It's Time to End Song Lyric Fascism Once and For All
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It's Time to End Song Lyric Fascism Once and For All

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | April 10, 2013 | Comments ()


Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate's biggest pet peeve around the house is that it drives her absolutely bonkers if, while idly sing-songing about the house, I botch the lyrics to the tune I'm belting out. It's an annoyance that she's passed on to my five year old, whose forehead veins pop whenever I mangle a lyric. He insists that I sing it again until I identify the correct lyrics, and it's only then that the vein will subside.

It's a very serious problem in our home, and I suspect it's a problem in other houses around America: Song-lyric fascists are ruining our fun.

deflepard_zps2706b6fd.gifBecause here's the thing: Song lyrics are constructs. They are guidelines. Song lyrics, like the Constitution, are living, breathing words. We bend them to our will. They are not meant to be taken literally. In fact, song lyrics are often indecipherable junk written to accompany the melody and rarely to stand on their own. They are not poems. We do not derive meaning from their words; we experience the music. The mood. The feeling. The joy or the sadness. The lyrics glue the music together, but they are not fixed.

Do you think that Def Leppard really cares if you botch the lyrics to "Pour Some Sugar on Me"?

Listen! red light, yellow light, green-a-light go! Crazy little woman in a one man show Mirror queen, mannequin, rhythm of love Sweet dream, saccharine, loosen up

You gotta squeeze a little, squeeze a little
Tease a little more
Easy operator come a knockin' on my door
Sometime, anytime, sugar me sweet
Little miss innocent sugar me, yeah, yeah
Give a little more

Or that Elton John would flinch if you mangled the lyrics to "Levon."

Levon sells cartoon balloons in town His family business thrives Jesus blows up balloons all day Sits on the porch swing watching them fly

And Jesus, he wants to go to Venus
Leaving Levon far behind
Take a balloon and go sailing
While Levon, Levon slowly dies

Those lyrics are gobbledygook. Incoherent messes. Do you think Lemmy from "Motorhead" cares what you sing? Can anyone even understand him? I know for a fact that Kurt Cobain didn't give a sh*t. He admitted himself that he made them up as he went along. Shouldn't we have that same right?

We, as Americans, should be able to sing whatever lyrics we want without reproach, so long as we capture the spirit of the song. We should not be imprisoned by song lyrics. We should be free to make our own. To make them better. To take the song where we want it to go, and not where "the man" wants it to go. When we hear a swatch of music, it's not the lyrics that take us back to beach in the Summer of 2002 where we met our significant other. It's the music.

Let us resolve, today, to band together as one to stamp out song-lyric fascism once and for all. If someone tells you while you're bobbing your head to the sweet sounds in your mind, that the idle words coming out of your mouth don't sync to the liner notes some music studio intern compiled, you tell them to go the hell. You belt out whatever the hell lyrics you'd like because this is America, where life, liberty and the pursuit of whatever the hell song lyrics we want to song rules all.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • dagnabbit

    Dusty. Dad is always the fool. Blame TV sitcoms, whatever. Get used to it. Own it. Use it. Move on.

  • And 'Dirty Deeds and they're done dirt cheap'? 'Thirty kings and the goblin king'. IT FITS. Made my husband almost die laughing, though.

  • Few things crack me up harder than when I find out I've been saying the lyrics wrong. I think it's the whole English-as-a-second-language thing, or maybe I just can't understand mumblers, but it happens a lot.

    The other day I heard "Private Eyes" and it JUST hit me that they're saying that and not "Rabbit Eyes". You know "Rabbit eyes, are watching youuu" and I'd just think, well, that's kinda weird.

  • BobbFrapples

    My dad always sang Journey's Open Arms like, "And noow I coooome to youuuu with Broken Aaaarms!" I will never hear that song the right way. Never.

  • Kailan_Sunshine

    I still don't know the right words for Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind. "In new york, back beat comes the wintery tomato! There's nothing you can't do!"

