Born in the USA by Bruce SpringsteenOnly 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 and 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.BUY @ amazon
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 them, as he did not support Ronald Reagan at all.
Money For Nothing by Dire StraitsProbably 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.BUY @ amazon
In most MTV tribute montages you've seen throughout the years as the network fell deeper and deeper into a pop culture coma, producing nothing but flatulence and occasional blips of signs of life, this song serves as the soundtrack.
"I want my MTV" even became a tagline, a slogan for the generation of people who grew up believing in these music videos and that entire phenomenon.
But the 4 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, by the way, which according to the song writer is actually part of the 'point' of the character that 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.
After all, they're all talentless hacks anyway, right? So anybody should be able to do it.
This song is not so much a celebration of that scene, but it was a condemnation, then a hesitant joining of it which in of itself becomes insulting -- since joining it requires no mind, talent or heart. Money for what the songwriter saw as quite literally "nothing".
Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye BlindMisconstrued 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".BUY @ amazon
"I was taking sips of it through my nose [...]
Doing crystal myth, 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" is often covered up by use of backmasking (you know, just like all the references to Satan in Led Zepplin songs supposedly are).:
Ben by Michael JacksonThis 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 and so 14 year old Jackson received the honor and his first number 1 as a solo artist. Which is pretty cool, but kind of crazy when you learn what the song is really about.BUY @ amazon
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 WILLIARD (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 God).
Material Girl by MadonnaSo you think "Material Girl" is about a gold digging wh*re? Well, that's not exactly correct.BUY @ amazon
Although the video directly alludes to Marilyn Monroe's golddigging anthem, "Diamonds Are A Girl's Bestfriend," 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. She wants to date a man who is headed in a similar direction as her--who has goals of his own--who 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."
Hipster Madonna was geek chic before it was cool.
So there you have it. Nobody should ever write a sarcastic song ever again -- because they are always misunderstood. There's got to be some satisfaction in having the song you performed condemning a certain part of our culture become their anthem, just in knowing they're inadvertently making fun of themselves; but it seems like when it comes to such huge hits, something gets lost in translation (and that "something" is the meaning of pretty much any song ever, which is why most people writing pop music today probably don't even bother).
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