The 10 Most Often Butchered Song Lyrics

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Wikimedia Commons/Bryan Dugan

Don’t believe everything you hear. Particularly if it’s set to music and coming out of the mouth of one of your favorite musicians.

We’ve all been guilty of mishearing—and then repeating—a song lyric on occasion. In fact, it’s so prevalent a problem that there’s actually a word for it: mondegreen, a term coined by writer Sylvia Wright in a 1954 essay, in which she recounted her misunderstanding of the line “and laid him on the green” from “The Bonnie Earl O’Murray” as “Lady Mondegreen.”

In honor of National Karaoke Week (this week), here’s a friendly heads-up on the song lyrics that get butchered most often.

1. “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix

Misheard Lyric: “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy.”
Actual Lyric: “‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky.”

Jimi himself was known to have some fun with what is probably the most widely known mondegreen, often singing the incorrect lyrics on stage—occasionally even accompanied by a mock make-out session. There’s even a Website, KissThisGuy.com, dedicated to collecting user-generated stories of misheard lyrics. 

2. “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John

Misheard Lyric: “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”
Actual Lyric: “Hold me closer, tiny dancer.”

In the premiere episode of Friends’ third season, Phoebe Buffay stated what millions of others had also believed when she claimed that the most romantic song ever was “the one that Elton John wrote for that guy on Who’s The Boss… ‘Hold me close, young Tony Danza.’” Typically the line is heard as “Hold me closer, Tony Danza…” so we may need Angela to sort this one out.

3. “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann

Misheard Lyric: “Wrapped up like a douche, another rumor in the night.”
Actual Lyric: “Revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night.”

It’s difficult to hear this classic rock tune and not imagine the feminine product aisle at Walgreens. In 1993, the first sketch in Canadian comedy group The Vacant Lot’s television series explored the many incorrect renditions of this lyric that exist.

4. “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams

Misheard Lyric: “I got my first real sex dream...”
Actual Lyric: “I got my first real six-string…”

Bryan Adams’ 1984 ode to teenage-dom took on an unintended carnal tone when many listeners misheard the opening lyric, which sounded even more bizarre when considered with the content that followed:

Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it 'til my fingers bled
It was the summer of '69.

5. “Message in a Bottle” by The Police

Misheard Lyric: “A year has passed since I broke my nose.”
Actual Lyric: “A year has passed since I wrote my note.”

In 2008, hearing aid manufacturer Amplifon polled more than 2000 music fans to determine the most often misheard lyrics. Sting’s former band topped the mondegreen chart with two songs; though “Message in a Bottle” made the top 10, the number one song was “When The World is Running Down,” in which "you make the best of what's still around" is understood as "you make the best homemade stew around.”

6. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” by R.E.M.

Misheard Lyric: “Calling Jamaica.”
Actual Lyric: “Call me when you try to wake her.”

In 2010, the folks at Cerumol Olive Oil Ear Drops conducted their own poll in Britain, which determined that four out of every 10 people have misunderstood the lyrics to a popular song. The main culprit? This ditty from Michael Stipe and his cronies, released on the band’s 1992 album, Automatic for the People. The most unexplainable part might be the three-syllable difference between the real lyrics and the song as it’s popularly heard.

7. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi

Misheard Lyric: “It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not.”
Actual Lyric: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.”

Considering the limited amount of clothing that adorned Bon Jovi’s female fans in 1986, when this song was released as the second single from the New Jersey natives’ Slippery When Wet album, the altered line seems somewhat appropriate. 

8. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by The Beatles

Misheard Lyric: “The girl with colitis goes by.”
Actual Lyric: “The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.”

The Fab Four were certainly known to get a little psychedelic on occasion. (Witness: I am the walrus… goo goo g'joob!) Few songs reflect their penchant for writing under the influence of drugs better than this song, the title itself a mnemonic for their drug of choice. Though John Lennon claimed the song was inspired by a picture drawn by his son, Julian, Paul McCartney admitted in a 2004 interview with Uncut that it was indeed about drugs. But even a hallucinogen doesn’t explain why poor Lucy’s colon would be inflamed.

9. “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Misheard Lyric: “There’s a bathroom on the right.”
Actual Lyric: “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

Like Jimi Hendrix before him, CCR frontman John Fogerty has played along with this lyrical misunderstanding. On stage, he often delivers the line as if he were giving directions to the lavatory, complete with hand gestures.

10. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna

Misheard Lyric: “Like a virgin, touched for the thirty-first time.”
Actual Lyric: “Like a virgin, touched for the very first time.”

Madonna’s ever-present “Boy Toy” belt buckle probably didn’t do much to help dispel this misheard—and rather laughable—lyric in the artist’s first number-one hit.

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April 24, 2013 - 2:00pm
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