  • AudioSuede

    One of my favorite games to play is the "Baby" game, wherein I change as many lyrics as possible to the word "baby." This is especially fun with songs that already contain the word "baby" in a prominent place. For example, Cat Stevens' "Wild World":

    Ooh baby, baby it's a wild babyyy
    It's hard to get byyyy just upon a baby.
    Ooh baby, baby it's a wild babyyy,

    And I'll always remember you like a baby.

    And so on and so on.

  • AudioSuede

    I will accept this for most things (I love to scream, "You know I'm rowdier than a Pakistaniiiiii, ohhhhhh" during a round of "Benny and the Jets"), but there are some songs that are too poetic for me to forgive any mangling whatsoever.

  • Rooks

    Hamster. A dentist. Hard porn, Steven Seagal!
    Wrapped up like a douche, another runner in the night...
    Oh man, those were the days of endless amusement.

  • Upsidedownck

    This was alway one of my favorite confused lyric videos. Mostly for the stick figures, but also because the real words don't make that much more sense. Plust I wish they were singing about dropping a whore...

  • e-money


  • E-Money

    Of course lyrics matter. This is life. Everything matters.

  • Uriah_Creep

    It is quickly becoming obvious to me that Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate and the mini-Rowles have all the smarts in that family.

  • malechai

    When MC Hammer's "Too legit to quit" came out...the refrain being: Too legit to quit!", I got every single word wrong. I will not tell you what I thought the word were, because even now, millions years later, the humiliation suffered is too fresh.

  • DeltaJuliet

    Oh come on. I need to know!

  • Dave Dorris

    No. Bullshit. The lyrics are what they are. You can interpret the Constitution, but the words are what they are, so that's a dumb comparison.

    I will allow gender adjustments. "He" to "she", that sort of thing. Other than that, no.

  • Dave Dorris

    OK, in a rock anthem you can change the name of a city to give a shout-out, but that's it.

  • Kristen Mc

    My dad used to always sing "lay your hands on me" as "radio underwear". Oddly, it sort of works, too. Drove me crazy nonetheless.

  • Three_nineteen

    You actually don't understand what the lyrics to "Levon" mean?

  • protoformX

    There was a series of alternate interpretation videos I used to watch with my roommates in college, we'd do our best to sing along with their versions. Some of them still stick. The Pantera ones are awesome and far closer to accurate sounding than anything I thought he was singing. And there was one Total Eclipse of the Heart with the lyrics being about whatever is going on in the video. Incredibly Hilarious.

    A friend of mine confided to me he thought Metallica's "Sad But True" was "Sand Patrol" and every now and then I sing it that way, occasionally around people unfamiliar with the story.
    Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" since I was a kid I could swear the lyric following "Don't give us none of your aggravation..." is "we'll activate the Death Star plans."

  • TheAggroCraig

    This was made more fun for me by pretending it was an essay that Budnick wrote to Ug.

  • Kristen Mc

    It's "I hope we never part!" Now get it right or pay the price!

  • zyzzyva

    I sincerely wish I was a choir director so I could organize a grand performance of O Fortuna (Carmina Burana) with this projected on a huge screen above us...


  • Guest

    I had a friend in college who thought that Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" was actually about Tony in, 'Hold me closer Tony Danza.' Now it is all I can hear, or sing, when the song comes on.

  • DeltaJuliet

    Was her name Phoebe Buffet?

  • I agree that people oughta lighten up about getting a song lyric wrong here and there (although I am totally guilty of doing the smug correction when my wife makes a mistake from time to time, which is a really unattractive quality that she rightly points out when necessary). Otherwise I respectfully disagree. Lyrics matter.

    With that, I'm off to rock and roll all night, and part of every day.

  • raeraefred

    my twin was insistent the lyrics went, "won't be the first pot that you break, won't be the Last Beautiful Girl," which makes little sense to me; why would matchbox20 care about pottery shards? she also thought enya was singing, "hold me tight," which actually fits remarkably well with the rest of the lyrics.

