10 Songs That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do

April 30, 2014 • Music

Allow our resident sex (and heart) expert Sophie St. Thomas to enlighten you on all of the songs you’ve been dancing to that you should have been crying to the last 20 years, and vice versa.



“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston As a fellow writer friend pointed out, if you listen to the original Dolly Parton version “I Will Always Love You,” this is actually a rather bittersweet song about moving on after a break-up, not being in love with someone forever and ever. Dolly wrote it after her split with partner/mentor Porter Wagoner in 1973. If you ignore the beauty of Whitney’s voice in the chorus that could touch the heart of Satan and choose to instead listen to the lyrics the true meaning is obvious: “If I should stay…I would only be in your way.”

“Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant Nope, it’s not about simply driving down the a sunny street and getting blazed as Pineapple Express would have you believe. It’s actually about the bloody 1981 Brixton Riot in London, between protestors and police. Electric Avenue is a market street in the area the riots took place. Don’t let the bouncy beat fool you. “Now in the street there is violence, and a lots of work to be done.” 

“No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley The misinterpretation of this song is one of my greatest pet peeves. No, douche bags, it is not about how your life is better and you won’t cry if you don’t have a woman in your life. Bob is singing to comfort a woman he loves not to worry, he’s coming home, and life will get better. It’s about love for a woman, not the lack of problems you earn by not having one in your life. It is likely his Jamaican dialect that confuses people. “But while I’m gone, everything’s going to be alright.”

“Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem James Murphy hasn’t released a whole lot of love songs, so it’s easy to mistake this for one. It is about love in a sense, yet the loss of a lover. An ex-boyfriend and I used to call this the “make out” song and listen to it in bed until we realized this and started playing part three of “45:33,” the instrumental version of this beautiful track instead. James even hints at an affair (“You’re smaller than my wife imagined”), yet perhaps the most relatable lyric is “The worst is all the lovely weather, I’m sad it’s not raining.”

“Born in the U.S.A” by Bruce Springsteen You’d think after the Ronald Reagan incident people would know by now that the song isn’t an anthem about being proud to be an American; it’s political commentary about a Vietnam vet returning home to disappointment… but I still hear it at sports games. “Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill a yellow man, born in the USA, I was born in the USA.” 

“(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” by The Beastie Boys I truly hate to break this to you, but it’s not actually about joys of partying. The guys are mocking songs that do deliver this message. As Mike D once commented “…there were tons of guys singing along that were totally oblivious to the fact it was a total goof on them.” 

“Angie” by The Rolling Stones In the general sense, yes, it is an elegant song about losing a lover. However, most people agree that Angie isn’t just some woman, it’s David Bowie’s former wife Angie Bowie. According to her, the song is a reference to the claim she walked in on Bowie and Jagger in bed together naked. Jagger claims this isn’t true, and that the song is about Keith’s first daughter Angelina. Yet in Keith’s autobiography he claims the song is actually about heroin. I don’t know. The Stones did a lot of drugs.

“Heroes” by David Bowie Yes, he played it at a 9/11 tribute and there is a great amount of triumph to the song. Yet it’s not just about being a superhero. This is the man who subsisted for a considerable period of time on egg yolks and cocaine and locked himself for a bit in a Philadelphia house screaming so loud the neighbors could hear. “Heroes” was written during his time spent in Berlin, where he created what is regarded as his three best albums, “The Berlin Trilogy” (Low, Heroes, and Lodger). The lyrics speak of Berlin history and a forbidden love story, inspired by watching his married friend and producer Tony Visconti kiss a girl by the Berlin Wall. “I can remember standing by the wall, and the guns shot above our heads, and we kissed as nothing could fall.” 

“You Are my Sunshine” covered by Johnny Cash The original country version created ages and ages ago, an official song of the state of Louisiana tricks those into thinking it is just a happy song about love that kids should sing at school concerts. My beloved man in black Johnny Cash cleared that up with his signature morbidly beautiful voice. Don’t walk down the aisle to this one. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…but now you’ve left me to love another. You have shattered all of my dreams.”

“Time to Pretend” by MGMT The memories I have of dancing to this song in college I shall honor forever. A spring break fling, bopping around on uppers, while studying abroad I danced to this in the day time under the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately MGMT let us all down after Oracular Spectacular  and I still haven’t forgiven them. Yep, it is a slightly tongue-in-check ode to the rock star lifestyle. Yet the inspiration wasn’t newfound fame but… a praying mantis. Yep, an insect. According to an interview with the duo on Live at Abbey Road, in their shared dorm room in college, they watched a preying mantis give birth, die, then the babies hatched out of the egg and danced to The Clash. It isn’t mentioned in the interview but sounds like mind-altering chemicals were involved in the inspiration of this song as well. 

  • GStorm

    A songs is a about a hook, maybe even a commercial one, regardless of meaning. The article discusses ideas the songwriter used to get it rolling but the song itself often takes on a different life. Springsteen, the Beastie Boys, etc. were not oblivious to the chorus effect.

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