Mondegreens: When Lionel Richie Sings About Pants.

The other day I was singing along to the radio in the kitchen as I scraped the collateral damage from Bigfoot’s latest calcinated culinary catastrophe off the hob. I knew the words of this love song by heart – it had stayed at number one for weeks on end when I was I teenager. Romantic. Heart-breaking. Nostalgic. Sad… or it was, until my out-of-tune rendition ended in peals of hysterical laughter just seconds into the song.  I’d crooned that fatal line along with the love-sick Lionel Richie:  “I sometimes see your pants outside my door….. Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

English: Title card from the Three Stooges sho...

Sing a Song of Six Pants, a pocket full of rye…  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meet the Mondegreen, official name for the misheard lyric – a kind of mischievous musical Babel fish that transforms Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” into something my ear finds more appropriate for my brain. “I sometimes see you pass outside my door” thus becomes a kinky new game in which unknown beauties leave their pants outside strangers’ doors. (As we have already discussed in a previous post, although a pair of pants left outside an American door could appear strange but innocuous, a pair of pants left outside a British door could be seen as either bizarre or an open invitation for a spot of rumpy-pumpy.)

I feel so sorry for lyricists who spend months scratching their heads and searching the depths of their souls for meaningful lyrics, only to discover that the bog-standard citizen mishears the song and transforms it into something ridiculous which prevails throughout musical history.

Lionel Ritchie is far from being the only singer-song writer who has suffered from my selective hearing. I have a few favourites that I systematically massacre, even if I have learned the right words now; in fact, the popular “wrong” versions are sometimes so good that I think the composers should have come around to reality a long time ago and changed the lyrics.

Here are a few of them:

Dancing Queen, by Abba, rocked my youth, and it is a mondegreen classic. I still sing it enthusiastically: “See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen”.  I remember thinking as a child that it must be so goddamn satisfying to kick a dancing queen, particularly if you’re a tomboy wallflower who was born with two left feet, like me. Boy, I could just feel that beat on the tangerine (or trampoline, depending on who you listen to). Of course, everyone remembers Abba’s great song about Indian take-aways, right? It starts off with “Chicken tikka, tell me what’s wrong….

Black samba kick

See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen… (Photo credit: jumfer)

Bob Dylan: Blowing in the Wind. You discover some surprising things in songs. For example, did you know that Bob Dylan isn’t just a singer? He is also a naturalist, on a par with Richard Attenborough. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourselves in his song “Blowing in the wind”: “The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in the wind.” See?

Starship: We built this city on rock and roll. Another big favourite that combined cookery, music and urban construction. Come on, hands up… who bopped around school discos singing themselves hoarse with “We built this city…. ta, ta… We built this city on saaaussage rolls, we built this city, we built this city on sauuusssaaaage ro-holls“?

Toto: Africa. I felt very sorry for Toto back in ’82. I couldn’t work out whether he’d  left his brains or blessed the drains down in Africa, but neither sound too appealing to me.

Phil Collins. King of the romantico-depressive genre, Phil did manage to come up with some more refreshing lines. We discovered that he is a secret lover of the winter season in his chart-topping “In the Air Tonight” when he declared: “I’ve been waiting for this snowman for all my life, oh yeah….” I do however have a soft spot for his great song, “Every time you go away,” presumably dedicated to the butcher who is desperately in love with his customer: “Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you.

Tetra Pak® - Housewife at the dairy counter in...

Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you… (Photo credit: Tetra Pak)

Black Sabbath: Paranoid. Mondegreens have also got some singer-songwriters in trouble – Ozzy Osbourne actually had to put things straight when the group was accused of singing “I tell you to end your life” in the song “Paranoid”, when the text actually said « I tell you to enjoy life ».

The Beatles.  Ok, don’t be shy. Hands up if you sang “she has a chicken to ride“. The Beatles’ attempt to get the great British public singing in French also failed dismally, with many of my school friends happily crooning “Sunday monkey play piano song, play piano song” instead of “Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble” in “Michelle”. I was surprised by “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” until I realised that “the girl with colitis goes by” is actually ” the girl with kaleidoscope eyes“.

Soon we’ll be able to sing Christmas songs, and I can’t wait for my favourite festive mondegreens, like “Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names”. Those memories will hit me again, like when school assembly sang  “sleeep in heeeavenly peasssss,” and I imagined Jesus kipping in a plateful of Christmas vegetable trimmings, covered with bacon blankets. “Later on, we’ll perspire, as we dream by the fire….” Roll on Christmas!

What are your favourite mondegreens? If you’re not asleep already, I’ll leave you with the all-time mondegreen classic by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Happy bopping around your office/kitchen/camping car…. and watch out for those pants outside the door.

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34 thoughts on “Mondegreens: When Lionel Richie Sings About Pants.

  1. Ha ha ha. I loved this post. Well done. A big smile on my face. My husband is amazing. He sings away all the time but most of the time with the wrong lyrics, and he doesn’t even know it. 🙂

  2. Haha… you’ve just ruined loads of songs! I particularly like “kicking the dancing queen!” A friend of mine always used to think Prince was going to “party like it’s 1979″…

    • I always sing 1969 – it must be a generation thing 🙂 There’s a great mondegreen for prince’s “Kiss” too: “Ain’t no particular size I’m more compatible with, I just want some extra time with your kids.” Aha. Was Prince a Peter Pan closet playmo fan?

  3. I was hopeless with prayers, the saying of which is a ceaseless occupation if the Jesuits happen to be your educators. I was much happier not to be led into Thames Station which left me free to enjoy temptation:)

  4. Ah, brilliant! This conversation always makes me laugh more than any other (closely seconded by the noises that animals make in different languages – Japanese pigs apparently say, “Boo-boo!”).

    When I was working as a subtitler many years ago I had to review the music videos that a friend had subtitled. In the opening lines of Dire Straights “Money For Nothing”, my friend had subtitled it as, “I want my, I want my, I want my own TV”.

    It then transpired that one of our colleagues thought the later lyrics in the song were “Money for nothing and chips for tea”. Ah, how we laughed!

    • Hello, Wawoman (I’m curious -what does “wawoman” mean? Are you Wonder Woman with a little extra “waaaah”?) Japanese pigs say boo-boo? Cripes.
      I’d love to work in subtitling- I go off my rocker when I read some of the subtitles I read in French. And now I am now very disappointed to learn that Dire Straits weren’t talking about chips for tea… sniff.

      • I’ll take your explanation of my name – I’d much rather be Waaah Wonder Woman than a woman from Western Australia.

        Yep, pigs say “Boo-boo” and babies say “Ooh-gaah, ooh-gaah”. Funny.

        Don’t work in subtitling – it’s lovely but the money is better in blogging…

        Thanks for the laughs.

  5. I loved these – well the ones I knew, anyway…and, many thanks, whichwaynow 101, I’ve been hymning Deirdre and Lorraine since turning to the comments.
    It shows no sign of lettingup…..

  6. Hahaha. So glad that this was the first post I read on my return!

    “Lucy in the sky with Simon” was one of ours.

    Also, the Vengaboys “Woah, we’re going to eat pizza!.”

  7. Brilliant, MM. A whole load of songs I’ll never again be able to listen to with a straight face. 🙂 I’ve been racking my brains throughout the comment thread and I honestly can’t remember a single mishearing, though I know there must have been so many. Blame my ageing memory….. 😦

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