Most mornings after Mr. Smith leaves for work I tidy up our apartment, either read or write for a little while and then about 11:00 take a break to go to the gym. Last Wednesday I headed out for my noon exercise class, had a great workout, then headed home. I was full of endorphins and, as usual, singing along with the radio. I laughed out loud at myself when I looked down at my dashboard display and suddenly realized I had been singing the wrong words to an Aerosmith song since 1987. In my defense, in 1987 I was the mother of a seven-year old, a four-year old and a two-year old. In other words, I was a little distracted. But my apologies to Aerosmith for mishearing Dude (looks like a lady) and belting out Do Just Like a Lady for the past 30 years!
Apparently, many people mishear music lyrics. A classic from my generation is Credence Clearwater’s There’s a Bad Moon on the Rise. So many people heard it as There’s a Bathroom on the Right that the songwriter, John Fogerty, occasionally sang the misheard lyrics in concert. Hold me closer, Tony Danza (Hold me closer, tiny dancer); Sweet dreams are made of cheese (Sweet dreams are made of these); the list goes on and on. And I’m not sure about her ex-lovers, but Taylor Swift would be insane not to appreciate all the attention Blank Space received because people heard Starbucks! Apparently even her mother asked her why she was singing about Starbucks.
There is a word to define these misheard lyrics. It’s a mondegreen. This usually happens when a person is listening to a poem or song. When the listener is unable to clearly hear a lyric, they simply substitute words that sound similar and seem to make some kind of sense. There are difference reasons why we sometimes don’t hear the song lyrics that the writer has toiled over. The singer may not be enunciating very clearly. Without any visual clues, is difficult to interpret when words are run together. And you may be listening on lousy stereo equipment. I have a memory, albeit hazy, of being at a party circa 1975 when I’m Not in Love by 10cc start playing. The party tunes were obviously being played on a better stereo system than I had, because when the chorus of “Big boys don’t cry, big boys don’t cry” came on, I thought, huh, so that’s what they’re saying!
As it turns out, mishearing lyrics goes back to my childhood. I remember watching I love Lucy and The Bozo Show, but I don’t remember Here’s Geraldine. But I obviously watched it because the theme song is still stuck in my head today. On our recent visit with our grandsons I thought it might be fun to teach them the song and they could sing it for their parents. While the tune is ingrained in me, I could only remember the first couple of lines:
Be kind to your parents, you know they deserve it.
Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I was able to pull up the lyrics and couldn’t believe how wrong I had been. And I wondered, did I sing it for my parents? Did they chuckle in private at my faux pas? The actual words are:
Be kind to your parents, though they don’t deserve it.
We are governed by familiarity and if we aren’t sure of lyrics, we fill in with something recognizable. I was a docile and obedient child. It wasn’t conceivable for me to think a children’s program theme song would say parents don’t deserve respect. I didn’t teach it to my grandsons.
There are websites devoted to the subject of mondegreens. There are online quizzes, studies on “auditory illusions” and YouTube videos galore. You can spend hours on the Internet reading misheard song lyrics. But now Mr. Smith is home so…
Excuse me while I kiss this guy…
C’est la vie.
Excellent job…smooth, readable and very entertaining. Your editor
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