  • The actual content of lyrics are the least important aspect to songs for me. The most important thing about them are how they relate to the music, the rhythm and melody. So mangle away. Just get the tone right.

  • Slash

    Mostly, I just want people who can't sing well to stop. I don't give a fuck what lyrics you're not singing, as long as you're not singing them. Yeah, I mean you, woman in the store who thinks she sings well. You don't. Stop it. Do it at home all you want, I don't care, but when you're in public, stop it.

  • There is a lady in my office who listens to her music with her headphones cranked up so loud I can hear it across the room, and she sings along. I don't care who you are, no one sings along well with headphones. I suspect she wouldn't sing well with the aid of autotune. It's seriously making me want to quit a job I otherwise love.

  • It could be worse. You could live a song key fascist like my ex. God forbid I sing a song in a key that works for me. He'd just start in with "Wrong key!" like I didn't know that. Shocking that we're not still together.

  • DeltaJuliet

    Pretty sure I'd repsond to that with a middle finger and louder singing.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    Oh geez. This happens around my house so much I can't even remember the actual lyrics to some songs. For example... F-ed up brain, it's probably 'cause your momma did cocaine... (You're So Vain by Carly Simon).

  • Mrcreosote

    Steve Miller Band, don't ever change.

  • kirbyjay

    Homecoming Walter, with fire in his eyes.......
    Thank you Deep Purple.

  • Sassy Rouge

    I always thought it was Girls on Glue by Duran Duran. Truthfully, it makes just as much sense my way.

  • BWeaves

    Sometimes you are forced to make up the words. I.E. Louie Louie, and anything by Elton John.

  • foolsage

    I never understood the trouble people had with Louie Louie. It's a simple Carribean patois. What's so complicated?


    Fine little girl, she wait for me
    Me catch the ship for sail the sea
    Me sail the ship all alone
    Me never think me make it home.

    Louie Louie, oh baby, me gotta go.

    Three nights and days me sail the sea
    Me think of girl, oh, constantly
    On the ship me dream she there
    Me smell the rose in her hair.

    Louie Louie, oh baby, me gotta go.

    Me see Jamaica moon above
    It won't be long me see me love
    Me take her in me arms and then
    Me say me never leave again.

    Louie Louie, oh baby, me gotta go.


    That's from memory. "Unintelligible at any speed" my ass! The FBI is full of slackers, I tell ya.

  • BWeaves

    The funny part is, once you know the lyrics, you can hear the words clearly when they are sung. Before you know the lyrics, you can swear they're singing all kinds of stuff that they're not.

  • kushiro -

    He's got Electric Boobs and No-Hair Shoes
    Y'know I read it in a magaziiiiiine

  • SnowMan

    What about changing the melody (when you're not singing along to the music, but simply singing to a song in your head)?
    Because I can't sing well at all-- my voice is a horrifying Bob Dylan/Tom Waits/Cookie Monster mashup-- if I don't have the accompanying music, I tend to eventually turn everything into an exaggerated Bob Dylan talking blues/mumble singing thing. I figure since I can't beat 'em, might as well join 'em.
    Is this okay?
    I really hope so, because it's a hell of a lot of fun!

  • foolsage

    Might as well face it; you're a dick with a glove. - Robert Palmer

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Wow. I've been listening to that song for years and I never once heard that... love it.

  • googergieger

    This is barely one step above doing a bad Seinfeld impression for an entire "article".

    "What's the deal with toothpaste? I mean why don't they call it toothglue?!"

    Stretched out for about a paragraph.

  • bleujayone

    Nevermind the singing lyrics, I can recall David Lee Roth's spoken word in "Panama" sounding like he's so turned on being in his car that he's masturbating. Really. "Reach between my legs and.....ease the seed bag...." Ridiculous? Of course. But hardly an isolate incident. Many a person has thought Jimi Hendrix apologizes for kissing this guy or CCR is telling people there's a bathroom on the right. Sometimes it's a struggle to figure out if someone's prose is trying to be clever or is just being slurred in the mix. For some reason even after we find out what the real lyrics are to a song we often revert to the misquoted ones. Often they are no less incompressible than the original ones, and to be honest they are sometimes more fun.

