Thing is, it doesn’t seem like a year has passed since I broke my nose

Misheard lyrics are often a lot better than the real thing

Fri, Jul 19, 2013, 00:00

There’s a chart for everything these days, even misheard lyrics. A few years ago the most commonly misheard pop lyric was by The Police, apparently singing “A year has passed since I broke my nose” in Message in a Bottle. Which, oddly, is an improvement on the original: “A year has passed since I wrote my note”.

The broken nose has now been replaced at the top of the charts by Annie Lennox singing “Sweet dreams are made of cheese/Who am I to disagree?”, although The Beatles are still holding on in there with their reference in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to “the girl with colitis goes by”.

If there was any poetic justice, the overall winner of the misheard lyric would be Guns N’ Roses singing “Take me down to a very nice city”, but that only comes in at No 6 on the chart, which was put together by my music streaming service, Spotify.

It really doesn’t matter that this new poll is based more on anecdotal evidence than clear scientific research, as the misheard lyric is one of popular music’s most enduring features. The mondegreen (as it’s properly known) or “the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony”, if you want to get technical about it, is now famous in its own right.

Jimi Hendrix used to actually sing “Excuse me, while I kiss this guy” in Purple Haze, instead of the correct line, “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky” because so many people believed the former lyric to be the correct one. It was a similar situation with Manfred Mann’s “wrapped up like a douche” from their version of Blinded by the Light. The actual lyric is “revved up like a deuce”.

Such is the power of the mondegreen that you can even have a show called Olive, the Other Reindeer, based on a mishearing of a line from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Whether it’s Macy Gray singing “I blow bubbles when you are not here” (the correct line is “My world crumbles when you are not near”), or Credence Clearwater Revival singing “There’s a bathroom on the right” (instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise”), there is simply no way to displace the misheard lyric once it has been established. Which is why Robert Palmer is actually singing (probably) “Might as well face it, you’re a dick with a glove” in Addicted to Love.

When you’re not looking at a person’s face, it’s much harder to understand what he or she is saying or singing, so hearing songs on the radio without any visual cues is always going to give rise to mondegreens.

With downloads, lyric sheets are a thing of the past and a good thing too. There’s nothing worse than realising how abysmally bad a string of words by a favoured artist are once they’re decoupled from the music that gives them life.

It’s for this reason that Jarvis Cocker always instructed Pulp fans never to read the lyrics while listening to the songs. Cocker had been left disappointed and angry after reading the lyrics to one of his favourite albums, Dark Side of the Moon. Heard in conjunction with the music, these words were “profound and meaningful”; read by themselves they were “clunky and awkward”.

The misheard lyric is something to be cherished, not corrected. Remember: lyrics aren’t poetry, just the words to a song.

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