Sing it! “There’s a Bathroom on the Right”

Misheard Lyrics are a
Part of Rock-n-Roll

As you may know by now, I love rock ‘n roll oldies.  I don’t even pretend to be a music snob.  You can have your trendy new music on NPR, your deep album cuts and even your high-falutin’ classical music.  Give me those hook-laden top-40 pop songs that I can sing along with.

Now, all these decades later, I’m playing catch-up.  There’s almost always some song from the 60s, 70s or 80s blaring from my car speakers, and that’s me with the windows up, sparing you the pain.  The other day,  this song “Wild Night” was on the radio, and I tried to sing along.  I realized I had no idea what Van Morrison was saying, and I defy you to figure it out as well.  No fair going to Google and reading the lyrics.  We’ll do that later.  For now, listen to the first verse of this song, and then the chorus, and see if you know what Van is trying to say.

That song was a top-20 hit back in 1971, but it still gets stuck in my head now and then, and it’s darn near impossible to sing along with.  Van just wails along, mumbling and slurring.  That makes it different from many songs with lyrics I simply misunderstood on my cheap little AM radio speaker.  For instance, if you thought John Fogerty was singing “There’s a bathroom on the right,” (a bad moon on the rise) I was right there with you.  In fact, it may be contagious in my family.  My wife was in her twenties before she figured out that in “My Cherie Amour,” Stevie Wonder wants to “share your little distant cloud,” and not “your little sister Sal.”  My son Vince’s faulty interpretation of lyrics was published in a calendar of misheard lyrics a few years ago.  When he was little, he heard Honey Cone sing “Gonna put it in the Want Ads,” but to him it sounded like “My brother has a wood ass.”  (His brother was not amused).  Still another family member was heard loudly singing along to the Hues Corporation’s big hit “Rock The Boat.”  The very first line is “I’d like to know where…you got the notion.”  You can imagine how embarrassed she was, belting out, “I’d like to know where…you got pollution.”

Of course the malady isn’t confined to Carroll family members.  During my radio days, I got requests for Steve Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug,” (actually “Jungle Love.”)

It even goes outside the border of music. In fourth grade, I had a pretty good handle on the Pledge of Allegiance, but an unnamed classmate (who may be reading this blog, and is larger than me) would routinely recite, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for Richard Stands…”  He was surely among many who wondered, who is this Richard guy, and why is he always standing?

Quite often, the singers themselves are to blame.  They’re either intentionally garbling the lyrics (“Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen), drowned out by the music (Mick Jagger, in “Tumbling Dice“) or maybe they want to keep us guessing (Michael McDonald in most of his Doobie Brothers hits, like “What a Fool Believes“).

Still, Tom Jones is loud and clear in the opening lines of “She’s A Lady,” when he belts out, “She’s got style, she’s got grace, she’s a wiener.”  Everybody I know pronounces the word “winner,” Sir Tom.

When I hear Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like a Wolf,” I think my misheard version makes more sense than the real thing.  To me it sounds like “I smell like a sow, I’m lost in a crowd.”  Actually, they’re singing, “I smell like I sound.”  I’m sticking with the sow.

Some of us like to repeat the wrong words, even though the correct ones are loud and clear.  Who among us hasn’t enhanced Elton John’s beautiful “Tiny Dancer,” by singing out, “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”  Mr. Danza himself gets a kick out of that one.  Or at least he did the first 500 times people sang it to him.  It may be getting old to him by now, but it’s still funny to me.

Although John Mellencamp, Kurt Cobain, Prince, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan have kept me guessing for years, without a doubt Joe Cocker is the King of Misheard Lyrics.  His 1969 Woodstock rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends” is a YouTube classic, thanks to some creative soul who captioned Cocker’s nonsensical mutterings.

Now back to those Van Morrison “Wild Night” lyrics:

As you brush your shoes
And stand before the mirror
And you comb your hair
And grab your coat and hat
And you walk, wet streets
Tryin to remember
All the wild breezes
In your memory ever.
And everything looks so complete
When you’re walkin out on the street
And the wind catches your feet
And sends you flyin, cryin
The wild night is calling.

How’d you do?  Thanks to the Internet, I now know, 42 years later what Van’s been singing.  Now I can rest easy.  Or as Van might say, “Nah ah ca ress a zee.”

(What’s your favorite misunderstood song lyric?  Have you ever been singing along with a song, only to make your friends or family laugh out loud? Share it in the comments section!  Thanks for reading, DC)

Radio Hall of Famer Tommy Jett and the Healing Power of Rock & Roll

david fpBack in May, Chattanooga radio legend Tommy Jett was inducted into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. The honor was a long time coming, but that’s not why the story is remarkable. His induction almost didn’t happen, at least not with Tommy alive to witness it.

When the organization’s first round of inductees was announced last year, Tommy was disappointed, though not surprised that he didn’t quite make the cut. Only six living radio legends were elected, including nationally known broadcasters like Ralph Emery, Wink Martindale and John Ward, and Chattanooga icon Luther Masingill. Maybe next year, Tommy thought. In the meantime, he gathered his memorabilia, including his bright red 1960s-era WFLI “Jet-FLI” blazer and planned a trip to the ceremony to reminisce and mingle.

