowns and continue creating more hits.
At first listening, it sounds as if the song is a classic rock-and-roll tale of young lovers standing together against the world. However, under the surface, there was much more. Lead singer/songwriter Johnny Rzeznik said the following on this song “… The song is actually about these two teenage kids, and the girlfriend gets pregnant and … they’re trying to decide whether she should get an abortion, or they should get married, or what should go on. …”
7. ‘One’ – U2
Can U2 record a poor song? Probably not. Ever since this band appeared on the music scene, they have been known as a true rock star. So, when they released the song ‘One’ in 1991 the song went big immediately, becoming one of the group’s biggest hits.
U2 is known for that specific one of a kind sound, that many would describe as romantic, just like this song. However, according to Bono in the official book U2 by U2, the song’s tumultuous birth led to a melancholy set of lyrics. The singer said: “There was melancholy about it, but there was also strength. ‘One’ is not about oneness, it’s about the difference. It’s not the old hippie idea of ‘let’s all live together.’ It is a much more punk rock concept. It’s anti-romantic: ‘We are one but not the same. We get to carry each other.’ It’s a reminder that we have no choice.’”
6. ‘American Woman’ – The Guess Who
If you are familiar with Lenny Kravitz’s 1999 cover, “American Woman” you probably believe this song is all about the sensual appeal. However, the song’s true meaning is far from sensual and has everything to do with the Vietnam War and U.S. politics of the time.
According to Bachman, “We had been touring the States. This was the late ’60s. One time at the U.S./Canada border in North Dakota they tried to draft us and send us to Vietnam. We were back in Canada, playing in the safety of Canada where the dance is full of draft dodgers who’ve all left the States.”
5. ‘Just Like Heaven’ – The Cure
“Just Like Heaven” sounds just like any other love song that we are used to hearing. So far, we know that nothing is like it seems, and this song is no exception. They may be a gentle sound, but in reality, this song is more complicated than it looks.
A lead singer Robert Smith once said that, “The song is about hyperventilating—kissing and fainting to the floor,” and that some of the lyrics refer to his childhood memories of mastering magic tricks as a child, though Smith has admitted, “on another level, it’s about a seduction trick, from much later in my life.”
4. ‘Imagine’ – John Lennon
“Imagine” is Lennon’s classic ballad that still moves the hearts of many. Many believe that this song is a plea for world peace, but both John and Yoko Ono explained that the song is much more than a song about peace.
In a 1980 interview with playboy, Lennon commented on the song’s mention of religion. “The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion – not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing – then it can be true … the World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the entire idea.”
3. ‘Cherry Bomb’ – The Runaways
Lyrically, this song is massively misunderstood. However, there is an exciting creation story behind it. The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” is an all-time classic rock song and the by-far biggest hit of Hall of Famer Joan Jett, but it wasn’t created to be one.
The truth is that the song was written in five minutes. At least, that’s what the band’s manager Kim Fowley shared. According to Fowley, he and Jett wrote the song for future-band member Cherie Currie’s audition because the rest of the Runaways didn’t know the song Currie wanted to sing.
2. ‘Feel it Still’ – Portugal. The Man
Portugal. The Man’s hit, ‘Feel it Still’ sounds like an ode to singer John Gourley’s young daughter; the song was written from a less personal place and more political.
In a 2017 interview, Gourley explained, “It’s another one of those lyrics that just kind of seeps in. With all the talk right now, of building a wall at our borders and the Berlin Wall, it was so much just like the image that you had in your head growing up that a wall separates these people, and why do we need that?”
1. ‘Royals’ – Lorde
Lorde’s 2013 hit “Royals” has an original sound, smooth melody, and a vibe as if it’s addressing inspiration for the song came from a 1976 photo of Kansas City Royals hall of fame baseball player George Brett.
Brett was signing autographs while in uniform on that photo, with the team’s name splashed across his chest. The singer explained, “It was just that word. It’s cool.” real-life royalty. However, the song’s inspiration and the name came from a different source.