Revealed: The Actual Meaning Behind the World’s Most Famous Songs

Published on 09/23/2021
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Countless people play music exclusively for the sake of the catchy melody, paying no attention to the lyrical content or the historical context of the music they are listening to. The fact remains that many songs contain hidden meanings or were written by legends using aliases, such as “Manic Monday” by The Bangles, which was written by “Christopher,” alias Prince, and recorded by the Bangles in 1967. And that isn’t even the most incredible music fact; keep reading to learn about even more fascinating musical facts!

Mother And Child Reunion

A song titled “Mother and Child Reunion” was released as the lead single from Paul Simon’s second studio album. However, there is something that many people have no idea of about the title of the famous song: it was not just a spontaneous phrase that Simon managed to come up with. On the menu of a Chinese restaurant, there is a chicken and egg dish called Mother and Child Reunion, which served as inspiration for the song’s title. Yes, the track’s origins are somewhat surreal, but that’s the point.

Mother And Child Reunion

Mother And Child Reunion

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Despite the fact that it has become one of Nirvana’s best known songs, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was actually written as a parody of the band. When Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kills first saw Teen Spirit deodorant at the local supermarket, she thought it had the weirdest name for a deodorant. ” Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” was scrawled on the wall later that night after partying with Nirvana, having had the name ingrained in her head since early that morning!

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Walk This Way

‘Walk This Way’ is one of Aerosmith’s best-known songs, and it appears on the band’s 1975 album Toys in the Attic. The group found it difficult to come up with a title for the song, which was surprising given their previous experience. That is, until they ended up going to see Young Frankenstein, a movie directed by Mel Brooks, and changed their minds about it. Upon seeing the film, the band made a joke regarding Marty Feldman encouraging Gene Wilder to follow him all around haunting castle, limping along and saying, “walk this way.” The joke was based on the film. As they tell, the rest was history.

Walk This Way

Walk This Way

Total Eclipse Of The Heart

The song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” appeared on Bonnie Tyler’s fifth studio album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, which was released in 2008. While it’s clearly evident that it’s a love song, there’s something else about it that many people aren’t aware of: it’s a love song about love. A vampire love ballad, the song was written written by Jim Steinman. During an interview with Playbill, Steinman explained, “…I actually wrote that song to be a vampire love song. It was originally titled ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical adaptation of Nosferatu at the time…”.

Total Eclipse Of The Heart

Total Eclipse Of The Heart

This Land Is Your Land

Woody Guthrie’s 1945 song “This Land is Your Land” is frequently referred to as a patriotic hymn sung by school choirs in honor of the United States of America. Sadly, the original piece isn’t — in particular patriotic if the removed verses aren’t added back in. The original song represented the huge social and economic inequalities that existed in the United States at the time, as well as how people were affected by the Great Depression. That was one of Guthrie’s numerous efforts to bring social justice to the frontline of the public debate, and it was a success.

This Land Is Your Land

This Land Is Your Land

I Shot The Sheriff

In 1973, Bob Marley and the Wailers released the single “I Shot the Sheriff.” When the song was first released, many people mistook it for a legitimate song about police. Esther Anderson, Marley’s ex-girlfriend, went, on 2012, to say that the record had been erroneous. According to Anderson, the entire song is about Marley’s objection to her use of birth control, with the word “sheriff” actually translating to “doctor” in the original. Because of this piece of information, the song takes on a new meaning!

I Shot The Sheriff

I Shot The Sheriff

Casey Jones

The Grateful Dead’s song “Casey Jones” has become a crowd favourite since its debut in 1970. They are said to have performed the song more than 300 times during their peak! Amidst this, many people have no understanding that the song is the total opposite of their perceptions. Because it’s gentle, entertaining, and catchy, many people believe it’s about the title character having a great time doing drugs. On the other hand, the lyrics highly advise against it!