Fate intervened just days before the banquet one April afternoon. Tommy, a longtime diabetic, apparently lost consciousness while driving along a rural north Georgia road. His car went airborne, flipping a half-dozen times before landing in a ditch out of the view of most drivers. Fortunately, another motorist was nearby and saw it happen. Emergency workers were called to the scene, and spent the next four hours carefully removing Tommy from the wreckage, using the tools known as the “Jaws of Life.” Walker County Deputy Bruce Coker, who had worked alongside the deejay during numerous “Stocking Full of Love” Christmas charity events, led the rescue effort. “I thought there was no way we could get him out alive,” Coker said later.

Tommy Jett David Carroll

Chattanooga radio legend Tommy Jett.

Yet within days, Tommy Jett was holding court in his hospital room, recovering from neck surgery and other procedures. He was determined to make his annual commitments to the Corn Bread Festival in South Pittsburg and his own Entertainers Reunion, both scheduled during the next month. Plus he’d been asked to introduce oldies acts like the Turtles and Gary Puckett at the Riverbend Festival in June. For Tommy, if he was breathing, the show must go on. He made every date, looking more gaunt and gray by the day. He was losing weight at an alarming rate. The once robust, rosy-cheeked rock-and-roller just didn’t have much of an appetite, and he didn’t know why.

It all came to a head in late June. His wife Charlene, who had tried mightily to get him to eat more, called 911. He had lapsed into a coma, and she didn’t know what to do. He was rushed to a Chattanooga hospital on that Friday afternoon, and friends and neighbors started spreading the word: this didn’t look good.

On Sunday, July 1st, the phone calls and e-mails went out. “If you want to see Tommy Jett one more time, you’d better hurry over to the hospital.” He was being kept alive on a respirator, and doctors told Charlene the bad news: he was totally unresponsive. “He will never get better,” they said. Some grave decisions had to be made. That afternoon, she told friends she was beginning to accept the inevitable. By the next morning, his family members should all be in town. Those closest to Tommy could say goodbye. Funeral arrangements were made, a church was chosen, pallbearers were notified.

What happened next has yet to be explained, scientifically anyway. Some longtime radio friends, led by Chip Chapman and Ben Cagle hatched an idea. Yes, Tommy is lying in a hospital bed. He doesn’t seem to hear us, he shows no signs of life, he probably doesn’t even know we’re here telling him how much we love him. But what did Tommy enjoy more than anything else in the world? Being on the radio, playing the hits of course. So the radio guys rounded up a boombox, loaded in some CD recordings of Tommy’s classic WFLI “Night Train” call-in request shows from the 1960s, and cranked it up near the head of Tommy’s bed. All day, all night. When one disc ran out, a new one was put in. Elvis, the Supremes, the Four Seasons, all introduced by Tommy’s familiar “Hey Now” greeting. Budweiser commercials, 1963 news flashes and hit songs, just as they aired on AM transistor radios fifty years earlier.

Monday morning arrived, and to everyone’s surprise and relief, they did not “pull the plug.” Doctors told the family that Tommy had shown slight signs of improvement. Those were visible only to doctors. To the rest of us, Tommy was still in a deep sleep, with no movement. The music played on. “Come on and be my little…good luck charm,” Elvis crooned. Tommy Jett’s lively voice would interrupt between songs: “Nineteen minutes after midnight, you’re movin’ and grooving, with Super-Jett, your ever-lovin’ leader!” ending on a high note few men over thirty could ever hope to reach.

The next day, Tommy began to move his fingers just a bit. By Wednesday, he was blinking his eyes as James Brown yelped in the background. Later that day his eyes began following the movements of his wife and grandkids in the hospital room. Message received: Tommy wasn’t ready to “check out” just yet. He still had some living to do.

By Friday, five days after his old deejay pals came by to say goodbye, they returned to witness what can only be described as a miracle. There was Tommy Jett, still listening to his old radio shows, but now able to speak, laugh, and express his thanks. Was he able to hear the music while doctors and family were discussing his planned exit from this life? No one, not even Tommy can be sure about that. One thing is for sure: it didn’t hurt. And if anyone wants to attach a little healing power to the sounds of rock and roll, so be it.

By the spring, he was driving again, appearing at Corn Bread Festivals and Entertainers Reunions, and putting together an eye-catching outfit for his induction into the 2013 class of the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame on Saturday May 4. He was determined to make it this time, and deliver the acceptance speech his friends thought would never take place. Yes, his appearance would be accompanied by sound clips and music from his old radio shows. After all, it’s his lifeblood.

Tommy is quick to credit his faith and his doctors for bringing him back from the brink of death’s door. Charlene says, “We give much credit to the doctors, like David Denman. And Tommy and I know the real reason he is here is God.” But the man who loves his fans like no other radio personality can’t hide a smile when it’s suggested that maybe rock and roll had something to do with it. “There’s nothing like music,” he says. “It’s been a big part of my whole life.”

As for me, I’m instructing my family to keep some Tommy Jett CDs handy, just in case I’m ever the subject of those serious hospital conversations. Crank up “TJ the DJ” for me. That might make me want to stick around a while longer too. Finest Craft Beers from America’s Best Micro Breweries- 728x90 banner