Misinterpreted Song Lyrics

Published on 05 June 2020

Music is a beautiful thing. We all have our favourite bands, albums and songs, with memories attached to each that help make them special or significant. What's interesting though, is the way we interpret these songs to have different, unique meanings. Often the artist's vision of the song and its lyrics is totally different to how their fans go on to interpret it and we find this absolutely fascinating. Make no mistake, music is art and that means that three of us could hear the same song and take different things from it. So, we thought we'd take a look at a few tracks that stand out to us as being huge but often misunderstood - have a read below.

R.E.M. - The One I Love

Kicking off this list we're joined by Georgia lads R.E.M. and their smash hit the One I Love. Now we know what you're thinking, that name sounds pretty innocent, right? Wrong! R.E.M.s lyrics are often as confusing as they come but make no mistake... this track ain't no love song. DIn fact, lead singer Michael Stipe described the track as being  "incredibly violent", also mentioning that "It's very clear that it's about using people over and over again". Despite crooning about the one he loves, Stipe also refers to them as "a simple prop to occupy my time", revealing a far darker edge to the seemingly innocent song. A phenomenal track but maybe not one you want to include on your next Valentines mixtape... Come on, you surely didn't expect much less from R.E.M., did you?

The Police - Every Breath You Take

The Police's possibly best-known track has become something of a staple of a misunderstood lyric list. Although Sting does a good job of making it sound sultry and seductive (damn it Sting, that's plenty!), the song is actually about a scorned lover and their brooding obsession with their ex. Rife with jealousy and bitterness, this song goes a lot deeper and darker than the romantic pop song it initially presents itself as! Sting himself was often frustrated by fans interpreting the track as a love song and once said: "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it's quite the opposite.". You heard the man, it wasn't written for your first dance...

John Lennon - Imagine

We all know Lennon's classic piano ballad, a song symbolic throughout the world as a mantra of peace, love and understanding. But, did you know it's "virtually the Communist Manifesto" according to John? Written after reading about positive prayer in one of Yoko's books, Lennon penned this track about an idealistic world describing it as being about living with "no more religion, no more country, no more politics". Surprised by how well received the track was despite what he considered to be quite polarising and controversial themes, John went on to say that "Because it's sugarcoated it's accepted. Now I understand what you have to do—put your message across with a little honey.". Pretty sure that epic piano helps too though dude.

Bonnie Tyler - Total Eclipse of the Heart

First of all, tunes don't come much more epic than Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart. These are simple facts people and let's get that straight before we move on. However, this track takes new meanings to a whole other level. Not simply the drinks in the air epic love ballad it presents itself as this track was originally written as "a vampire love song" by Jim Steinman. Apparently first written for Meatloaf who couldn't record it due to financial disputes with the record company (how would that have sounded we wonder...), the track was initially titled 'Vampires in Love' and is "all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love's place in the dark" according to Steinman. Have there been any other smash hits quite this big and memorable about vampires? Who knows, we'll let you guys do the research...

Phil Collins - In the Air Tonight

Long before the Cadbury's advert, Phil Colin's power ballad In the Air Tonight strangely found a new meaning that just kind of stuck. Through various interpretations, the song was supposedly about a character witnessing someone drowning but doing nothing to save the person in trouble. Phil sees it all and then ends up singling out the guilty party at one of his shows... Well, sorry Eminem fans/Stans, that is entirely fabricated! Much to Phil's annoyance, these interpretations were wildly inaccurate as the track was simply about him struggling to deal with the divorce he was going through! Phil apparently still gets asked if he witnessed the event to this day but we can't imagine he takes too kindly to it... If you happen to bump into him maybe stick to air drumming that fill instead.

Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA

The Boss may be as American as apple pie but that doesn't mean he can't write a good protest song when the mood takes him! Posing as a pro-American anthem, this iconic track was instead a statement about the USA following the Vietnam war and the struggle soldiers faced finding their place in it after returning from battle. Springsteen himself actually dodged the draft and struggled for years with the deaths of many of his friends who were shipped out to fight. This track spoke out against the war and addressed the survivers guilt he'd always struggled with; however, not everyone initially got the message... Apparently inspiring people from Raegen's team to reach out to Bruce and ask for endorsement (which he refused, believe it or not), this double-edged song did its job. It doesn't seem like Trump got the memo though since he included it in his campaign playlist!

Final thoughts

The most important thing to take from these epic tracks is how open to interpretation all music is - finding your own meaning is what it's all about. There are also a load of points to consider for the next time you sit down and pen some lyrics. If you've got a weird idea then why not run with it and see where it takes you? Remember, you don't always have to tell people just how weird it is, they're sure to find their own truth somewhere inside! There are plenty more that could be added to this list so let us know any you can think of in the comments and let's see if we can work 'em out!

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