Mondegreens: Making Songs Better Through Misheard Song Lyrics
by Matt Bramowicz
So there you are, driving down the road with your friend next to you with the radio blasting. Of course you’re singing along, showcasing your vocal talent (or lack thereof) and your knack for lyrical prowess when suddenly you notice your friend staring at you with a quizzical look on their face.
“What did you just say?” They ask.
You pause for a second, scrambling to think if you said something wrong. You’re pretty sure you had the lyrics down; this is your one thousandth time listening to this song, after all. But now, you’re not so sure.
You say with false security, “What? I said, ‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy.’ It’s Jimi Hendrix’s call for LGBT rights.”
You’re met with a growing grin coming from the passenger seat. “What?!” you exclaim with more urgency. “It’s true! I read it on Wikipedia.” The last part completely made up, but you’re grasping for anything that will give you some sort of validity for what now seems completely stupid.
You’re wrong, of course, as the lyric is actually “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”. But did you know these misheard and misquoted lyric examples actually have a name?
They’re referred to as ‘mondegreens‘. The term itself originated from Sylvia Wright in an essay for Harper’s in 1954, recounting a frequent mishearing of a lyric from “The Bonny Earl O’Moray” that she experienced as a child: “Laid him on the green,” to her young ear, became “Lady Mondegreen.”
For me, as a child growing up, the one that stands out in memory is from Genesis’ song, ‘Invisible Touch’. The lyric that goes, “She seems to have an invisible touch yeah. She reaches in, and grabs right hold of your heart,” I was often heard to sing was, “She means to have an invisible crush. The reason is that she has polio.”
I was a strange kid anyway, so it made sense to me.
But anyway, the here are some many more common examples of mondegreens:
2. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band –Blinded by the Light
Real: “Revved up like a deuce”
Misheard: “Wrapped up like a douche”
3. REM – The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Real lyric: ”Call me when you try to wake her
Misheard lyric: ”Calling Jamaica”
4. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Bad Moon Rising
Real: “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
Misheard: “There’s a bathroom on the right.”
5. Aerosmith — Dude Looks Like A Lady
Real Lyric: ”Dude looks like a lady”
Misheard Lyric: ”Do just like a lady”
6. Bon Jovi — Living On A Prayer
Real Lyric: ”It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not”
Misheard Lyric: ”It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”
7. Nirvana — Smells Like Teen Spirit
Real Lyric: ”Here we are now, entertain us”
Misheard Lyric: ”Here we are now, in containers”
8. Queen — Bohemian Rhapsody
Real lyric: ”Spare him his life from this monstrosity”
Misheard lyric: ”Spare him his life for this one cup of tea”
9. Adele — ‘Chasing Pavements’
Real: “Should I just keep chasing pavements?”
Misheard: “Should I just keep chasing penguins?”
10. French Montana — Stay Schemin’
Real: “from the hoopty coupe to that Ghost, dog”
Misheard: “fanute the coupe to that Ghost, dog”
Because of this, the completely non-existent word “fanute” has taken on a definition of its own.
Do you have some of your own that you’ve mistaken? Let us know below.