Casey Jones

Casey Jones

Hey Jude

The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude,” which had been released in 1968, quickly rose to the top of the charts in a number of countries around the world. Even so, numerous individuals are unaware that Paul McCartney wrote the song particularly for John Lennon’s son, Julian Lennon. The song was written to comfort a young child who had recently experienced his parents’ divorce. “Hey Jules” was the original title of the song. Jude was chosen by McCartney because he thought that sounded nicer.

Hey Jude

Hey Jude

Independence Day

The 1994 hit song “Independence Day” by Martina McBride may have become an absolute classic for Fourth of July blasting, but it was about a different kind of freedom. The song is all about a female who, after years of domestic violence, is eventually able to leave her husband. So, instead of just a country gaining freedom and independence, it is a woman who is able to finally escape a terrible situation.

Independence Day

Independence Day

Bad Reputation

“Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett might seem like just another song for the angsty adolescent. They do, nevertheless, talk about the numerous sex roles and shapes that the music business places women in, and also her complete unwillingness to adjust for them (after being rejected by 23 labels!). As per Historian Kathleen Kennedy, “Joan Jett penned these lyrics as a defiant reply to what she understood as the different codes of conduct applied to male and female rock performers.”

Bad Reputation

Bad Reputation

Rich Girl

Hall & Oates released the single “Rich Girl” throughout 1976 as part of their album Bigger Than Both of Us. The song’s actual title is “Rich Girl,” but the lyrics’ backstory tends to involve a rich man. The song is all about Sara Allen’s ex-boyfriend, a fast-food successor who were once Daryl Hall’s girlfriend. As per Hall, “you can’t write, ‘You’re a rich boy’ in a song, so I changed it to a girl.”

Rich Girl

Rich Girl

Wish You Were Here

Oftentimes, when people hear Pink Floyd’s 1975 song “Wish You Were Here,” they presume the verses are referring to Syd Barrett, one of the band’s founding members. However, while that is an admirable sentiment, that is not the song’s underlying meaning. As per David Gilmour, the lyrics are aimed directly at himself in particular. It is essential to live in the present moment in order to fully appreciate one’s life.

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

The One I Love

Contrary to popular opinion, no matter how many people decided to devote R.E.M’s 1987 song “The One I Love” to their dear ones, the song is not a love song. While not exactly the polar opposite of the previous song, it depicts emotional distress between individuals and being repetitively taken advantage as a “prop.” According to Michael Stipe, the band’s lead singer, the song is “incredibly violent…,” according to Musician magazine. It’s abundantly clear that it’s all about repurposing people time and time again.

The One I Love

The One I Love

Take Me Home

Phil Collins’ song “Take Me Home” is unquestionably one of his most well-known compositions. The irony is that the majority of people interpret the song’s message incorrectly, choosing to believe it to be about a man coming back home. That, however, is not the case in this instance. The song was inspired by the 1975 psychological thriller One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was written by Stephen King. According to the lyrics, the song is about a man who returns home after being a patient in a mental hospital.

Take Me Home

Take Me Home

Let’s Go All The Way

True, the title and lyrics of Sly Fox’s 1985 song “Let’s Go All the Way” actually referred to a romantic relationship. Basically, there’s no mention of romance, nor does it contain any physical descriptions whatsoever! As per songwriter Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, the song is commonly misunderstood and is definitely a song of encouragement, as evidenced by the title line and other lines in the song. According to Cooper, the song’s message is to “go all the way for whatever your goal, dream, or vision is.”

Let's Go All The Way

Let’s Go All The Way

Barracuda

It is incorrectly assumed that “Barracuda” by Heart is about a marine species, but this is not true at all. Lead singer Ann Wilson expresses her displeasure with Mushroom Records in the song’s lyrics, which refer to a publicity stunt involving her and her sister, Nancy. Ann’s rage at a male reporter for bringing up the made-up issue is clearly expressed in the music video. Producer Mike Flicker claims that Barracuda was born conceptually from “a lot of this [record industry] nonsense.” That whole experience inspired the creation of this piece.

