16 Songs That Don't Mean What You Think They Do Bands/Musicians
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16 Songs That Don't Mean What You Think They Do

Here's a list of songs whose meanings we completely miss because we either don't listen to lyrics properly or we just take the song at face value, ignoring any origins or intent of the artist. Or we just don't even realize what the lyrics really are. Then, one day, your world breaks down. The real meanings of these popular songs will shock you.

Everything you knew and loved about these songs is about to turn out to be a lie because that songs you thought were innocent and sweet are often actually about the opposite. Think "Born in the USA" is a patriotic anthem? Think again.

Hopefully, learning the truth about these popular songs doesn't shatter your world too much, though it will certainly make you think twice at the next karaoke night.

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  1. 1

    The Ice Cream Truck Song


    That utterly American ice cream truck song you thought meant "hey kids, come enjoy a cold treat on this fine sunny day!" actually has some of the most racist lyrics in the history of music. Recorded for Columbia records 1916, the melody is from a song called "N**** Loves a Watermelon Ha Ha Ha" by a terrible man named Harry C Brown. Here's a sampling of the lyrics:

    You N***** quit throwing them bones and come down and get your ice cream
    Ice cream?
    Yes, colored man's ice cream: watermelon!
    N***** loves a watermelon ha ha ha
    N***** loves a watermelon ha ha ha
    For here they're made with a half a pound of cool
    there's nothing like a watermelon for a hungry coon.

  2. 2

    Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones


    Many an unsuspecting singer chooses "Brown Sugar" for karaoke and balks at the lyrics as they appear on the screen. Somehow (we don't know how) they typically understand what this song is about, even though the story is right in the lyrics. It's used in some daytime TV commercials and places all around in this fun, light-hearted manner when it is quite literally a song about slave rape.

    This song isn't a love tribute to a beloved African American woman and it is most definitely not something about the sweetener that brings us all chocolate chip cookies. This song is about white plantation owners raping their African slaves.

    Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
    Sold in a market down in New Orleans
    Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright
    Hear him with the women just around midnight.
    Ah, brown sugar how come you taste so good?
    Brown sugar, just like a young girl should


  3. 3

    Tutti Frutti by Little Richard


    You probably heard this song a lot as a kid and didn't think much of it. Well, give this record a spin and really listen to the lyrics - you'll realize that the song is all kinds of rough. Not only is it about some guy getting it on with multiple girls - Sue and Daisy - they both "know what to do" (so they're very experienced), and they all drive him crazy.

    Also, the repeated hook of "Tutti frutti, aw rooty" was not the original lyrics of the song, before it got picked up to be recorded. When performing live, Little Richard sang the following:

    Tutti Frutti, good booty / If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy.

    The lyrics were then changed in studio to "Tutti Frutti, all rooty" (all rooty was slang at the time for "alright") so that the rest of the song didn't make sense, making it more marketable. Yes, that's right. The song you most likely danced to like an idiot when you were three and didn't know better was really... much more adult.

  4. 4

    This memorable '90s track is about a bar at closing time, right? RIGHT? No. No, it's about something else entirely.

    According to Dan Wilson, Semisonic lead singer, it's about being "bounced from the womb." As in, your mama's belly. In the above video he points out a lot of lyrics that make you go, "oh, yeah, I guess it is about the birth of a baby." For instance: "This room won't be open till your brothers and your sisters come."

  5. 5

    Like a Virgin by Madonna


    "Like a Virgin" isn't about a sensitive girl, and is, in fact, not about a girl at all. Lyricist Billy Steinberg explained in an interview with the LA Times that he did not intend for a woman to sing the song, and that the song was about his personal experiences of going through the emotional ringer in the past, and how he felt new and unhurt the next time he fell in love, as if he had never been hurt before. Like a virgin.

    I was beat, incomplete
    I'd been had, I was sad and blue
    But you made me feel
    Yeah, you made me feel
    Shiny and new

    Says Steinberg, "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."

  6. 6

    There She Goes by Sixpence Nonethericher


    This is actually a cover of a song by British rock band The La's from their eponymous album. Although the song initially seems to be about a woman, if you look closely at the lyrics, the "she" in question is actually heroin and the song tells of the rush of using the drug and how fleeting the high is.

