Sometimes, a song can have a deeper meaning than we thought. There are some songs with misconceived meaning because people don’t really listen to all of the words, and some songs are misunderstood because people read too much into them.
Here’s list of 15 songs that got their meanings knotted and mistaken. The artists who wrote them reveal the original intentions.
1. The Beatles – “Blackbird”
Paul McCartney stated:
It’s not really about a blackbird whose wings are broken, you know, it’s a bit more symbolic.
The Beatles were inspired for the song by The Civil Rights Movement. McCartney said in a interview with Mojo:
I got the idea of using a blackbird as a symbol for a black person. It wasn’t necessarily a black “bird”, but it works that way, as much as then you called girls “birds”… it wasn’t exactly an ornithology ditty; it was purely symbolic.
2. John Lennon – “Imagine”
In 1973, John Lennon wrote and sang the song “Imagine“, whose lyrics are believed to be a total disbelief in faith and God. Actually, his message was that if all of the things he is imagining don’t exist, the world will live in peace-as one.
Lennon explained his lyrics:
It is the concept of positive prayer. If you could imagine a world peace with no denominations or religion … not without religion but without this my-god-is-bigger-than-your-god thing…
3. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – “American Girl”
“American Girl” is not a song about the girl from the University of Florida who committed a suicide by jumping of the Beauty Towers balcony. Even though, the song has lines like girl standing “alone on her balcony” and “could hear the cars roll by out on 441”, it has nothing to do with this sad story.
Mike Campbell, Heartbreakers’ guitarist, confirmed this:
Some people take it literally and out of context. To me it’s just a really beautiful love song.
4. The Clash – “London Calling”
“London Calling” is much less political than you thought. In fact, it is about Joe Strummer’s personal fear of drowning. Mick Jones explained in Wall Street Journal how they flipped after they heard the possibility of Thames River overflowing and flooding London.
Because of Strummer’s fear, the song “became this warning about the doom of everyday life”.
5. Phil Collins – “In The Air Tonight”
People connect this song with something that Collins witnessed one time: a man drowning, and another man refusing to help. This interpretation is based on the lyrics “I was there and I saw what you did“.
But, it is not true. The song is simply a tense, introspective look on Collins’ divorce from his first wife. Collins once admitted that even he is not really sure about the story of the song:
What makes it even more comical is when I hear these stories which started many years ago, particularly in America, of someone come up to me and say, “Did you really see someone drowning?” I said, “No, wrong”… This is one song out of all the songs probably that I’ve ever written that I really don’t know what it’s about…
6. Bonnie Tyler – “Total Eclipse of The Heart”
“Total Eclipse of The Heart” is always considered as a love song- a big, powerful ballad. But actually, the song was meant to depict a relationship between vampires. It is too dark to be associated with cherry blossoms and butterflies.
The song’s writer, Jim Steinman, once stated:
With Total Eclipse of the Heart, I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was Vampires in Love because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu, the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in dark.
7. Madonna – “Like a Virgin”
The opinions like, “Like a Virgin” is about a vulnerable girl, were totally misunderstood. Even though, Madonna resolve the mystery by autographing a CD for Quentin Tarantino and saying that the song is about love, “Like a Virgin“, in fact, is about relationship woes of the song’s writer, Billy Steinberg.
He gave a clear statement in Los Angeles Times:
I was saying… that I may not really be a virgin—I’ve been battered romantically and emotionally like many people – but I’m starting a new relationship and it just feels so good, it’s healing all the wounds and making me feel like I’ve never done this before, because it’s so much deeper and more profound than anything I’ve ever felt.
8. Bruce Springsteen – “Born in The USA”
“Born in The USA” is a hit that is often understood as a patriotic song, and a song about the American pride. On the contrary, the song is about how America treated its own citizens during the Vietnam War.
Springsteen explained that the song’s protagonist is: “isolated from the government, isolated from his family, to the point where nothing makes sense.”
9. Bryan Adams – “Summer of ’69”
Obviously, everybody thought that the song is about the summer 1969. But, according to the fact that Adams is born in the winter of 1959, it is difficult to believe that he is nostalgic for the days when he was 10. So, if it is not about the year, it must refer to the sex position with the same name-and it is!
Adams confirmed that on CBS News:
A lot of people think it’s about the year, but actually it’s more about making love in the summertime. It’s using ’69 as a sexual reference.
10. The Cure – “Just Like Heaven”
“Just Like Heaven” was always considered as a love song about a dreamy day near the seashore with a loved one. But, in a interview with Blender, Robert Smith revealed a different meaning of the song:
Just Like Heaven inspired by a trip with his girlfriend to Beachy Head in southern England, was “about hyperventilating – kissing and falling to the floor.”
About the opening lines (“Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick”), Smith said that they were referring to his affinity for performing magic trick in his youth and “about a seduction trick, from much later in my life.”
11. R.E.M. – “The One I Love”
You thought that it was a love song, for sure! Well it’s not. You thought about a loved one when you heard the song, but R.E.M wanted you to think about your ex.
The guitarist of the group, Peter Buck, was surprised by the reaction of the audience:
I’d look into the audience and there would be couples kissing. Yet the verse is … savagely anti-love … People told me that was their song. That was your song? He called the song “too brutal” and “really violent and awful”.
12. Third Eye Blind – “Semi-charmed Life”
Most of you, probably missed out on the fact that “Semi-charmed Life” is about a couple on a crystal meth-binge. And yes, the song is light and lively, which is unordinary for a song with such a serious theme.
The lead singer, Stephen Jenkins, explained that everything was intentional:
The music reflects “the bright, shiny feeling” you get on speed.
13. Green Day – “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”
Green Day’s acoustic ballad is surely not a romantic affair. It’s not like the lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, was angry because his girlfriend left him, wrote a song and titled it “Good Riddance“.
Armstrong doesn’t really mind if he is misunderstood, as he told VH1 Behind The Scenes:
I sort of enjoy the fact that I’m misunderstood most of the time. That’s fine.
14. Semisonic – “Closing Time”
Dan Wilson, the Semisonic frontman, really predicted the song’s destiny, when he told The Hollywood Reporter that it would be used by all the bartenders. The lyrics, that are understood as a bittersweet combination of sadness and hope that one feels while looking for love in a bar, are actually intended to emphasize the miracle of childbirth.
In 2010, Wilson admitted to American Songwriter, that he had babies on his mind, while he was writing the big hit:
My wife and I were expecting our first kid very soon after I wrote that song. I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb.
15. Maroon 5 – “Harder to Breathe”
When it comes to Adam Levine and his songs, the first thing that comes to mind are songs about love. It is a sure thing that, “Harder to Breathe” sounds like it’s a one lover criticizes the other over the relationship going sour.
Actually, Levine sings about the pressure of being in the music industry and depicts the claustrophobic scrutiny of the business. In a interview with MTV, he said:
That song comes sheerly from wanting to throw something. It was the 11th hour, and the label wanted more songs. It was the last crack. I was just pissed. I wanted to make a record and the label was applying a lot of pressure, but I’m glad they did.