  • DeltaJuliet

    I thought it was "ease the seat back"....oh wait, am I being Fascist? uh oh.....

  • bleujayone


  • BWeaves

    Naw, it is "Ease the seat back" because that's the only thing that makes sense in context. Or course, I also agree with Bluejayone that he sounds like he's masturbating while doing it.

  • Lisa Bee

    Especially if the people you are with are insisting that you listen to some insufferable, poppy mess that everyone is tired of. Frankly, if you make me listen to Moves Like Jagger for the millionth time, hearing me sing it as "moves like a jaguar" is going to be the least of your worries.

    That being said, when I'm watching a musical and people choose to sing along but get the words wrong, that's a different story. Because the words are literally TELLING the story: it IS the dialogue, so if you botch that up, things can start to take on a whoooole lotta different meanings. Or confuse the people that have a hard time following words when sung in film (which is apparently more people than I realized).

  • kushiro -

    One thing I absolutely do not abide is anyone who changes the lyrics of a classic song to match their particular sex/gender. I guess I don't mind if there's a valid artistic reason for it (e.g. Tori Amos' Strange Little Girls). Otherwise:

    You did not see HIM standing there.
    There is no BOY from Ipanema.
    You are not the QUEEN of pain, Alanis.

  • anikitty

    Can't wait till the twins are old enough to give you the stink eye. Also, these are white people problems (insert smiley face here).

  • anikitty

    My favorite misheard lyrics is Rage Against the Machine, Calm Like a Bomb. My brother swore it was "Calm Like Your Mom...Ignite...Ignite." He even made a 2 am phone call to settle the argument.

  • Green Lantern

    "S'cuse me...while I kiss this guy!"

  • noodlestein

    Agree completely, as did The Grateful Dead. They almost never included their lyrics in the liner notes because they wanted the songs to "live in the listener's ear."

  • Mrcreosote

    Well, if the Grateful Dead advise something, then I know to do the opposite. Couldn't be any more full of shit than those hucksters.

  • The words are what the singer is singing and the singing is part of the music. I'm not sure they're that separated.

    I mean, it doesn't really bother me when people get lyrics wrong, but I will mock those people. Unless they're singing "Kiss from a Rose" because that song don't make sense no matter what the lyrics are.

  • JJ

    Hey dudes, don't get so mad.
    Take a rad song and make it better.
    Remember to belt the "Na na na" part.
    Then you can change it for the better.

  • chanohack

    I love you.

  • Rebecca

    I will never know, nor do I need to know, the actual words to Yellow Ledbetter as long as this exists:

  • MissAmynae

    have you seen the evenflow one? Spweeplepoppletween! by the same guys.

  • SnowMan

    As I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes, I don't know whether to thank you for that link (and the laughter) or condemn you, because "Yellow Ledbetter" is one of my favorite songs, and now it will never be the same again...

  • kirbyjay

    Yellow Bedwetter....priceless......I love that video

  • Rebecca

    You're welcome! My work here is done. *Wanders off humming "on a wizard on a whale..."*

  • Bea Pants

    I'm not such a stickler for song lyrics as long as you don't go changing the them so badly it changes the song. I had to correct my mother for nearly a decade before she stopped singing that "Black bottom" girls made the rockin' world go public.

  • DMA

    When I was a kid, I used to think that the lyrics "kings and
    vagabonds" in Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" were "kings and bag of bones."

  • Tinkerville

    My sisters and I used to run around singing "pink pajamas, penguins on the bottom. pink pajamas, penguins on the bottom" whenever we listened to the opening of The Circle of Life.