    There she goes again
    Racing through' my brain
    And I just can't contain
    This feelin' that remains

    There she blows
    There she blows again
    Pulsing through' my vein
    And I just can't contain
    This feelin' that remains

    Additionally, the song has stylistic similarities to The Velvet Underground's "There She Goes Again," a song with overt references to prostitution and potentially references to drug abuse, as well.

  7. 7

    My Sharona by The Knack


    We all probably know that "My Sharona" is about sex or trying to get laid, but how about sex with underaged girl? Maybe not. In the tradition of "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, the song is about a man's serial lust for a girls several years his junior.

    In this case, the song is about Doug Fieger, the band's drummer, and his relationship with Sharona Alperin, who he met when he was 25 and she was 16. They dated for four years and she appears on the single's cover. Nevertheless, the lyrics are quite raunchy and rather uncouth in kinder circles:

    Such a dirty mind, always get it up
    For the touch of the younger kind...

    When you gonna give it to me
    Give it to me
    It's just a matter of time Sharona

    As far as songs about underaged sex go, though, "My Sharona" takes the cake... And robs the cradle?

  8. 8

    Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen


    Only The Boss could make an anti-war song sound like a jingoistic rock anthem that most people use as a pro-America anthem. The song narrative follows a working class American who gets into some trouble at home, so he goes to Vietnam to fight in the war. When he returns, he is unable to find work and is shunned by the community at large, kind of like in real life.

    Springsteen's lyrics and message were so cleverly masked, that Ronald Reagan's staff tried to get the song to be the official song for his re-election campaign (which is exactly how well they did their research), but The Boss politely declined, as he did not support Ronald Reagan at all.

  9. 9

    Money For Nothing by Dire Straits


    Probably best known for the repetitive chanting of "I want my MTV" by Sting, the song is often believed to be an anthem for the MTV generation. "I want my MTV" even became a tagline, and slogan for the generation of people who grew up believing in music videos and the MTV phenomenon.

    But the four and half minute song is, in fact, a criticism of the music scene of the 80s - especially glam metal which was in its hey-day. In fact, bassist Nikki Sixx claims the song is specifically about his band, Motley Crue.

    Told from the perspective of a blue collar worker, the song contains lyrics that discredit and dismiss the musicians and their ability such as "See the little f*ggot [a word which is used liberally and with absolutely no hesitation throughout the song, and, according to the song writer is actually part of the 'point' of the character who sings the song] with the earring and the make-up" and comments on how their music "ain't working." Still, he laments their ability to get "money for nothing, and their chicks for free." In the end, he decides that maybe he should learn how to play guitar.

  10. 10

    Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind


    Misconstrued by eBay and many others as an anthem for consumerism (thanks no doubt in part to the music video), "Semi-Charmed Life" is actually about a drug users dark descent into crystal meth use and the sexual acts he performs while trying to find that "something else."

    I was taking sips of it through my nose [...]
    Doing crystal meth, will lift you up until you break

    You're the priestess, I must confess
    Those little red panties they pass the test
    Slide up around the belly, face down on the mattress

    Of course, it's no wonder that many of us either don't know or don't catch the song's lyrical content. In addition to the upbeat sound and the references of lewd activities coming at you a mile a minute, the song was also drastically edited to be a playable single for TV and the radio.

    The original song is 3:07 minutes long, but when edited for the radio, nearly a whole minute was taken out to make it playable, and the words "crystal meth" are often covered up by use of backmasking (you know, just like all the references to Satan in Led Zepplin songs supposedly are).

  11. 11

    Ben by Michael Jackson


    This song is particularly interesting because it was not originally intended to be performed by Michael Jackson, but by Donny Osmond. Osmond, however, was on tour so 14-year-old Jackson received the honor and his first number one as a solo artist. Which is pretty cool, but kind of crazy when you learn what the song is really about.

