13 Songs that Don’t Mean What They Sound Like They Mean


In honor of Rage Waters and the Fellas and their twenty-five fictional years of epic rock ballads . . .

1. “Hey Soul Sister” by Train—The most colossally disappointing song lyrics of all time. You hear the song, and it rocks. Everything in you wants to get up and dance (even if you are rhythmically challenged, like me), so you start listening closer—then you hear him talking about his untrimmed chest hair, and you start gagging. Violently.

3. “Baby It’s Cold Outside”—A Christmas classic masquerading as a sweet, innocent duet, but which is actually pretty shady. I mean, really, the girl needs to smack that boy! What a skank! But speaking of shady . . .

2. “Every Breath You Take” by the Police—Otherwise known as “the Theme Song for Stalkers.” Seriously creepy. Helpful hint: If your boyfriend or girlfriend ever sings this song to you, run to the nearest police station. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

4. “Mahna Mahna” by the Muppets—I know I don’t speak Muppet, but I’m pretty sure this song doesn’t mean what we think it means. I’m not sure it means what anyone thinks it means . . . even the Muppets.

5. “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins—Rumor has it that this song is about how Phil Collins, when he was a kid, witnessed another kid drowning, while an adult did nothing to save him. So years later, Phil tracked down the guy, invited him to a concert, and busted him by singing this song just for him. In some versions of the urban legend, the distraught man kills himself later. I’m sorry to report that the song is actually just about Phil Collins’ divorce—which must have been unusually nasty. Phil Collins and Taylor Swift definitely shouldn’t date and break up. The aftermath would be apocalyptic.

6. “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley—One of those songs that’s so deep and steeped in biblical references, it’s almost awesome, but ends up convoluted. But I could still listen to it all day long. Especially to the version by Amici, which has been known to make ecstatic listeners levitate off the ground. Who cares if some of the words don’t make sense? With soaring harmony like that . . . they could sing the telephone book and I’d sob with joy.

7. “MMMBop” by Hanson—Remember this one? Crazy fun song. Way back when, I read the lyrics and everything, and still I was confused . . . but once you accept that it was composed by long-haired, uber-talented preteen boys who made up a word just for kicks, you can sort of go with it, ’cause, just like Hanson’s fame, “in an mmmbop it’s gone . . .”

8. “Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Sheep”—If you listen closely to the words to this song, it’s not a nice children’s song. It’s gruesome, actually. I mean, all those poor sheep, missing their tails? And in some versions of the song, they never do find their tails, so those sad little sheep go baah-ing through life, tailless and forlorn, presumably being mocked by all the other sheep for the rest of their sad little lamb lives. Heartbreaking, really. I refuse to sing it to my children.

9. “Rock-a-bye Baby”—While we’re on the topic of sadistic nursery rhymes, listen to the words to this song: “When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall/And down will come baby, cradle and all.” Seriously? A baby falling out of a tree in its cradle? Who wrote this evil ditty? And who hangs baby cradles in trees to begin with? I’m thinking this was a song written by the world’s first serial killer, and young mothers, fooled by its innocent melody, have traumatized their babies with it for generations. Well, the torment stops here.

10. “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson—Killer beat, awesome video with the light-up sidewalk . . . weird, kind of uncomfortable topic.

11. “If I Had a Hammer,” by Pete Seeger and Lee Hayes—Crystal mentions that her mom loves this song in The Thirteenth Summer, and I agree with Crystal’s assessment: Great melody, but what in the heck is this song about? Do the singers long to work for Habitat for Humanity, or do they just love HGTV? I’m all for hippie peace and love and idealism, but I just can’t figure out what a hammer has to do with social justice, unless you are seeking violent revenge on an ex-boyfriend. Which isn’t very flower child-like.

12. “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie” by Don McLean—Awesome riffs, and I’m with the lyrics for two verses, but by the time you hit the third verse, it’s like, double huh? Although you gotta love the line, “And I knew if I got the chance/That I could make those people dance/And maybe they’d be happy for a while.” I think every writer feels this way.

13. “The Hotel California” by the Eagles—But really, I’m not so sure even the Eagles know what their song means. Which is why (as Stoner and Rage could tell you) you shouldn’t write songs while under the influence. Or about being under the influence.