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
Ooh-wee!
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)

About David Carroll

David Carroll grew up surrounded by the sights and sounds of broadcasting. As a teenager, David began his radio career in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee before making it to the “Great Jet-Fli,” WFLI, the 50,000 watt rock ‘n roll voice of Chattanooga. David was the first voice on the city’s powerful KZ-106 rock station before switching to TV. Since 1987 he has anchored the evening news on WRCB Channel 3, the NBC affiliate. Since April 2013, he has blogged purely for his own amusement, but hopes others enjoy it as well. To contact David, Email: 3dc@comcast.net

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