We often mishear the lyrics to music. We’ll sing and hum along to the songs we like, and would be embarrassed to learn we’ve been singing the song wrong. There are several ways the musical experience can be diminished and cause us to mishear lyrics.
- Transmission degradation could happen, diminishing sound quality and causing slight static to occur at certain parts of the song.
- The speakers in a car (or radio) could be damaged and sound scratchy.
- The acoustics in the car could make the music sound hollow depending on which seat you’re in.
- And, of course, there’s the ever-present background noise of the road and/or passengers when driving.
I grew up before music was available instantly on a phone/computer, and the only way to listen to music was over the radio or via cassette/CD. For me, mistaken lyrics occurs most often when the song was heard over the radio or in the background of a large gathering.
Nowadays, it’s easier to understand the music we hear. Most music apps download songs via a data packet to protect the music quality, and won’t play the song until all or a portion of the data (song) is downloaded. Some of those apps allow us to see the lyrics and sing along too. And most of us listen with headphones, which lets us hear the songs without background noise.
The following is a list of songs compiled from my experience to explain this phenomenon. See what I heard vs. the actual lyrics, and think of how you may not know the true words to your favorite songs.
Chains – By Patty Loveless
What I heard: “James, James, jackal, and flames”
Actual lyrics: “Chains, chains, shackles, and chains”
I heard this on the radio when I was about 5 years old and thought she was singing about a “love taking, heartbreaking” man named, James. I saw The Omen (1976 version) at an early age, so I think I heard “flames” because jackals are associated with Satan and the flames in Hell.
Blinded by the Light –By Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
What I heard 1: “Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche in the roller of the night”
Actual lyrics 1: “Blinded by the light, Revved up like a deuce, Another runner in the night”
What I heard 2: “… And little early birdie gave my anus-curl a whirley…”
Actual lyrics 2: “… And little Early-Pearly came by in his curly-wurly…”
Turn the beat around – By Vicki Sue Robinson
What I heard: “Turn the beat around, got ta hear obsession”
Actual lyrics: “Turn the beat around, love to hear the percussion”
No Scrubs – By TLC
What I heard: “Boy, I don’t want no shrub”
Actual lyrics: “Boy, I don’t want no scrub”
I had a hard time with this one in my teens. I had no idea what a scrub was and the radio made it sound like she was singing about a shrub.
Thank U, Next – By Ariana Grande
What I heard: “Bacon and eggs, Bacon and eggs”
Actual lyrics: “Thank you, next. Thank you, next”
I first heard this song while driving to work one morning and it honestly sounded like she was singing, “Bacon and eggs”. The morning radio DJ/Hosts regularly air parodies of songs, so I thought it was a joke because people were commuting to work (with empty stomachs). That is until I heard it again, at a different part of the day.
Levitating – By Dua Lipa
What I heard: “You want me, I want you, baby. My sugarboo, I’m irritated.”
Actual lyrics: “You want me, I want you, baby. My sugarboo, I’m levitating.”
What Other People Heard
I knew the lyrics to the following songs, but others didn’t. When these songs play over the radio, I think of those people… and their version of the song.
Who Are You – By The Who
What was heard: “Who are you? Hoot, hoot, hoot, hoot”
Actual lyrics: “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”
I could understand the lyrics, but my 2-year-old sister thought they were making owl hoots. I think it’s a hoot now that I look back at the memory.
Losing My Religion – By R.E.M.
What was heard: “That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spot-light, Losing my virginity”
Actual lyrics: “That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spot-light, Losing my religion”
While on a road trip, I heard my boyfriend sing along to this song. The radio was pretty clear, but he sang, “Losing my virginity”. I looked at him and asked if he just said virginity?
I laughed when he said yes.
I told him it was “religion” and called him a doofus.
He was skeptical at first, but heard it for himself when the phrase repeated later in the song. He grew up thinking the lyrics were “losing my virginity” his whole life, and laughed at the revelation.
Because It’s Christmas Time
It’s the holiday season and stores, restaurants, and some radio stations are blasting Christmas music… nonstop. I grew up hearing these songs, but a couple of them stumped me.
Hark the Herald Angel Sing – By Charles Wesley
What I heard: “Peace on Earth and nursery rhymes”
Actual lyrics: “Peace on earth and mercy mild”
We Wish You a Merry Christmas – By Unknown
What I heard (v1): “Oh, bring us some frigging pudding”
What I heard (v2): “Oh, bring us some fluffy pudding”
Actual lyrics: “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding”.
I’m happy to finally learn the actual lyrics because I love figs and now feel compelled to Google the recipe for “figgy pudding”! (It’s more of a cake than pudding.)
I’d also like to point out the song makes the carolers sound very demanding. If listened from an alternate perspective, it sounds like a bunch of people (in a chorus) are wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
That’s nice and all, but then these bums start demanding some “frigging/figgy” pudding, and threaten to not leave until they get some. And that’s not all… they want you to “bring it right here”.
The poor homeowner must provide the carolers with pudding or they won’t leave. How will he/she get any sleep?