Sometimes, song lyrics are not what they seem. These songwriters set the record straight by dispelling the common myths of their misinterpreted famous songs.
“(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” by the Beastie Boys seems to just be a teen anthem for party time; however, the hip-hop trio was actually mocking frat-guy party culture. Couples use “I Will Always Love You” or “Every Breath You Take” as their wedding song, but the problem is, neither one is a love song. In fact, the latter is a dark tune about a stalker-ish obsession.
Make your voice heard. Vote up the most surprising famous songs you’ve been getting all wrong.
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Dolly Parton released “I Will Always Love You” in 1974, and the ballad went to No. 1 on the country music charts. Parton called the song the “biggest of her career” because of how many other artists covered it.
“I'm famous for several, but that one has been recorded by more people and made me more money, I think, than all of them,” said Parton. "But that song did come from a true and deep place in my heart."
Most people know the song from Whitney Houston's 1992 version she recorded for the movie The Bodyguard. That Grammy Award-winning radio staple became one of the top five best-selling singles of all time and sold over 20 million copies.
There are actually two misinterpretations of the song. Many hear the beautiful chorus and think it’s a love song. Some couples even use it as their wedding song. A more accurate (but still incorrect) interpretation is that it’s a romantic breakup song.
If I should stay
I would only be in your way
So I'll go, but I know
I'll think of you every step of the way
The song, however, isn't actually romantic at all. In fact, Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You” because the rising country star wanted to leave Porter Wagoner’s syndicated television show. Parton said of the break:
I was trying to get away on my own because I had promised to stay with Porter's show for five years. I had been there for seven. And we fought a lot. So, needless to say, there was a lot of grief and heartache there, and he just wasn't listening to my reasoning for my going.
So I thought, “Well, why don't you do what you do best? Why don't you just write this song?” Because I knew at that time I was going to go, no matter what. So I went home, and out of a very emotional place in me at that time, I wrote the song, “I Will Always Love You.”
It's saying, “Just because I'm going don't mean I won't love you. I appreciate you and I hope you do great and I appreciate everything you've done, but I'm out of here.”
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'Total Eclipse of the Heart' By Jim Steinman (Performed By Bonnie Tyler)
Bonnie Tyler released “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on her 1983 album Faster Than the Speed of Night. The anthemic power ballad was Tyler's biggest hit. The Grammy-nominated song rose to Number 1 on the Billboard Top 100.
The lyrics of the song seem to depict a desperately lonely, love-sick person who can't get over a lost lover.
And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever
And we'll only be making it right
'Cause we'll never be wrong
Together we can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time (All of the time)
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
Jim Steinman wrote and produced the song for Tyler. He set the record straight regarding the song's misinterpreted meaning in a 2002 interview with Playbill. Steinman was writing a Broadway musical about the vampire Nosferatu when he penned “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
But 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. And so I figured, “Who's ever going to know; it's Vienna!” And then it was just hard to take it out.
In the late 1990s, it was impossible to get away from Green Day's against-type ballad “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." The acoustic, stripped-down single came off of the punk band's 1997 fifth studio album, Nimrod, and represented the power trio's lighter, more contemplative side.
The single went 5x times platinum and popped up in high school graduations, proms, and even a 1998 clip-show episode commemorating the end of Seinfeld.
On the surface, it seems like the song is draped with nostalgia and bids farewell to a memorable era.
Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It's something unpredictable
But in the end, it's right
I hope you had the time of your life
Frontman and writer Billie Joe Armstrong, however, actually wrote the song as an expression of anger.
“It’s about an ex-girlfriend who had moved to Ecuador,” revealed Armstrong. “In the song, I tried to be level-headed about her leaving, even though I was completely p*ssed off. So I named it ‘Good Riddance’ just to express my anger.”
Semisonic released their only American hit, “Closing Time,” in 1998 off their second studio album Feeling Strangely Fine.
The Grammy Award-nominated cut hit No. 11 on Billboard Hot 100 and became a steady presence on pop and alternative rock stations. Also, if you were at a bar during last call in the late '90s, chances are you heard the ubiquitous tune.
Closing time, one last call for alcohol
So, finish your whiskey or beer
Closing time, you don't have to go home
But you can't stay here
The songwriter, Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson, revealed in 2019 that he wasn't thinking about just booze, but also babies when he wrote “Closing Time."
Wilson said of the song's dual meaning:
I set out to write a new closer for the set, and I just thought, “Oh, closing time.” Because all the bars that I would frequent in Minneapolis, they would yell out “closing time.” There was one bar where a guy always would scream really loud, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” and I guess that always stuck in my mind.
Part way into the writing of the song, I realized it was also about being born. 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.
As the song goes:
Closing time, time for you to go out
To the places you will be from
Closing time, this room won't be open
Till your brothers or your sisters come
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Add Beastie Boys to the long list of musicians who hate their most popular song. The Beastie Boys released "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" on their 1986 debut album Licensed to Ill.
The track climbed all the way to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained the trio's only Top10 hit. The music video was also played constantly on MTV.
On the surface, the lyrics scream party time! They reference a teenager with a hypocritical father who doesn't want to go to school - he just wants to party.
You gotta fight for your right to party
You gotta fight for your right to party
What most listeners didn't get was that the joke was on them. The Beastie Boys were actually mocking party-time bro culture. Mike D. said of the tune:
The only thing that upsets me is that we might have reinforced certain values of some people in our audience when our own values were actually totally different. There were tons of guys singing along to “Fight for Your Right” who were oblivious to the fact it was a total goof on them. Irony is often missed.
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'Summer of '69' By Bryan Adams And Jim Vallance
Bryan Adams released “Summer of ‘69” in 1985 on his fourth studio album Reckless. The hit charted to Number 5 on Billboard Hot 100 and became one of the most popular radio pop songs of the ’80s.
Adams was only 9 years old in 1969, which should be the first clue that the song isn't really about transitioning into adulthood, shattered rock band dreams, and waxing poetic about the good ole days.
Me and some guys from school
Had a band and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit and Jody got married
I should've known we'd never get far
Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life
The Canadian rocker revealed that “Summer of '69” was simply a reference to the sexual position. Adams said:
The song is a bit autobiographical, but it’s really about summer love and, in my, case being a musician. I love the song “Night Moves” by Bob Seger, which is about getting laid in the summer, and I always wanted to write an answer to that.
There is a huge misconception that this song is about 1969, but it’s not. The reason I chose 69 is because of the sexual position.