I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, although I pride myself on being a big music fan and a self-professed “lyrics guy,” I often get the words wrong. Let the record show, however, that this has never prevented me from singing incorrect lyrics at the top of my lungs. Off key.
I realize that the title of this blog — “heavy with confession” — doesn’t make any sense. But it’s what I thought Pat Benatar was singing instead of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” when that song came out in 1980. “Heavy with confession/Why don’t you heavy with confession/Heavy with confession/Fire away.” Sure, it’s nonsensical, but mistaken lyrics often are. Thankfully, I realized the error of my ways with that one before I suffered too much abuse.
But I did suffer abuse for other lyrical errors. My brother Dave still teases me about the time I sang along to The Eagle’s Hotel California, “Warm smell of collegiates rising up through the air.” To this day, I still don’t know what the actual word Don Henley sings — “colitas” — even means. With George Michael’s Freedom ’90, instead of following up “heaven knows we sure had some fun, boy” with the actual lyrics “what a kick just a buddy and me,” I thought he sang “what a kick just to get on your knees.” Knowing what we know now about George’s leisure time activities, I stand by my mistake.
A guy named Gavin Edwards penned a series of books — the first, ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: And Other Misheard Lyrics, in 1995 — that compiled a bunch of lyrical misinterpretations. I actually met him once at a party in New York City back when that book had just come out. He kept a pen and paper on him at all times to jot down the many misheard lyrics that friends, acquaintances and strangers bombarded him with in hopes of making into one of his subsequent books. Mine never made it.
My suggestion wasn’t even one of my own. It came from the guy whose desk I took over at my first job out of college. How’s that for random? I never even met the dude but, according to legend, he thought Jimmy Buffet sang “wastin’ away again in my gorilla suit” (instead of “Margaritaville”.) I always pictured a guy in a faux fur gorilla costume sitting in some seedy Key West bar where Hemingway might have once hung out, his gorilla head sitting jauntily askew on the bar next to a several shot glasses, a tequila bottle, some dried up lime wedges and that fabled lost shaker of salt. It’s actually kind of genius.
Another of my favorites comes from a friend who misheard the lyrics to Howard Jones’ “No One is To Blame.” Instead of “you’re the fastest runner but you’re not allowed to win,” he thought it was “you’re the bastard’s mother…” Why should the bastard’s mother be allowed to win in the first place?
When Madonna’s “Ray of Light” first hit the radio waves, my friend Greg thought she sang “and I feel like a disco ball” instead of “and I feel like I just got home.” For some reason, that misheard lyric isn’t so strange to me. Madonna emerged from a giant disco ball each night on her Confessions Tour in 2006 and I assume that the Material Girl often does, indeed, feel like a disco ball.
I could fill this entire space with mistaken Prince song titles alone. “Last Ferry Boat Race” (Raspberry Beret) and “Pay the Rent, Collette” (Little Red Corvette) are two of my favorites. I encourage you to fess up to your most embarrassing misheard lyrics. Come on, admit it! It’ll feel good to get it off your chest. I promise you won’t feel heavy with confession.