    Ben the two of us need look no more
    We both found what we were looking for
    With a friend to call my own I'll never be alone
    And you my friend will see you've got a friend in me
    (you've got a friend in me)

    Ben you're always running here and there
    (here and there)
    You feel you're not wanted anywhere
    If you ever look behind and don't like what you find
    There's something you should know you've got a place to go
    (you've got a place to go)

    Although it is a song about unconditional love and friendship, as can be expected with lyrics like "You've got a friend in me" and "I used to say 'I' and 'me'/Now it's 'us' now it's 'we'." But what you may not know is that the friendship in question is between a boy and (wait for it) a rat named Ben. And not just any rat, but the gang leader of a group of killer rats. That's right, this sweet and tender ballad is the theme to a film about killer rats.

    Coming from the film of the same name, Ben is the sequel to the film Willard (based on Stephen Gilbert's Ratman's Notebook), which also starred Ben and his band of murderous rodents. Although the sequel tries to present Ben ahd his band as protectors of the lonely boy Danny, they still manage to cause several deaths. Imagine it to be Let Me In, but with rats rather than vampires and less sex (thank goodness).

  12. 12

    Material Girl by Madonna


    So you think "Material Girl" is about a gold digging wh*re? Well, that's not exactly correct. Although the video directly alludes to Marilyn Monroe's gold digging anthem, "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," the song is actually about a working girl who is looking to get into a relationship with a guy who is also successful... and working.

    She doesn't want someone who doesn't have enough on his plate and is so wholly devoted to her because she can't be devoted to him in kind. One of those "unevenly yoked" kind of deals. Basically, she wants to date a man she doesn't need to give constant attention to.

    In a 2009 Rolling Stone interview, Madonna said this about "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl": "I liked them both because they were ironic and provocative at the same time but also unlike me. I am not a materialistic person, and I certainly wasn't a virgin, and, by the way, how can you be like a virgin? I liked the play on words, I thought they were clever. They're so geeky, they're cool."

  13. 13

    (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party) by by The Beastie Boys


    Without question "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)" is one of the greatest party anthems of all time. Everyone gets pumped by mumbling their way through the verses, before shouting the refrain with such ferocity. After all, what is more important than one's ability to have a good time?

    Regrettably, that was never what it was intended to be. In fact, it was written as a parody to mock all the play hard party songs that inundated the 80s, such as Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" and Motley Crue's "Smoking In The Boy's Room." After all, it's about high school kid, and no matter what Hollywood may tell you: 15 year olds are rarely - if ever - that hardcore.

    So, despite the fact that it is without a doubt the band's most well known song, the mass majority's inability to get the joke has been a cause of distress for the band, leading them to scarcely play it live and although it appears in their greatest hits - Sounds of Science -  Beastie Boys member, MCA, says little about the song other than "it sucks" in the liner notes.

  14. 14

    Every Breath You Take by The Police


    The sweet tenderness of this tune makes the song seem like it's just another love song we can all snuggle up and croon to. However, if you look at the lyrics for even a moment you'll realize there is something far more sinister afoot here than your typical romance.

    Every breath you take
    Every move you make
    Every bond you break
    Every step you take
    I'll be watching you
    Oh can't you see
    You belong to me
    How my poor heart aches
    With every step you take

    As you can see from the above lyrics, this song is not about the simple joys of love but rather from the perspective of a possessive lover who must be vigilant, if not in control, of his (or her) lover's actions. Down to the air they breathe. Talk about overbearing. Even the songwriter, Sting, agrees, "I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song."

  15. 15

    White Wedding by Billy Idol


    Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli played this song at their wedding, and since that has been documented as the world's perfect love match, we can imagine that even great guitarists fail to listen to the lyrics. If he had, it'd be pretty obvious to him how inappropriate that song was for such an occasion. But hey, it's an awesome song, and their marriage is over now anyway.

    Hey little sister what have you done?
    Hey little sister who's the only one?
    Hey little sister who's your superman?
    Hey little sister who's the one you want?
    Hey little sister shot gun!

    From the lyrics and video, we get the notion that the speaker in the song, is watching someone he cares about being forced into marriage after he's been gone away. "Shotgun!" is cried three times in the song, leading to the possibility that it's a shotgun wedding - quite the opposite of a white wedding - and there are additional dark lyrics that make the song not exactly appropriate for weddings or similar affairs of the heart.

  16. 16

    Like This? Watch This Video For More Hidden Song Meanings


    Hidden song meanings are everywhere -- check out this video for the meanings behind some of your favorite songs. 

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