Okay, we don't always listen to the lyrics. But sometimes, a collective disregard (or misreading) of a song's lyrics can lead to widely-held misinterpretations. In other words, the singer's desired message goes over everyone's head.
That being said, it's always interesting to learn the true meanings behind these songs, especially when we've loved them for years. While there are countless examples of classic songs that have been misinterpreted, here are seven of the most hilarious ones.
1. Outkast - "Hey Ya!"
Outkast's massive hit "Hey Ya!" is actually an incredibly sad song about an unfulfilling relationship. So, while you were dancing like crazy to this song in the early 2000s, André 3000 was singing about a loveless couple that is only together for the sake of not being lonely.
So that explains the lines "Thank god for mom and dad/ for sticking through together/ because we don't know how." Also, André 3000 knew ahead of time that people would ignore the meaning behind the song because of how deceptively funky it is, and even acknowledges this in the lyrics. Ever notice the lines, "Y'all don't wanna listen to me/ y'all just wanna dance"?
2. The Police - "Every Breath You Take"
Let this stand as proof that the creepiest lyrics can sound romantic when sung by Sting.
"Every Breath You Take" is, to this day, consistently misread as being a sweet love song, when it's actually about an obsessive stalker (which makes the fact that it's been played at so many wedding receptions simultaneously disturbing and hilarious). Sting himself finds the misinterpretation incredibly laughable. He once recalled his experience of watching the Bee Gees' Andy Gibb perform the song on TV in a duet with a female singer, as if it were a love song, saying, "I could still hear the words, which aren't about love at all. I pissed myself laughing."
3. Bruce Springsteen - "Born in the U.S.A."
You can't have a list about misinterpreted songs without mentioning "Born in the U.S.A." It's one of the most misinterpreted songs of all time. At the time of its release, most people believed it was about simplistic feelings of American patriotism. But, of course, that's not the case. It's actually about the mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans, as well as a tribute to Springsteen's friends who served in the army during the war. It's kind of absurd how everyone missed the meaning behind lyrics as blunt as:
"I had a brother at Khe Sanh
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there, he's all gone"
4. Phil Collins - "In the Air Tonight"
The Phil Collins classic was written without any specific meaning behind it. While Collins drew inspiration from his recent divorce, at the time, most of the lyrics were improvised.
...but, that didn't stop people from spreading one of the most famous urban legends in music history. The legend goes that Collins wrote this song after watching a man let someone else drown (hence the lyrics "Well if you were drowning/ I would not lend a hand"). And, according to the myth, Collins later found the guilty man at a concert. How dramatic.
There's different versions of this tale, too, and all of them are equally absurd. One of these has a friend of Collins taking the place of the drowning man, and another has Collins refusing to rescue a drowning man who raped his wife. All of them, however, are untrue. Regardless, this myth has cemented itself in popular culture, and has been referenced countlessly. You might remember these lyrics from Eminem
"You know that song by Phil Collins, "In the Air of the Night"
About that guy who could have saved that other guy from drowning
But didn't, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?"
5. R.E.M. - "The One I Love"
Often thought to be a love song, R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" could not be farther away from being romantic. It's a song about using people, hence the line "a simple prop to occupy my time." And then there's Michael Stipe's threatening wail in the chorus: "Fire!"
However, Stipe was thankful for the misinterpretation, saying in a 1992 interview, "It's probably best that they think it's a love song at this point. The song just came up from somewhere and I recognized it as being really violent and awful." Well, at least he had a positive outlook on it.
6. Lou Reed - "Perfect Day"
This song's just about a nice day in the park, right?
Well… probably not.
While most people seem to interpret Lou Reed's classic song "Perfect Day" as being about a lovely weekend off, others have dug beneath the surface to find its much likelier, more sinister meaning. Lou Reed struggled with heroin use, and some see "Perfect Day" as his romanticization of his own addiction. So the lines about feeding animals in the zoo, going to the movies, and drinking sangria are all symbolic. Then, Reed's dependency on heroin comes when he sings "Just a perfect day, problems all left alone" and "you made me forget myself, I thought I was someone else… someone good."
And, of course, there's the threatening final lyric: "You're going to reap just what you sow."
This interpretation makes total sense, especially given how sombre the actual music is.
7. The Beatles - "Got to Get You Into My Life"
It's about pot.
It's not a love song. It's not about a girl. It's about Paul McCartney really, really wanting to get high.
In fact, that didn't come out until 1997, when author Barry Miles' biography on McCartney, titled Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now
, was released. In the book, McCartney reveals the true meaning behind the song. "‘Got to Get You Into My Life' was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot," he explains. "So it's really a song about that, it's not to a person… It's actually an ode to pot. Like someone else might write an ode to chocolate or a good claret."
So for more than three decades everyone thought this was another sweet, lovey-dovey Beatles tune when really Paul McCartney was just letting us all know how much he loves marijuana!...