Friday, September 17, 2010

Classic Pop Songs: misinterpreted

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 11:32 AM

click to enlarge John Lennon: genius songwriter, or stalker?
  • John Lennon: genius songwriter, or stalker?

​As the Hold Steady once said: certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls. Some songs help you through tough times; some songs are there because the radio has ingrained them in your brain when you were growing up.

After hearing songs thousands of times, you have to find alternate meanings because listening to the lyrics at face value has become a slog. Why not? Here are a handful of songs that will either be a) easier to listen to or b) completely ruined upon reinterpretation.

Bryan Adams - "Cuts Like a Knife"

I'm surprised the producers of Dexter haven't used this Bryan Adams song over one of the titular character's gruesome murders. It seems like an obvious choice, what with Dex's affinity for knives and such: cuts like a knife / feels so rightThat is what the character feels when he kills someone! Make the connection, guys!

Cat Stevens/Sheryl Crow - "The First Cut is the Deepest"


This is perfect for the serial killer who's in the mood for a slow jam. Think about it: play a song about someone getting their heart broken, while someone else physically breaks their heart. Though Cat "Yusef Islam" Stevens wrote this little ode to the heartbroken, Sheryl Crowe's version is my favorite, if only because it's embarrassingly bad and makes the violent subtext of the song that much funnier.

Dean Martin - "Ain't That a Kick in the Head"

This song always sounds like Dean Martin's answer to fellow Rat Packer Frank Sinatra's mob ties. It's the song that would have been perfectly used in a movie like Casino or Goodfellas, when some mook is having a foot repeatedly thrust into his skull. Sure, Deano's probably being figurative here, but who knows; those guys were trashed all the time, anyway.

The Beatles - "Run For Your Life"

Ostensibly, this song is about John Lennon threatening to kill his underage lover if he sees her with another guy. The first line of the song is borrowed from list-mate Elvis Presley, but the Beatles' song takes a rather sinister turn in the chorus in which Lennon sings, You'd better run for your life if you can, little girl / Hide your head in the sand, little girl / Catch you with another man, that's the end--ah, little girl

How old little is this girl, one has to wonder? Mere jailbait at 15 or 16, or is it something much more sinister? (Like dungeon in a Liverpool basement sinister.) I mean everything I said, Lennon sings, as if to emphasize that he's not kidding around. No wonder he eventually went on record saying it was his least favorite song he'd ever written and he "regretted writing" it. Even if you don't play up the underage-girl angle, it's still a fucked up song about a stalker threatening a girl because she doesn't want to hold his hand. Doesn't want to hold his ha-aa-aand!

Elvis Costello - "Alison"


Great! Another song that's about stalking a girl and threatening to kill her -- this time by trained assassin Elvis Costello. Though Mr. Costello sings that it is the world that is killing his beloved, he merely comes off as a psychopath trying to come to terms with his misdeeds. 

Alison has terrible taste in men, apparently. Her husband has apparently removed her fingers and left them in a wedding cake while her ex-lover is a crackshot assassin who tries to comfort poor Alison by constantly saying, "My aim is true." At least it'll be painless.

The Police - "Every Breath You Take"


The song was updated by Puff Daddy years ago as a tribute to the fallen Biggie Smalls, but another update couldn't hurt: Every single day/ Every word you say/ I'll be stalking you on Facebook. Fortunately, Sting isn't as creepy (or violent) a stalker as Mr. Costello, but there is creepiness nonetheless: this young girl won't ever be able to lead a normal life, knowing that this weirdo is constantly watching her (and probably doing some sort of tantric thing while he's watching, right, Sting?). Maybe she'll just start to think of her life as a reality TV show.


Elvis Presley - Blue Seude Shoes (written by Carl Perkins)

In grad student-speak, one might say that "Blue Seude Shoes" is an exercise in materialism triumphing over personal well-being, and an analysis of the sadomasochistic culture we live in. (Ahem.) Elvis makes a laundry list of things the offender can do to him with one, simple exception: don't step on my shoes. Since he refers to the offending person as "honey" in the song, one can assume it is a woman (it was the '50s, after all). Elvis pleads to this lady to knock him down, step on his face, and slander his name "all over the place." (How one slanders something "all over the place" is a mystery, but it adds emphasis.) He later encourages this person to commit arson, robbery, and to intoxicate themselves on all of his booze, so long as she does not step on his fucking shoes. Hey, it was the '50s, and materialism was king -- and I bet those were some pretty nice shoes.

The Pixies - "Wave of Mutilation"

While the title itself suggests a particularly violent death, the song can be turned into a hilarious pun with some playful phonetics. Imagine, if you will, the song's protagonist sailing away on a tidal wave of cats. (A wave of mew-tilation, if you will.) Sure, it ruins the maritime imagery of the second verse, but if your brain is prone to the influence of the most headslapping puns, this song will probably be ruined for you forever. Tidal wave of cats. Ha!

As a heads up, the Pixies are playing tonight at the Uptown, and hopefully the wordplay won't ruin "Wave of Mutilation" for you, since they're playing their masterpiece, Doolittle, in its entirety.

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