Misheard lyrics from iconic rock songs

Published 3:30 pm Monday, June 26, 2023

Michel Linssen // Getty Images

Misheard lyrics from iconic rock songs

How many of us have had a moment like this—a song comes on over the radio, maybe at a party, maybe at an event. It’s a well-known song, and people start to chime in as the music blasts. You feel that energy and start to sing along, yelling out the words you were convinced you knew. Until that fateful moment when everyone sings a lyric out, and you realize you’ve been singing the song wrong your entire life.

There is a name for this phenomenon of mishearing: mondegreen. Mondegreen occurs when someone mishears a phrase, but, to the listener, it sounds correct and makes complete sense. The term was coined in 1954 when Sylvia Wright, a writer, detailed a time in her childhood when she thought a line in a traditional Scottish ballad read “they hae slain the Earl Amurray, And Lady Mondegreen” but later found out that the correct verse was “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, And laid him on the green.”

Mondegreen is incredibly common. People mishear lyrics in even the most famous rock songs. As a result, a listener’s interpretation of the song can change. The song becomes sillier, more shocking, or just plain confusing. Stacker compiled a list of misheard lyrics from 25 iconic rock songs, pulling information from the news, music journalism, and independent polls. The misheard lyrics are listed alongside the correct lyrics, so if you realize that you’ve been singing a mondegreen while belting out any of these rock hits, you might learn that there’s a different (accurate) lyric that fits the song much more coherently.

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Elton John performs in concert at the San Francisco Civic Center.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John

– Misheard: “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”
– Correct: “Hold me closer, tiny dancer”

Elton John’s hit song may be titled “Tiny Dancer,” but that hasn’t stopped people from mistaking the titular lyric for an ode to the star of the 1980s sitcom “Who’s the Boss?” This misheard lyric was such a popular trope that it managed to forge its place in pop culture history when it landed as a joke on the show “Friends.”

Tina Turner performs on stage in Frankfurt, Germany,

Bernd Muller // Getty Images

‘Simply the Best’ by Tina Turner

– Misheard: “I stomp on your heart”
– Correct: “I’m stuck on your heart”

If Tina Turner sang “I stomp on your heart” with her characteristic gruff rock wail, listeners wouldn’t bat an eye. However, the real lyrics in “Simply the Best” are far less bitter about love.

Bon Jovi performs at the Manor Downs Racetrack.

Paul Natkin // Getty Images

‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ by Bon Jovi

– Misheard: “It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not”
– Correct: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not”

At the height of his career, Bon Jovi was the ultimate rock heartthrob of the 1980s, which makes it all the more understandable for fans to mistake the lyrics to the hit song “Livin’ on a Prayer” “make it or not” for “naked or not.” 

Rock group Toto pose for a portrait in May 1982.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

‘Africa’ by Toto

– Misheard: “There’s nothing that a hundred men on Mars could ever do”
– Correct: “There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do”

The connotation of the correct lyrics and the misheard lyrics are similar enough—the subject cannot be stopped, even by a great force. But the great force of a hundred men, as described in Toto’s song, is not coming from Mars.

Jimi Hendrix performs onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix

– Misheard: “‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy”
– Correct: “‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky”

Jimi Hendrix says “kiss the sky” in this song, but this often misheard lyric is a classic example of mondegreen. Said out loud, with the words blended and overlapping, it’s easy to understand how the line could be mistaken for “kiss this guy.”

British rock band Queen in London, 1973.

Michael Putland // Getty Images

‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ by Queen

– Misheard: “I challenge the mighty titan and his stupid horse”
– Correct: “I challenge the mighty titan and his troubadours”

In Queen’s recording of this operatic rock song, Freddie Mercury sings the word “troubadours” very quickly. The speed of his singing allows listeners’ ears to wander and interpret, and it becomes a not-so-far-fetched idea that the mighty titan might indeed have a stupid horse.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers perform on Ellis Island in New York City.