  • Guest


  • lowercase_ryan

    I sing to my dog, swapping her name into all kinds of songs. This cannot be helped. Dru easily replaces you, true, do, blue, etc.

  • MissAmynae

    Obey your NAPSTER!! NAPSTER!! Napster the kitty is chasing your striiiings!!!

    Every. Single. Time. for 19 years now.

  • Zirza

    Not really the same, but when I first started watching The Wire I did call my dog Stinker Bell for a while, and my hamster McNutty.

  • Bea Pants

    I do the same with both my cats. If I'm feeling extra lazy I just sing the word "cat" over and over again to the tune of the song.

    Rhyming "Oliver" and "Kachiko" is hard, yo.

  • lowercase_ryan

    All of my animals will only ever have 3 letter names. Ok Dru is short for Drusilla, but still.

  • Green Lantern

    I just constantly make up new names for my dog. "Barky". "Rex The Wonderhound". "Arf Arfly". "Doggie Von Moggie". "Zipster". "Woofy". "Hoobilly".

    Yeah...if he was an actual child he'd probably need therapy now.

  • tmoney

    What about people that DELIBERATELY change the lyrics to songs? And not in the fun, Weird Al way, but in the dirty lyrics that are not funny way. My father and husband both do this and think they are so clever and it eats my brain. So no, I will continue to be a fascist about song lyrics, and you can all just deal.

  • Scully

    Like this, yes?

  • AudioSuede



  • Rochelle

    This argument will get you no where with Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate and the 5 yr old pajiblet. At this point you are out numbered. Logic and reasonableness will not sway them. But good effort.

  • jennp421

    It's time to start grooming the twins to get them on his side.

  • kushiro -

    Even if Kurt Cobain did care, nobody is going to take away my right to sing "Here we are now, mashed potatoes!" at the top of my lungs whenever I hear Smells Like Teen Spirit.

  • Bedewcrock

    I sang "Don't go, Jason Waterfalls" for a year until someone told me, "No, the boy in the music video was not named Jason Waterfalls, there were two other situations in the video, and how were you not able to read 'Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls'?"

  • Kailan_Sunshine

    *gasp* Someone else thought the song was about Jason! I am not alone!! :D

  • Eyvi Sprite

    I have to tell my husband this. I also thought that's what was being said and as my husband's (then very new boyfriend) name is Jason, I told him TLC had recorded a song for him. He heard the correct lyrics right away and had taken the opportunity to poke fun at me whenever the song plays for the 19 years since.

  • Buck Forty

    A reasonable mistake given the insanity of the lyrics:
    "Don't go chasing waterfalls,
    Please stick to the rivers and the lakes you're used to"
    Seriously, WTF? I knew rap had definitely jumped the shark when that song came out.

  • AudioSuede

    What? That's not even rap. TLC was R&B. Get your shark-jumping genres straight.

  • Buck Forty

    Argh! Fair call.

  • kushiro -

    Well, that's how I'm going to sing it from now on.

    I also like to change lyrics to make them grammatically correct. Like, "I am not afraid of any ghost", or "Baby, it is not over until it is over".

    And then I laugh and laugh, and almost run a red light.

  • dos vidanya

    I admit, I do sing, "Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza", whenever I hear Tiny Dancer.

  • Alexandra Roderick

    If you think Alexander`s story is astonishing,, won weak-ago my brother worked and got paid $9230 sitting there a fifteen hour week from there apartment and their roomate's mom`s neighbour has done this for eight months and brought in over $9230 part-time on their labtop. the steps from this website,

  • Red

    "won weak-ago?"

  • kushiro -

    I do think your story is astonishing, Alexandra. But why are you referring to yourself in the third person, and as a male, too? Did you have a sex change? Because that's a story I'd really like to read.

  • linnyloo

    I'm also intrigued by how someone can earn money on a labtop. I tend to find it rather difficult to monetize my research efforts.

  • TenaciousJP

    It's hard to bargle nawdle zouss
    With all these marbles in my mouth.

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