Barracuda

Barracuda

The God That Failed

Despite the success of Metallica’s song “The God That Failed,” the heavy metal band’s image took a hit as a result of many fans mistaking the band for worshipping the devil. In reality, this is not the case. According to the band, the song is about religion and how people have become overly reliant on it, particularly when it comes to healing. When James Hetfield’s mother refused to seek treatment for her cancer, trying to claim that God would heal her, the lyrics for the song were inspired.

The God That Failed

The God That Failed

Macho Man

It’s no surprise that the Village People aren’t well-known for their serious music, especially when considering that their most well-known song is none other than “YMCA.” That’s not to say that one of their music wasn’t written with a serious tone in mind; in fact, one of their songs was. The song “Macho Man” was written in order to depict traditional male characters in American culture and history. Randy Jones, on the other hand, claimed that it was not working out. In the end, they managed to make it a little less serious and somewhat more entertaining.

Macho Man

Macho Man

Le Freak

It was released in 1978 and is a disco and funk song by Chic. “Le Freak” was written by Chic and was released in 1978. Since it is a popular party song, most people don’t pay attention to it for its deeper meaning, but rather for its entertaining qualities. To say that the music isn’t meaningful is an understatement. In reality, the song is about Chic’s bassist as well as guitarist being turned down for admission to New York’s legendary Studio 54 nightclub. It appears that the bouncer told them to “f off” since their names weren’t on the guest list. That incident served as the motivation for the expression “freak out!”

Le Freak

Le Freak

Smoke On The Water

The memorable guitar riff was created following the launch of a rocket inside a casino during a Frank Zappa concert. A fire broke out fairly soon after, totally ruining the casino’s structure. After witnessing smoke billowing across Lake Geneva, Roger Glover happened to come up with the title “Smoke on the Water.”

Smoke On The Water

Smoke On The Water

The Way

In a tragic turn of events, the song “The Way” was influenced by a news story about an old couple who mysteriously disappeared while attending a Texas music festival. When the band was in the studio recording the single, they received word from the press that the couple had been discovered dead in their Oldsmobile at the bottom of a gorge, where they had been driving.

The Way

The Way

Closing Time

Semisonic front-man Dan Wilson anticipated the band’s sole big hit would have a second life in 2010, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “I really thought that that was the greatest destiny for ‘Closing Time,’ that it would be used by all the bartenders.” When Wilson wrote lyrics like “Time for you to go out to the locations you will be from,” he was focusing on the miracle of birth rather than sending late-night barflies to the curb. Wilson and his wife were expecting their first child shortly after writing the song, so it isn’t entirely surprising that this was the real origin!

Closing Time

Closing Time

Imagine

Lennon’s hallmark lyrics in “Imagine’ were described as “22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself.” However, the feel-good sentiments behind the song Jimmy Carter once said was “used almost equally with national anthems” have some serious Communist underpinnings. Lennon once referred to the song as “virtually the Communist manifesto,” and at the time that the song became a hit, went on record saying, “Because it’s sugarcoated it’s accepted. Now I understand what you have to do—put your message across with a little honey.”

Imagine

Imagine

Just Like Heaven

The Cure’s synth-laden love ballad was named the 25th greatest love song of all time by Entertainment Weekly, but the publication also wondered, “Just what is this scream/laugh/hug inducing trick?” Turns out, the phrase that threw most Cure fans for a loop simply alludes to a sudden shortness of breath. In an interview in 2003 with Blender, Smith told how “Just Like Heaven,” inspired by a trip with his girlfriend to Beachy Head in southern England, was “about hyperventilating—kissing and falling to the floor.” Interesting.

Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven

Like A Virgin

In the opening scene in Reservoir Dogs, both Mr. Brown (who thinks “Like a Virgin” is “a metaphor for large d**ks”) and Mr. Blonde (“It’s about a female who is very vulnerable”) misread Madonna’s smash hit. Despite the fact that Madonna famously settled the imaginary dispute by autographing a CD for Quentin Tarantino: “Quentin, it’s about love, not d**k” , the controversy continues.