Scott Gries // Getty Images

‘The Zephyr Song’ by The Red Hot Chili Peppers

– Misheard: “Fly away on my sofa”
– Correct: “Fly away on my zephyr”

Another example where the title provides listeners with a context clue, and if you know the lyrics ahead of time you’ll hear Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis emphasize the “Z” of “zephyr.” But for a band known for some whimsical lyrics, flying away on a sofa is not so wild of a lyrical guess.

The Beatles at the press launch for their new album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

John Downing // Getty Images

‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by The Beatles

– Misheard: “Blue seal in the sky with diamonds”
– Correct: “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”

Both the correct version and the misheard “blue seal in the sky with diamonds” version conjure trippy, imaginative visuals. However, only the correct lyrics sneakily use the letters LSD, a cleverly hidden Easter egg sprinkled throughout the song, as the Beatles intended.

Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith on the set of the television show.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

‘I’m a Believer’ by The Monkees

– Misheard: “Then I saw her face, now I’m gonna leave her”
– Correct: “Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer”

It would be uncharacteristically cruel for a bubblegum rock band like The Monkees to sing a song about leaving a girl after seeing her face, but the commonly misheard version of this lyric does exactly that. Fortunately, the correct lyrics are much more joyful.

Kurt Cobain recording in Hilversum studios.

Michel Linssen // Getty Images

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana

– Misheard: “Here we are now, in containers”
– Correct: “Here we are now, entertain us”

Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was known for his grungy, growly, often slurred vocals—even parodist Al Yankovic poked fun of how incoherent the iconic ’90s band’s lyrics can be in his song “Smells Like Nirvana.” But through his growl, Cobain is indeed singing “entertain us” and not “in containers.”

Kiss performs live on stage at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

Fin Costello // Getty Images

‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ by KISS

– Misheard: “I want to rock and roll all night, and part of every day”
– Correct: “I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day”

There is an important distinction between the misheard lyrics and the correct lyrics in this famous glam rock anthem. KISS doesn’t want to rock and roll just a mere part of every day—they want to party every day.

Metallica's Kirk Hammett, Jason Newsted, and Lars Ulrich sit on stage in 1991.

Gie Knaeps // Getty Images

‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica

– Misheard: “Dreams of war, dreams of lies, dreams of dragon’s fire and of baked apple pie”
– Correct: “Dreams of war, dreams of lies, dreams of dragon’s fire and of things that will bite”

In Metallica’s metal hit, it would be uncharacteristic if the headbanging group was singing about apple pie. Instead, vocalist James Hetfield says, “things that will bite,” which feels much more appropriate for this song and band.

Joey Tempest of Europe performing on stage.

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‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe

– Misheard: “We’re working for peanuts”
– Correct: “We’re heading for Venus”

Europe’s operatic ’80s glam metal anthem is over five minutes long, meaning there are plenty of lyrics for listeners to misinterpret. The most commonly misheard lyrics come at the top of the second verse, but the correct lyrics, “we’re heading for Venus” make the most sense in the context of a song about space travel.

Creedence Clearwater Revival live at Nippon Budokan, Tokyo.

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‘Bad Moon Rising’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival

– Misheard: “There’s a bathroom on the right”
– Correct: “There’s a bad moon on the rise”

Creedence Clearwater Revival is not directing listeners to the restroom, despite how it may sound. The correct lyrics reference the song’s title.

Musicians Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks perform onstage in 1981.

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‘Edge of Seventeen’ by Stevie Nicks

– Misheard: “Just like the one-winged dove”
– Correct: “Just like the white-winged dove”

Stevie Nicks’ song spawned from her own mishearing: While working on a song for Tom Petty, Petty’s wife Jane had told Nicks that she met him at the “age of seventeen,” Nicks heard “edge,” and the rest is history. In this particular line in the song, some have heard Nicks’ wailing, powerful vocals singing “one-winged” instead of “white-winged.”

The Beatles in concert at the London Palladium.

