The misheard lyric is a somewhat unique pheonomenon; while it is certainly possible to misread (literally misread as opposed to misinterpret) a line of poetry or mishear a line of dialogue from a movie, when we read the poem or view the movie a second time, we correct ourselves. With song lyrics, however, once we hear a lyric one way we tend to hear it that way every time until we are corrected (sometimes even after). For example, with Coldplay's new single, "Viva La Vida", everytime I heard the chorus I thought Chris Martin was singing "Roman Catholic choirs are Singing" when the actual lyric turns out to be "Roman Cavalry choirs are singing." This sort of thing is always going to occur most frequently with popular music since a singer's inflection and the added distraction of the music will make this kind of mistake much more common with this form than any other.
Now, we all know the silly misheard lyrics and have heard the most popular ones countless times and probably have a few of our own, my personal favorite being the fact that I thought "She's gonna turn on the juice, Boy" in Motley Crue's "Looks That Kill" was "She's gonna turn you all Jewish, boys." This of course makes no sense and, when it comes to these lyrics, we always know that they're wrong so when we are informed of the correct lyric we are usually more than happy to admit that it makes more sense. However, for the purposes of this post, I don't want to talk about the silly lyrics but I want to focus on something that happens to me on occasion: when we like our misheard lyric better than the actual lyric; when we're actually disappointed to do discover what the actual lyric is because it's somewhat disapointing or takes some meaning away from the song that we had placed in it.
Here are a few of mine:
Bruce Springsteen- "For You"
Actual Lyric: "And they're waiting for you down at Bellevue with their oxygen mask"
My version: "And they're waiting for you down at Bellevue with their Rock surgeon mask"
I like my version better because I like the idea of "Rock Surgeons"... ie Rock N' Roll Surgeons... I thought it was a nice way of saying Rock and Roll saved the girl... or that she was waiting for Rock to save her.
Cheap Trick- "The Flame"
Actual Lyric: "You Were the First, You'll Be The Last"
My version: "You were the First TO be the last"
I like mine better because it's much more toungue in cheek, since he's saying she was "first to be the last" he's implying that there will be others to be last as well or, at the very least, she wasn't the first just 'the first to be the last'. At the very least, it is implying that there were others before her... but she was 'the last.' Which is kind of sweet... in a much less maudlin way than the actual lyric.
REM- "Let Me In"
Actual Lyric: "I've got tar on my feet and I can't see"
My Version: "A guitar on my feet and I can't see"
Knowing this song was about Kurt Cobain, I always assumed he had a 'guitar' on his feet... like the weight of his success or the burden of his rock stardom, both represented by the guitar, were pulling him down... or the weight of his art. I thought it was a much stronger image than "got tar on my feet" which sort of says the same thing but much less artfully.
Smashing Pumpkins- "Disarm"
Actual Lyric: "Inside of Me is such a part of you."
My Version: "Sodomy is such a part of you"
Now, sodomy definitely makes this a much darker song about a much more messed up relationship, perhaps even one with an anti-child abuse message a la Suzanne Vega's "Luka" (you can imagine my shock when I heard this was inspired by Billy Corgan's relationship with his father... and my subsequent relief when I found out my mishearing was incorrect) Anyway, In this case... I'm not sure my version was really all that much better so much as it was much scarier.
Some of yours?
[Sara has a good one from her childhood:
Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World"
Actual Lyric: "The dark sacred night"
Sara heard "the dogs say good-night"
That is adorable.
This is not a song lyric but there is a famous story about a little girl who thought God's name was Howard, because she misheard "Hallowed be thy name" in the Lord's Prayer.
There is actually a whole book of misheard lyrics called "'Scuse Me While I Kiss this Guy" -- a famous mishear of Hendrix saying "Kiss the Sky." Other examples from the book include
"The ants are my friends/They're blowin' in the wind" ("The answer my friend/Is blowing' in the wind"-Bob Dylan)
"Sweet dreams are made of cheese" ("Sweet dreams are made of this"-Eurythmics)
"The girl with colitis goes by" ("The girl with kaleidoscope eyes"-The Beatles)