12 Songs That Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Tags:  Entertainment   Music   Pop Songs   Songs   Trivia  

misunderstood songs lyrics that don't mean what you think they mean

I don’t know about you, but I’m always on the lookout for little bits of trivia that I can share with my buddies when we’re hanging out at the bar, having a few beers. And since every bar on the planet has music (unless there’s a big game on the TVs), music trivia is always a good topic of conversation. So for today’s list I was trying to think of a good music topic, and then it hit me: songs that don’t mean what you think they mean. And I’m not talking about songs with famously difficult, weird, or misheard lyrics. I’m talking about songs whose lyrics are quite clear, but the meaning of which people nevertheless fail to grasp—usually because they don’t really listen to the lyrics closely or stop to think what the words really mean. These typs of songs are fun to learn about because you can then go around and pop people’s bubbles by telling them that the ballad they danced to at their wedding is actually about a deranged psychopath’s obsession…or something along those lines.

So are you ready to see which songs don’t mean what you always thought they meant? Great. Let’s go.

12. Ben (Michael Jackson)

This may be the sappiest song about friendship in the history of pop music. After all, the lyrics go:Ben, the two of us need look no more / We both found what we were looking for / With a friend to call my own / I’ll never be alone / And you my friend will see / You’ve got a friend in me

Sweet right?

Only thing is, Ben—the bestest friend a kid could ever have—is a rat. Seriously, the song was the theme to the movie of the same name, and that movie was about a boy who befriends the leader of an evil pack of telepathic rats.

If you didn’t already know that, this song is ruing now, isn’t it?

11. Perfect Day (Lou Reed)

Ostensibly, this song really is about a “perfect day.” Lou Reed is just hanging out with his beloved, “drinking sangria in the park,” feeing animals at the zoo, catching a movie, and just hanging out “on our own.” But then there’s that line about “you just keep me hanging on” that suggests this guy is kind of on the edge. And of course, there’s that really dark phrase that gets repeated repeated over and over at the end: “you’re going to reap just what you sow.” That’s a reference to a biblical verse (Galatians 6:7) that goes, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”—which is to say, you won’t get away with it in the end.

So, yeah, this song is about heroin. And that’s funny, because they use it in so many commercials. Oops.

10. Every Breath You Take (The Police)

Most people probably aware of this by now, but it’s still a classic misunderstood song, so I had to include it.

You see, when it came out, and for a long while after that, everyone thought this was a touching love song about devotion…because people don’t really listen to lyrics that closely (obviously). But when you pay attention, it’s pretty clear that this song is from the perspective of an obsessed stalker: “Every step you take / I’ll be watching you”? “Oh can’t you see / You belong to me”? It’s downright creepy. So for the love of God, don’t play this at a wedding.

9. The Drugs Don't Work (The Verve)

This is an alt-rock song from the 90s written by a man (Richard Ashcroft) known for his voracious consumption of dope. So you would think that it’s about an addict reaching the point where drugs cease to provide the high they used to. Only that’s not it. If you can believe it, it’s actually even more depressing than that—it’s about the slow death, painful death of Ashcroft’s father, who lost a battle with cancer. (You can handle a sad song about addicts because, deep down, it’s somehow their fault. But wasting away from cancer? That’s just a bummer.)

8. Follow Me (Uncle Kracker)

Remember this song? You’re mom totally loved it, and she thought she was so hip because the guy who sang it had tattoos. Problem is, it’s not quite the sweet love song she thought it was. Because you see, while it starts off innocently, with Mr. Kracker singing “All you know is when I’m with you / I make you free.” But the second verse starts off with the line, “I’m not worried ’bout the ring you wear,” which ought to be a bit of a red flag that this song isn’t really that sweet. Then, in verse three, it gets downright depressing, with UK revealing that he’s basically just a douche taking advantage of desperate housewives: “I’m not the reason that you go astray / We’ll be alright if you don’t ask me to stay.”

Nice, huh? And I bet you’ve heard it at weddings, haven’t you?

