Don't Come Around Hear No More
We all perceive sounds that aren’t there. Like bumps in the night, for example. Who hasn’t woken up to a creak or a squeak that seemed like an intruder down the hall?
It turns out that we are much more creative with our false hearing than that. And this trait comes out most in, of all things, the music we listen to every day.
I have often suspected that I wasn’t the only one to corrupt my favorite songs with incorrect lyrics, and now I have proof. Thanks to a hearing aid company’s research into “consonant loss,” an early step on the road to deafness, we now have a list of the most misheard lyrics in rock history.
Not surprisingly, the song at number one is Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” And I have to agree. I dare you to listen to the line that defined a generation, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” and NOT hear “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”
Number two is a bit less obvious, but equally understandable. I had never heard this one until I saw this survey, and now I can’t get the incorrect words out of my head. Paul McCartney sang that he wanted to be a “paperback writer” in the Beatles’ song of the same name … but apparently many people think he wants to “paint the black whiter.”
I’ve seen some other good ones in those misheard lyric desk calendars. One of my favorite artists of all time, Peter Gabriel, has had a few pop up there. In his 1980 track “Games Without Frontiers,” some folks seem to hear Kate Bush’s background vocals as “She’s so frumpy, yeah” instead of “Jeux sans frontiers.”
Seems strange, given that it’s just a translation of the title. But I’ll concede that one—the only French I knew upon my first exposure to the song involved fries, toast, or kissing. (Not all at once, I should make clear.)
Even funnier to me is one that I never considered, from the Gabriel hit “Shock the Monkey.” What do many listeners think he sings?
“Jacques the Monkey.” Why Pete would croon about a simian from Paris, I’ll never know.
Then again, I can't figure out why it makes MORE sense for him to sing about administering electrical charges to a chimpanzee. I have chosen to set that one aside and move on with my life.
Back to the hearing aid company survey, which uncovered another gem. There’s the line in Madonna's “Erotica” that fans somehow transform from "Erotic, erotic, put your hands all over my body" to "Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, put your hands all over my body."
Note to William Oddie: Well done, my man … well done. End note.
But both this recent survey and the misheard lyrics calendar I have seen miss a couple of confusing lines that have troubled me since the 1980s. I blame “consonant loss” for my propensity to replace actual lyrics with these monstrosities:
Rod Stewart, “Crazy About Her.” Actual lyric: “I’d treat her with respect, not just a sex object, I ain’t that kind of guy.”
My lyric: “I’d treat her with respect, not with just sex—I checked, I ain’t that kind of guy.” I always thought it peculiar that Rod would need to verify that he wasn’t that type, but it didn’t trouble me enough to reconsider what I was hearing.
Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer.” Actual lyric: “I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun.”
My lyric: “I can see you, your bras get shattered in the sun.” The mechanism by which solar rays obliterated brassieres, oddly, never concerned me.
Perhaps the survey is right. Maybe we mishear these lines because consonants are more difficult to pick up than vowels. At least this would explain an undeniable fact about the music industry.
There ain’t many pop stars from Bosnia.