Like A Virgin

Like A Virgin

Harder To Breathe

On the surface, the lead single from Maroon 5’s debut album Songs About Jane seems to be just another song about Jane, the name of a partner with whom lead singer Adam Levine had a tumultuous relationship. The album’s first single, “Harder to Breathe,” may sound like a racy nod to the jilted lover Levine claimed to be his muse, but “Harder to Breathe” was inspired by a different kind of suffocating relationship. The song is a scathing critique of the music industry’s pressures.

Harder To Breathe

Harder To Breathe

Summer of ’69

Bryan Adams, who was born in the winter of 1959, would have been 10 years old during the eponymous summer of one of his most well-known songs, which was published in 1985. However, “Summer of ’69” is more of a reference to the sexual position of the same name than it is to Adams waxing nostalgic about the dog days of 1969. In a 2008 interview, Adams told CBS News that “a lot of people think it’s about the year, but actually it’s more about making love in the summertime. It’s using ’69 as a sexual reference.”

Summer Of '69

Summer Of ’69

The One I Love

When Georgia natives R.E.M. debuted their first Top 10 tune in concert, guitarist Peter Buck was perplexed by the passionate reactions of the crowd. Buck revealed: “I’d look into the audience and there would be couples kissing”. “Yet the verse is… savagely anti-love… People told me that was ‘their song.’ That was your song?”. Singer Michael Stipe clearly felt the same as Buck, revealing in a 1992 interview with Q magazine that he almost didn’t even record the song, calling it “too brutal” and “really violent and awful.”

The One I Love

The One I Love

Semi-Charmed Life

The two censor-triggering words in the line “doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break” would be back-masked in an edited version of the song played by radio stations, so radio purists of the 1990s probably missed out on the fact that the upbeat Third Eye Blind anthem is about a couple on a crystal meth binge. The musical and lyrical juxtapositions were fully planned, according to lead singer Stephen Jenkins, the music reflects “the bright, shiny feeling you get on speed”.

Semi Charmed Life

Semi Charmed Life

American Girl

Sorry, urban legend devotees. Tom Petty’s 1977 classic was not inspired by the suicide of a University of Florida student. Despite the fact that the song’s second line mentions a girl standing “alone on her balcony” and “could hear the cars roll by out on 441” (a highway that runs near the Gainesville campus), Petty repeatedly dismissed the misunderstanding more than once.

American Girl

American Girl

In The Air Tonight

Phil Collins’ debut solo hit wasn’t written about the singer’s run-in with a man who refused point-blank to assist a drowning swimmer in Round Two of Song Meanings Being Twisted By Urban Legends. And, according to Collins, the individual was not invited to sit in the front row of the concert and be verbally abused by “In the Air Tonight.” Alternatively, the song is really a tense, introspective insight into Collins’ divorce from his first wife.

In The Air Tonight

In The Air Tonight

London Calling

One of The Clash’s most stinging political statements is, at its core, a song about Joe Strummer’s own fear of drowning rather than a song about the state of British politics. Mick Jones cited the band’s concern about a 1979 London Evening Standard headline about the Thames River overflowing and drowning London in a dissection of “London Calling” published by the Wall Street Journal. What was the reaction of The Clash to the news? “We flipped,” according to Jones.

London Calling

London Calling

Blackbird

Whilst on radio with Santa Monica radio station KCRW, Paul McCartney revealed how [Blackbird] “It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.” In a 2008 interview with Mojo, McCartney explained how enamored The Beatles were with the Civil Rights Movement taking place on the other side of the Atlantic. “I got the idea of using a blackbird as a symbol for a Black person. It wasn’t necessarily a black ‘bird,’ but it works that way, as much as then you called girls ‘birds’… it wasn’t exactly an ornithology ditty; it was purely symbolic.”

