Christmas party last year woke up my inner X-Factor wannabe through the medium of Karaoke and those who stood around judging me discovered, as I did, that I possess a terrible problem with song words and the mishearing of them. Christmas songs can drive anyone crazy and cause anyone to mishear lyrics but when they are songs you hear year after year you would think I would know the proper song words by now. As I sang away to George Michaels Last Christmas I turned away from the screen where the words were displayed because, as I foolishly thought, I knew the words anyway. After I finished punishing the air with my singing voice my friends approached to correct me on the words I sang. Instead of singing ‘This year to save me from tears…’ I had always thought that the words were ‘this year is a semi-frontier…..’ I don’t know why but it sounded somewhat poetic and I have been singing it with those words since I can remember!
Another Christmas song caught me off guard many years ago in school. It was the day before we were to get our Christmas holidays and there was a air of excitement contaminating the class. I burst out in that famous 1980s band aid song in which I sang ‘veeevaaahh wooaaaaa, let them know its Christmas time.’ A classmate told me I was singing the wrong words and that the real one went like this, ’feed the birds, let them know its Christmas time.’ The teacher had to stop us both and inform us that we were in fact both wrong and that the real lyrics were ’feed the world….’ After that revelation a brief but vicious debate emerged as to who was right and who was wrong. The debate soured our holiday celebrations and caused the teacher to threaten us that she would send for Bob Geldof to come and set us all straight on the subject of the right song words. The prospect of the grumpy one stampeding his way down the corridor and into our class frightened the bejesus out of us so our debate ended quick and we all went home vowing never to sing that song in school or indeed out in public again.
Far from Christmas, the Summer months are great providers for outdoor activity such as BBQ‘s. Some years ago Heineken ran an ad on TV in which Louis Prima’s Just a gigolo provided the soundtrack. An old song no doubt but it got a sort of revival during that summer on radio. I went to a BBQ in which the song came on the music system and I gathered a group to sing it as the words are quite easy to remember and sing, or so I thought. We all lashed into the song with great gusto, ‘Cause I aint got nobody….’ then I sang out in my loudest sound barrier breaking tone ‘nobody, nobody, nobody can phone me!’ It caused a ripple of laughter among the partiers, a laughter tinged in sympathy for the buffoon who thinks the real words ‘nobody cares for me’ is actually, ‘nobody phones me.’
While adults are to blame for some stupid mishearing, you can be sure that kids will misheard song words with greater confidence. While sitting in the kitchen of a neighbour one day sipping tea and chatting, her little boy came in just as The Killers song Human came on the radio. He burst out in his best seven year old singing voice ‘are we human or lovely dancers?’ I laughed, he sneered and asked what was I laughing at, I told him ‘sure who wouldn’t want to be a lovely dancer!?’
I was a kid too and apart from mishearing Christmas songs in my childhood I also had the audacity of mishearing Johnny Cash songs too. The song If I were a carpenter caused me a great concern when I was young because I was certain that it carried with it a degree of incestuous undertones, ‘if I were a carpenter and you were related, would you marry me anyway, would you have my baby?’ While on a drive with my parents, my dad had the song playing on his old cassette player and I was in the back seat singing. When I sang what I thought were the words he sternly corrected me that the words were in fact ’if I were a carpenter and you were a lady.’ I remember his head going bright red with anger and he had to pull over on the road to take a few seconds to calm down after hearing his child degrading his god Johnny Cash with misheard song words.
From childhood into adulthood I can’t seem to escape the misheard song lyric. More recently I find a common theme in such a situation, the theme of fire. Fire seems to have a prominent part to play in the role of music lyrics being misheard, one night in a bar my friend and I were having a quiet drink when Adele’s Set fire to the rain came on the jukebox. My friend promptly broke out in song and in her most salt of the earth accent she sang, ‘set fire to Lorraine, watch her burn……’ I let her sing the whole song and when she finished and gathered some undesirable looks from the other people at the bar, I informed her that the words are in fact ‘set fire to the rain’ to which she replied, ‘but that’s just stupid, how can you set fire to the rain?’ I retorted back, ‘well why would you set fire to someone called Lorraine?’ my friend shrugged, ‘I don’t know, maybe the bitch deserved it!’
Kings of Leon had as massive hit with a song about fire as well, with sex on fire rather than rain and it is also a common one to get tragically misheard. A frequent shout among the younger ones in the family is ‘ohhhhh your socks are on fire!!’ The younger ones remain uncorrected until they are old enough to understand but the same cannot be said of the adults. In the college bar one day when the song first came out, a jock sitting at the bar decided to grab mine and my friend’s attention by putting it on the jukebox and singing it at us while we sat at the far end of the bar. The song came on and instead of singing ‘ooohh your sex is on fire’ he hysterically sang ‘ooohhh your satchels on fire…’ We left him to it as we ran out the door laughing our heads off.
I cannot end this without acknowledging the great Rebecca Black. Her song about the days of the week may help some people understand what day comes after Thursday and what day comes before Saturday but the lyrics are ripe for being raped by mishearing unfortunates, such as myself. When I first heard the Friday song I thought it was a song about eggs, ‘fried egg, fried egg, getting down for fried egg.’ I thought it’s a catchy enough tune and that girl really likes her eggs, especially fried eggs, but when I heard the song again I heard it different, I heard ‘Friday Friday getting down on Friday.’ I should have known by the name of the song that it wasn’t about fried eggs at all but I prefer the fried egg version myself anyway.
Lily Murphy is 24 and comes from Cork city, Ireland. She is a graduate of University College Cork from where she obtained a B.A in history and politics. She has had some short fiction appear in publications such as Hulltown 360 journal, The Delinquent literary magazine and Pom pom Pomeranian publication from Bank heavy press among others. She also contributes political and cultural pieces to New Politics magazine and Monthly review online.