MissUnderstood: A Tale of Ignorance and Song Lyrics

Do you ever think about the first songs you knew all the lyrics to as a kid? One of my earliest memories is singing along to Real McCoy’s Another Night while in the backseat of the car, jamming along to the radio. The song itself was pretty easy to memorize as a nine year old, since it was basically the same verse and chorus over and over again.

Another night, another dream, but always you / It’s like a vision of love that seems to be true
Another night another dream, but always you / In the night I dream of love so true

But then there are songs I sang along to without knowing the meaning until later. Like way later. Like maybe in the past few years (months, days, etc.)

I came across this Spice Girls revelation on Tumblr the other day:

Screenshot 2015-08-31 11.25.38


Honestly. I thought when she said “put it on”, it was a British way of saying like, “put your sexy times mindset on because we’re gonna GET IT ON, GET IT ON”.  My logic makes sense, okay? But this is obviously not the only song that has been misunderstood and changed lives of adults all around there world. Here are some other tunes that I didn’t realize meant something else until I was much, much older. Did y’all have your own tracks you didn’t realize were somewhat offensive until recently?

Too Close by Next

Baby when we’re grinding / I get so excited
Ooh, how I like it / I try but I can’t fight it
Oh, you’re dancing real close / Cuz it’s real, real slow
You’re making it hard for me

Apparently I memorized all the words to this when I was 11, but didn’t understand any of it. Like, every single world in this is sexual. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I didn’t realize this whole thing was about fornication. How could I possibly miss all of it? Actually, I know why – because I was a naive 11 year old who just really enjoyed ’90s R&B music. I’m not a monster.

Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind

Doing crystal meth, will lift you up until you break
It won’t stop, I won’t come down / I keep stock with the tick-tock rhythm, I bump for the drop
And then I bumped up, I took the hit that I was given /Then I bumped again, then I bumped again I said… How do I get back there, to the place where I fell asleep inside you

In all fairness, Stephen Jenkins said these lyrics so fast and garbled that it was kind of hard to tell what he was saying. On top of that, add the fact that it’s a fun, bouncy pop song – about getting high on speed. He said of the song, “It’s about a time in my life when it seemed like all of my friends just sort of tapped out on speed… The music that I wrote for it is not intended to be bright and shiny for bright and shiny’s sake. It’s intended to be what the seductiveness of speed is like, represented in music.” Whoa.

Brick by Ben Folds Five

They call her name at 7:30 / I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers / And sell some gifts that I got
Can’t you see / It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone / Than she ever has before

I always thought this song was a downer, but I didn’t realize just how MUCH of a downer it was until my friends told me in college. Yes, college. Ben Folds said he wrote this song about his high school girlfriend who decided to get an abortion, and he doesn’t really like talking about it that much since it’s obviously a sad subject. The meaning is much more obvious in the music video, but this was pre-TRL so I didn’t watch music videos on the regs.

You’re Makin’ Me High by Toni Braxton

Let’s make a deal you roll, I lick / And we can go flying into ecstasy
Oh Darlin’ you and me / Light my fire
Blow my flame / Take me, take me, take me away

Toni Braxton also has a penchant for sounding like she’s gargling while singing, but I really didn’t know that in addition to this song being about getting it on, it was also a song dedicated to weed. She said during a Behind the Music special that the was introduced to pot for the first time a week before she wrote the song, and was influenced (under the influence, amirite) to add the lyric “you roll, I lick…”

Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler

Once upon a time there was light in my life / But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say / A total eclipse of the heart

Songwriter Jim Steinman, who also worked a lot with Meat Loaf (which could explain the absurdity of this), originally titled this track Vampires in Love. He said, “Its original title was ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu, the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in dark.” He later used the song in his musical called Dance of the Vampires (someone has a fetish), but if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of it, it’s because it was a total flop that lost $12 million in 2002.


Closing Time by Semisonic

Closing time / One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time / You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here
Closing time / Time for you to go out to the places you will be from
Closing time / Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Although this song was written by Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson after he wanted to write a new tune to end their concerts with, as well as the hope to be played at bars at the end of the night, he also realized it was about something else completely different – childbirth. Dan and his wife were expecting their first child when he was writing the song, when he realized it was also about childbirth and the circle of life. He said, “I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb.”

Tutti Frutti by Little Richard

My personal connection to this song is that I danced to this in tap class as a kid, complete with poodle skirt costumes to go with the 1950s theme. However, imagine my surprise when Little Richard originally wrote this song as an ode to something completely unrelated to kids’ dance class. Anal Sex. This was his first draft of the song:

A wop bop a loo mop, a good goddamn / Tutti Frutti, good booty,
If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy.

If you don’t know anything about Little Richard’s past, you should really look it up, but basically, around this time in his life, he was sleeping with the fellas, hence the inspiration for the song. The producer of the track recognized the sexual nature of the song and made Little Richard change it to “Tutti Frutti, aw rooty”. Childhood ruined.


Class of ’04: Playlist of the Month

Nothing can make you more nostalgic for a specific time in your life than listening to music. The lyrics that *get you*, every note, and the song as a whole can transport you back to a moment so engrained in your memory that it almost feels as if you suddenly have Hermione’s Time Turner and you’re living the moment all over again. This month’s playlist brings us back to the years between 2000 and 2004 (our prime high school years) when we lived off of our discmans, made mix CDs and had to figure out how to download MP3s on our computers using dial-up.