Blackbird

Blackbird

Good Riddance

Green Day’s acoustic ballad, a perennial favorite for greatest prom song, was never intended to be a love affair. Billie Joe Armstrong, a brooding frontman, wrote the song about a lover who was relocating to Ecuador and titled it “Good Riddance” out of frustration over the breakup. Armstrong is unconcerned by the ballad’s misunderstanding as a high school slow dance tune, telling VH1’s Behind The Music, “I sort of enjoy the fact that I’m misunderstood most of the time. That’s fine.”

Good Riddance

Good Riddance

Born In The U.S.A.

“Born in the U.S.A.” is a must-have on any list of misunderstood songs. The usage of The Boss’s smash as a rah-rah political anthem, according to music critic Greil Marcus, drives its legacy: “Clearly the key to Bruce’s popularity is in a misunderstanding,” he said. “He is a tribute to the fact that people hear what they want to hear.” Most people mistook it for a patriotic song about American pride, when it was actually a condemnation of America’s treatment of Vietnam veterans.

Born In The U.S.A.

Born In The U.S.A.

Who Let The Dogs Out?

This Calypso-lite music included a lovely (and later frustratingly omnipresent) call-and-response inquiry that never got answered, another song whose meaning was hidden by its party anthem vibes. After the song’s release in 2000, asking who let the dogs out became low-hanging comic fruit, which meant that most people were unaware that it was “a man-bashing song.” It’s a song about a good time being ruined by men catcalling and pestering women, according to songwriter Anslem Douglas in an interview with Rock Cellar Magazine.

Who Let The Dogs Out

Who Let The Dogs Out

Slide

The surface meaning of the feisty pop song is quite standard: forbidden youthful love, the delights of failing your parents, and a partner pleading with you to go away with him. However, as songwriter/lead vocalist Johnny Rzeznik said during the band’s VH1 Storytellers event, the couple’s discontent stems from a deeper source. “The song is actually about these two teenage kids, and the girlfriend gets pregnant, and they’re trying to decide whether she should get an abortion, or they should get married, or what should go on,” he said.

Slide

Slide

Macarena

“Macarena” may be the queen of a type of music in which the lyrics are overlooked because the instrumentals are so enjoyable. Listeners who didn’t speak Spanish had another reason to sway their hips happily as the duo sung about a young woman who cheats on her boyfriend with two of his pals while he’s joining in the Army. Macarena, you’re not doing so well!

Macarena

Macarena

One Way Or Another

It’s that scene in every rom-com where the aspiring architect or bakery entrepreneur is initially rejected by her or his love interest. To win them over, bring out Blondie and a montage of personal improvement initiatives and/or witty conspiracy theory hobby board-level planning. Unfortunately, our well-intentioned soul mate is composing romantic overtures to a stalker tune. Lead singer Debbie Harry told EW, “I was actually stalked by a nutjob, so it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event. But I tried to inject a little bit of levity into it to make it more lighthearted. I think in a way that’s a normal kind of survival mechanism.”

One Way Or Another

One Way Or Another

Gangnam Style

Psy’s earworm, with its invisible horse dance, was Korea’s first great global musical export, and it came with its own ridiculous music video, in which components of Psy’s big-money lifestyle are exposed to be outrageously sad. It’s easy to think Psy is only making fun of himself if you don’t know anything about Korean culture, but the song and video are both mocking a specific lifestyle of seeking the look of luxury while neglecting your basic needs. The song by the Gangnam neighborhood (think Beverly Hills), where trust-funders eat cheap cuisine in order to purchase costly coffee that they gulp in one sip, exemplifies the false commercial attitude (instead of savoring).

Gangnam Style

Gangnam Style

Hey Ya

Andre 3000 was correct when he sung near the end of a tremendously euphoric jam with deeply melancholy lyrics about the state of modern relationships, “Y’all don’t want to hear me/ you just wanna to dance.” His child adores him! Perhaps she’s simply terrified of being alone! Separate is always preferable! If nothing lasts forever, why should love be any different? Outkast tweeted a meme featuring Andre 3000’s face from the music video in May 2021, with a little piece labeled “A bop” and a large portion labeled “The saddest song ever written.”

Hey Ya

Hey Ya

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