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‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ by The Beatles

– Misheard: “I get high”
– Correct: “I can’t hide”

Although the line repeats three consecutive times, many still hear the Beatles singing “I get high” instead of “I can’t hide.” “I get high” might be more likely to appear in a later Beatles song like the aforementioned “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Grace Slick and Mickey Thomas of Starship performing on stage.

Paul Natkin // Getty Images

‘We Built This City’ by Starship

– Misheard: “We built this city on sausage rolls”
– Correct: “We built this city on rock and roll”

In Starship’s pop rock anthem, they are building a city on rock and roll—not on sausage rolls, as some have mistakenly heard. However, a 2018 parody version of the song by YouTuber LadBaby does describe building a city on sausage rolls.

Manfred Mann performing on stage.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

‘Blinded by the Light’ by Manfred Mann

– Misheard: “Wrapped up like a douche”
– Correct: “Revved up like a deuce”

Manfred Mann’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s song does change the lyrics from the original “cut loose like a deuce,” but not quite so drastically. The revved-up “deuce,” not the “douche,” references a Deuce Coupe, which is a type of car.

Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, Don Felder and Randy Meisner performing on stage.

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‘Hotel California’ by The Eagles

– Misheard: “What a nice surprise when your rabbi dies”
– Correct: “What a nice surprise bring your alibis”

This is a misheard lyric that would be tough to wrap your head around if “what a nice surprise when your rabbi dies” is what you heard when playing this song back. Those closely listening will hear that the Eagles are saying “your alibis” and not “your rabbi dies.” So it’s more about accountability and less about the tragic death of your religious leader.

Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1988.

KMazur // Getty Images

‘Smooth Criminal’ by Michael Jackson

– Misheard: “Annie are you walking?”
– Correct: “Annie are you okay?”

Michael Jackson’s vocals are tight, fast, and sharp on this track, which heightens the risk of potential mondegreen. Some may hear Jackson ask Annie if she’s walking, but he is, in fact, asking if she’s okay.

Bryan Adams plays guitar as he performs onstage during the Reckless tour.

Gary Gershoff // Getty Images

‘Summer of ’69’ by Bryan Adams

– Misheard: “I got my first real sex dream”
– Correct: “I got my first real six-string”

In the context of a song that is essentially about coming of age, it might make sense for a listener to hear Bryan Adams say that he had a “sex dream.” He actually says, “six-string,” which refers to a guitar.

Fleetwood Mac pose for a portrait in 1975.

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

‘Say You Love Me’ by Fleetwood Mac

– Misheard: “I’m begging you for a little sip of tea”
– Correct: “I’m begging you for a little sympathy”

Half of the members of Fleetwood Mac are British, which is perhaps why some listeners have accidentally heard them imploring for some tea in this often confused lyric. Christine McVie wrote this song about a year before she separated from her bandmate and husband, John.

Don McLean performs live on stage at the Grand Gala in Amsterdam.

Michael Putland // Getty Images

‘American Pie’ by Don McLean

– Misheard: “Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and wine”
– Correct: “Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye”

Whiskey and rye is a much safer, and classic, alcoholic combination than whiskey and wine, which are not the true lyrics to Don McLean’s Americana rock hit.

The Police performing at the Palladium, New York.

Michael Putland // Getty Images

‘Message in a Bottle’ by The Police

– Misheard: “A year has passed since I broke my nose”
– Correct: “A year has passed since I wrote my note”

Both are dramatic events: breaking a nose and writing a love note. However, The Police explore the subject matter of the latter.

Electric Light Orchestra posed on the set of a video shoot.

Fin Costello // Getty Images

‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ by Electric Light Orchestra

– Misheard: “Don’t bring me down, Bruce”
– Correct: “Don’t bring me down, groose”

It’s difficult to know what the actual lyrics are when the actual lyrics are made-up words. “Groose” was originally a placeholder word in the song, until ELO singer and songwriter Jeff Lynne decided to keep it. He learned that the word sounded like the German word for “greetings” and felt it was a good enough reason to leave it.

Story editing by Olivia Monahan. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.