Friday, February 6, 2015

'Maybe I'm a whale' and other misheard lyrics

We recently held our annual Employee Appreciation Gala at work, and one of the featured segments was a video of various employees dancing to Shakira's song "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)," which was the official song of the 2010 soccer World Cup (which you already knew of course, right?)

Anyway, when we were soliciting employees to choreograph and videotape their group dances to the song, it quickly became apparent to me and to a co-worker who is also a middle-aged white guy that we couldn't understand half of what Shakira was singing.

Assuming others might have this problem, we had our video editor produce a clip whereby the lyrics appeared at the bottom of the screen as Shakira sang them.

Mind you, I did not suddenly develop this inability to fully understand lyrics when I entered my 40s. I've always had trouble deciphering them, and of course some singers are worse than others.

Back in the early 1980s when I first became interested in popular music, one of my favorite bands was an English group called The Fixx. One of their big hits was a song called "Saved by Zero," the chorus of which had lead vocalist Cy Curnin singing "maybe I'll win, saved by zero."

Except I was sure he was singing "maybe I'm a whale, saved by zero." I realize this makes no sense, but my general outlook on most of the New Wave music I listened to back then was that it almost never made sense. And that it made no sense intentionally because...well, just because that's how pop music was.

I was stunned to learn eventually that I had not interpreted that lyric correctly.

My friend Matt always insisted that in the song "Sunglasses at Night," Corey Hart sang a line that went "don't push the play on a diet shake." Again, this makes no sense, but it's not much worse than the actual line, which was "don't switch the blade on the guy in shades."

My sister-in-law Chris apparently had some trouble with the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This." She seemed to think Annie Lennox was singing, "Who has a mind to disagree?" Close, but not right. Real lyric: "Who am I to disagree?"

There is, by the way, an entire website dedicated to misheard lyrics called Its name stems from the often-botched line from Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" that goes "'scuse me while I kiss the sky." Many over the years have heard that as, "'scuse me while I kiss this guy." Which is really one of the better ones.

Another personal favorite from that site: In Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," he sings, "It was always burning since the world's been turning." But apparently some guy thought it was, "It was always burning, said the worst attorney."

Not understanding Shakira? I can relate to that. Not understanding Billy Joel? Impossible. Open your ears, whippersnappers.


  1. I used to sing a line from a Police song as "I'm a pool hall ace..." I believe the correct lyric is "How my poor heart aches"

  2. The only thing more ridiculous than these are actual Motley Crue lyrics...

  3. That would be from "Every Breath You Take," Scott, and that's a great one. (And I think Motley Crue songs are actually better when they're misheard.)