Enjoy the entire playlist on Spotify here!

Traci’s Picks

Your Body is a Wonderland by John Mayer

I honestly could’ve picked any one of JM’s songs from Room for Squares album for this playlist and it still would accurately be the soundtrack to my high school life. I remember listening to this record non stop, particularly this song – and of course, I would pretend he was singing it to me. Remember this is pre-pretentious John Mayer, so it was okay. I lived and died by all his albums, and even played Wheel off Heavier Things for one of my religion classes (we went to a Catholic high school, I guess one of the things we had to do was bring in a “prayer song”? IDK all I recall is that I tried to be all deep with Wheel and some kid brought in the full, like, 7 minute version of The Doors’ Light My Fire). Also: Heavier Things, tho.

Must Get Out by Maroon 5

Like I said, Molly and I went to a Catholic high school, where we had to take religion classes. Senior year included a very borderline class called Peer Ministry. In previous years, we had classes focused on the Old Testament and the New Testament, but our senior year, we had a new teacher who decided that “Peer Ministry” was going to consist of watching movies like Holes and reading Tuesdays with Morrie. Anyways, as part of the class, everyone had to go on a weekend retreat to some camp out in the woods of New York. You signed up for different weekends, and obviously my friends and I decided to sign up the same weekend. One of the activities at the retreat was making some kind of craft to reflect what you’re feeling about your future (I think?) Basically, I wrote the lyrics of Must Get Out on a balloon – ‘This city’s made us crazy and we must get out’ – symbolizing my desire to get out of Rochester and on to a new adventure in Boston. Songs About Jane was one of those CDs, in addition to Room for Squares, that was on a constant rotation in my car’s CD player, and this song just spoke to me, you know?

Dare You to Move by Switchfoot

If you described a typical teenager in the early 2000s, that would have been me. I was not unique, different, or special in any way. I tried so hard to be cool – but the cool by Teen People and MTV standards. I was a total teenybopper, obsessed over everything popular in pop culture, desired everything out of the DeLiA*s catalog. That being said, A Walk to Remember was one of my favorite movies. I didn’t shun it at all, in fact I welcomed it. So much so that I got the soundtrack for my 16th birthday, and proceeded to play it on repeat. I listened to a lot of Switchfoot and Mandy Moore on my morning drives to school.

Float On – Modest Mouse

Float On was released in February of 2004, so nearing the end of our senior year. I remember using the lyrics of this song in my AIM profile, pretending to be all deep and thoughtful, as it was exactly how I felt about ending one chapter and moving on to another. It continued to be a mainstay in my summer playlist – and by playlist I mean the Summer ’04 mix cd I made for myself and listened to on my way to my summer job at the local amusement park.

Closing Time – Semisonic

Remember how this was like the cliche song everyone used in their AOL profiles, AIM profiles, yearbook quotes, etc.? This and that Dave Matthews Band lyric, “Life is sweet but short for certain”? Yeah, I totally gave into that. Because I was really into my friends and super into technology, I created a slideshow from pictures of me and my friends from senior year and used this song as the soundtrack. That’s right – I was the master of Windows Media Player. Still can’t figure out why I wasn’t friends with the “popular kids”.

Molly’s Picks

No Such Thing by John  Mayer

Our senior year was dominated by John Mayer, Dream Man (hey, it was 2004 and we were essentially babies). I heard this the other day, and it was a bit surreal to hear John Mayer sing about his ten-year reunion now that I’m there. It’s not exactly a super-deep song, but  I do relate to it in ways I couldn’t have at 15.

Us at the John Mayer/Maroon 5 concert. In all its neon lights glory (see what I did there).

Molly & our friend Dave lifting Sarah up to try to “see into” the VIP section. John Mayer was not spotted.

New Slang by The Shins

From here, my list turns into a tour of sensitive indie rock of the early 2000s. My musical tastes were very Seth Cohen-y, to use a 2004-vintage reference. This was before that time in 2005-2006 when “Garden State soundtrack” became a shorthand for a type of music, but – well, obviously that’s what we’re looking at here.

History lesson: the internet was smaller then, and finding a band that wasn’t played on top-40 radio felt like a real discovery.  With no iTunes, if you wanted a record you either had to download illegally (mea culpa!) or scour a real-life music store. If you wonder why hipsters are so insufferable about liking things before they were cool, it’s probably because back in the day they really had to earn it. There was no tumblr to tell teens what they were supposed to like, there was TRL and Teen People and you had to dig to find things outside of that.

Hey Girl by Dashboard Confessional

A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar was like the album if you were into – am I dating myself or really, really dating myself if I say alternative music? Or just into Chris Carrabba, on whom I had an even bigger teen girl crush than John Mayer.

Technicolor Girls by Death Cab For Cutie

This is the most “high school feelings” type song I can think of, so much so that even a decade later this takes me back to seeing friends in the parking lot by the football field. Like No Such Thing, this is a perspective on high school that I could understand but not really relate to until I was a decade removed: “we never turn out the way we thought we would.”

Soco Amaretto Lime by Brand New

When I heard this as a kid it was like “hell yes! Eighteen forever!” but now that I’m older and realize that the guys in the band were in their mid-20s when this was released, I hear a bit more wistfulness. But while I sometimes miss being 18, this also makes me think “oh, thank Christ I am not 18 forever. That was exhausting.”