10 Songs' Surprising Original Meanings


We all love listening to music, and sometimes we even find ourselves singing along without paying any attention to the words.  Sometimes the lyrics are just nonsense, but other times they have a deeper meaning.  No matter how silly or serious the song, the song writer drew inspiration for it from somewhere.  Here are ten songs' surprising original meanings.

1. The Police - Every Breath You Take

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In the early 1980s Sting began an affair with Trudie Styler, the best friend of his then-wife Frances Tomelty.  The affair eventually led to Sting's divorce from Tomelty, and in the interim he wrote this song as the the words of a possessive lover who is watching “every breath you take; every move you make.”

Sting admits that when he initially wrote the song he didn't realize just how sinster it was, but this didn't escape him long, as he tried to convey the sinisterism and ugliness of it by appearing to be angry in the music video.  He was later disconcerted by how positive many people think the song is.  One couple told him, “Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!” and he thought, “Well, good luck.”

2. Elvis Presley - (You Ain't Nothin' But A) Hound Dog

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When Presley debuted Hound Dog live on national television, host Steve Allen made him sing the song to a top-hat-wearing Basset Hound.  Presley was extremely upset with this, as the song had been written about his ex-girlfriend, Natalie Wood, whom Presley's mother thought was a schemer who hoped to “snare” him only “for publicity purposes.”  The change was made because the television executives had previewed the lyrics and thought them too mysogynistic.

3. Frank Loesser - Baby, It's Cold Outside

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In the mid 2010s progressives realized that this song was actually about date rape and began villainizing it.  On the other end of the political spectrum, conservatives cried fowl and held on to the idea that it was an innocent, romantic Christmas song.  After arguing about this every Christmas season for a few years, somebody finally went to the source.

The song's author, Frank Loesser, had long since died, but his daughter, Susan Loesser, revealed that progressives and conservatives were both wrong.  Her father had been a big fan of Star Trek and originally wrote the song for Star Trek: The Broadway Musical as a duet between Captain Kirk and an alien woman.  The musical never went into production because the musical's producers couldn't come to an agreement with William Shatner to reprise his role, and Leonard Nimoy was too busy with his dual acting and singing career.  The “cold outside theme” was actually an analogy for the lack of any atomosphere in outer space.

4. Right Said Fred - I'm Too Sexy (For My Shirt)

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Fred Fairbrass, lead guitarist of Right Said Fred, suffers from synesthesia, a condition in which a person experiences hypersensitivity to synthetic fibers.  Richard Fairbrass, lead vocalist for the group, wrote I'm Too Sexy as a joke making fun of his brother's condition, but they changed the lryics for the recorded version because “I'm allergic to my shirt, so allergic that it hurts,” just wasn't as catchy.

5. Sublime - Date Rape

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Sublime bass player Eric Wilson revealed in an interview in 2015 that singer/guitarist Brad Nowell had written “Date Rape” as an analogy for how he felt when he went to the dentist for a root canal.  He recorded the song hoping to promote and encourage proper toothbrushing so that fewer people would have to undergo invasive oral procedures.

6. Harry Simeone - Do You Hear What I Hear?

Gloria Shayne Baker originally wrote the music for Do You Hear What I Hear? without any specific lyrics in mind, then her husband Noël Regney wrote the lyrics to go with it.  Regney suffered from Schizophrenia and wrote a song describing his condition and what it felt like dealing with his mental demons.  Harry Simeone thought it was a catchy tune, so he scrubbed out the schizophrenic components and turned it into a Christmas song.

7. Aqua - Barbie Girl

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Aqua's “Babie Girl” seems like the band was just having fun with a Barbie Doll theme, when the truth is it was social commentary . . . made subtle by the band having too much fun in a music video made to look like it takes place at a Barbie house.  Mattel, the maker of Barbie, missed the subtlety entirely and filed a lawsuit for violating their trademark, then went on to liken MCA Records, Aqua's label, to a bank robber.  MCA contested Mattel's claims and countersued for defamation.  Both cases were eventually dismissed.

8. Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer

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In the early days of the band Genesis, before it found success, its original lead singer Peter Gabriel still had a day job working in rennovation.  He had the tendancy to crash through walls like Kool-Aid Man and Chip Gaines, for which reason his co-workers called him “Sledgehammer.”

This inspired Gabriel to write a song in which he pleads, “Let me be your sledgehammer!”  His Genesis bandmates didn't like the song too much, as it was about demolishing drywall and pulverizing concrete, so he never actually recorded it until after he went solo and had retooled the lyrics.

9. MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This

Speaking of hammers, Stanley Burrell, better known as MC Hammer, wrote a song that had its origins in heavy industry.  During the golden age of rap, several marketing managers with no sense of what makes people cringe thought it was a great idea to use rap in their advertisements and training videos.  Burrell had likewise been commissioned to write a rap song accompanying a safety video for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant employees.

Unlike most of the uninspired rubbish that found its way into early '90s advertising, Burrell's rap about the dangers of handling radioactive materials and high-voltage electrical conduits, aptly titled “U Can't Touch This,” was actually quite catchy.  Burrell knew he had a hit on his hands and was about to publish it in its original form, but his friends talked him into changing the lyrics because they were worried people would laugh at him.

10. The B-52's - Love Shack

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In the '70s and '80s, several slasher films were made that were set at summer camps or cabins in the woods.  One such film that was never actually completed was called, “The Love Shack.”  It had the not uncommon theme of a group of college students who retreat to an isolated cabin during a holiday break, hoping to get laid.  The film would have had the killer picking victims off one-by-one (or two at a time if caught in compremising positions).

The film's studio, Orion Pictures, was facing bankruptcy, and the public had largely lost interest in theatrically released slashers by the mid-1980s, so the decision was made to cancel The Love Shack soon after filming had already began, in order to channel funding towards potentially more successful films.

The B-52's had already been commissioned to write an upbeat, albeit tongue-in-cheek, theme song for the movie.  The lyrics, which made references to several horror film tropes, had mostly been written by the time the project was cancelled.  The band didn't want the song to go to waste, but at the same time didn't feel like promoting a film that nobody would ever see, so the lyrics were shifted away from a shack of horrors to an actual love shack.  A few elements survived the song's rewrite, however, for example, “Bang! Bang! On the door, baby!” was originally a reference to the slasher film's killer trying to get into a locked room where a frightened student was hiding.  About a minute into the official music video, a very thick wig is seen thrown across the sky, easily mistakable for a severed human head.  This is a nod to the song's origins, as a similarly depicted decapitation was one of the few scenes that had been filmed for the slasher flick before production was halted.

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