You’ve belted out the lyrics to your favorite tune. And all time classic. If only you knew what on earth they were singing about.
Some songs have cryptic meanings which the artists refuse to elaborate on. Fine then, don’t. Childish really.
Other songs mean exactly what they sound like. For example, “I Love Rock n Roll” by Joan Jett is about a woman called Joan who, er…loves rock n roll.
It can enhance or even ruin a song once you know what it’s about but let’s delve into some famous toe-tappers.
“Hey Jude” The Beatles
Paul McCartney wrote the song for a 5 year old Julian Lennon as his parents John and Cynthia were going through a divorce. McCartney meant it to be an ode of encouragement during a tough time and a plea to look ahead to a brighter future.
Originally titled “Hey Jules” McCartney changed the name to Jude simply because it sounded better. No offence, Julian.
John Lennon was convinced the song was about him – Paul giving him his blessing to move on with Yoko Ono. Well, actually no. If McCartney was going to be really honest the lyrics would have said something like “Hey John, don’t make it bad, don’t break up the world’s greatest band by running off with this Yoko bird…” but he didn’t. Class act.
“Hey Jude” was a massive hit and has served as a general pick-me-up song for the masses.
“You’re So Vain” Carly Simon
The chorus “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you…” led to mass speculation. Everyone had an opinion on who exactly Simon was referring to in showbiz – an industry not lacking in massively inflated egos.
Without a hint of irony Warren Beatty declared, “Let’s be honest – the song’s about me!”
Of all the vain, self-absorbed things to say.
And yet spot on.
It was indeed about Beatty. Simon confirmed it in a 2015 interview, naming Beatty as one of three narcissistic mirror-worshippers. Other likely candidates are Mick Jagger, David Cassidy and David Bowie.
Simon could well have penned a follow up titled “You’re So Dim” after Beatty mistakenly read out the wrong Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars.
“Heroes” David Bowie
One of Bowie’s most recognized songs, “Heroes” was written during his time in Berlin in the mid 70s. One day Bowie was gazing out of his studio window at the Berlin Wall and spotted his producer in a passionate embrace with a backing singer.
Bowie wrote about German lovers from either side of the Wall, defying the odds to triumph over adversity. “We can beat them, forever and ever…”
In 1987 Bowie played an outdoors concert right next to the Berlin Wall. Thousands flocked to see him from both sides of the Wall. The performance was regarded as playing a significant role in the breaking down of the Wall.
Bowie remained coy about the inspiration for the song. The woman that his producer was making out with in public wasn’t his wife unfortunately.
Breaking wall – good, cheating – not as good.
“She Bop” Cyndi Lauper
Let’s not sugar coat it – “She Bop” is about self-pleasure. You know, a me-some. Masturbation. There, we’ve said it.
Lauper hoped her teenybopper fans would assume the song was about enjoying innocent dancing whereas her adult fans would put two and two together.
There were plenty of hints throughout the song. “They say I’d better stop or I’ll go blind” or “I can’t stop messing around with the danger zone” Subtle!
In the video Cyndi’s eyes bulge out as she flicks through a copy of Beefcake magazine. Lauper said the the song was a celebration of the sexual empowerment of women and that she recorded it stark naked. But of course she did.
The song outraged the easily outraged once it was explained to them what it was really about. Parental Advisory labels were promptly stuck on the song cover, causing sales to go through the roof.
“Born In The USA” Bruce Springsteen
Possibly Springsteen’s most well-known and misunderstood hit. The lyrics were a cynical reference to returned Vietnam veterans with little hope and few prospects. Springsteen thought that someone “born in the USA” should surely be entitled to a better quality of life.
As opposed to what many thought was a nationalist chest-beating anthem to the mighty US of A. The song has been continually misinterpreted by conservative politicians as a patriotic war cry guaranteed to win over voters.
Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Donald Trump have all attempted to use “Born In The USA” for campaigns. All were swiftly rebuffed by Springsteen, who must be exhausted having to explain the song’s meaning time and time again.
If he regrets the misleading title he can console himself that “Born In The Lousy, Stinking USA” wouldn’t have sold quite as many albums. At least not in America.
If you think you know what your favorite song means then great. Just enjoy it. Sometimes it’s great to know and sometimes it’s best you don’t.