7. In the Air Tonight (Phil Collins)

The most common interpretation of this song floating around out there on the internets is that this song is about something Collins witnessed one time: a man drown, and another man refusing to help. People make this interpretation based on the lyrics, “I was there an I saw what you did,” plus the reference to drowning—never mind the fact that Collins says he wouldn’t save the person he’s singing to if he saw them drowning.

Anyway, this song is not about anyone literally drowning. It’s supposedly an expression of Phil’s anger after his first divorce…though it’s still unclear what, exactly, he felt coming in the air that night (oh Lord).

6. When a Man Loves a Woman (Percy Sledge)

When a man loves a woman is a love song. So you’re right about that. However, if you actually listen to the lyrics, you’ll see it’s not exactly about a healthy kind of love. Sledge sings about how a man will ditch his best friend, sleep out on the street in the rain, take all kinds of abuse and misery, and get 100% played—and all because he’s in love. Sure sounds swell, don’t it?

5. Crash Into Me (Dave Matthews Band)

People misunderstand what this song is about because you go through four verses before the reality is fully disclosed. The first verse? It just sounds like a sweet love song: “Sweet like candy to my soul / Sweet you rock / And sweet you roll / Lost for you, I’m so lost for you.” Then, by verse four, it’s getting a little sexy, which is great: “Hike up your skirt a little more / And show the world to me.”

However, in the final verse you learn that this isn’t just some star-crossed lover singing about the girl he digs. It’s a pervert peeping Tom: “Oh I watch you there / Through the window / And I stare at you”…so don’t play this song when you’re girlfriend comes over to hang out. That’s creepy.

4. Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter, Paul, and Mary)

Everyone seems to be under the impression that this song was actually about smoking pot because it was written by hippies in the 60s, and because it contains the words “puff” and “magic.” However, this is just not true, and it’s always bothered Peter, Paul, and Mary that people think that. In reality—if you look past the possible metaphor of the title—it’s about the loss of innocence and imagination that comes with growing up.

3. Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones)

The Rolling Stones are known for their classic rock and roll riffs, and this song starts off with one of their most famous ones. As for the lyrics, based on the title you’d think it was just about sex with black women, plain and simple. And that’s certainly what Mick Jagger has hinted at in discussing the song over the years. “The lyric was all to do with the dual combination of drugs and girls,” he once said. “This song was a very instant thing, a definite high point.” He also said, “God knows what I’m on about on that song. It’s such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go”

But when you really listen to the opening verse, it’s pretty damn clear what it’s about: slavery, and slave-owners raping their female slaves.

No, really. Just look at the lyrics: “Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields / Sold in a market down in New Orleans / Scarred old slaver know he’s doin alright / Hear him whip the women just around midnight / Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good / Ah brown sugar, just like a young girl should.”

You gotta love classic rock!

2. You Gotta Fight for Your Right To Party (Beastie Boys)

This song is one of the great all-time party anthems, and the lyrics are clear as day. So how could it be misunderstood?

Well, you see, it when it was written in 1987, every hair metal band was cranking out “party anthems” like “Smokin in the Boys Room” (Motley Crue), “Hot for Teacher” (Van Halen), and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (Twisted Sister). And cool kids thought these songs were stupid, just like cool kids today like Arcade Fire and think Pitbull is stupid. So the Beastie Boys decided to make a faux 80s party rock anthem poking fun at that type of song…only people didn’t get that they were being tongue-in-cheek, and so it actually became a party anthem like all the others.

1. Summer of '69 (Bryan Adams)

This one sounds too ridiculous to be true, but it is: Bryan Adams’s most famous song, “Summer of ’69,” is not actually about the summer of 1969. The “69″ actually refers to—you guessed it—the sexual act. Thus, the summer of ’69 refers to…um…well…a summer of getting it on.

Or in any case, this is what Adams explained on CBS’s The Early Show. If you don’t believe me, I won’t take it personally. I wouldn’t believe me either. But you can read the story and watch the clip for yourself.

Now, if you ask me, I’d say he was probably just f—ing with the interviewer. But hey, he said it, so I’m taking him at his word because it’s more fun that way.