It’s one of the great joys of being a human. Doesn’t matter if you sing on or off key. Doesn’t matter if you sing only in cars with rolled-up windows, stopping to wait for the next green light, or in shower stalls with warm water cleansing your body as your favorite lyrics soothe your soul.
Assuming you actually know the lyrics.
For some of us (ahem), that’s a big assumption. Take me, for instance. I’ve been a singer my entire life. I remember singing at the top of my lungs in my room when I was around 8 years old. Imagine my horror when I twirled around in ecstasy of performance, only to find my parents standing in the doorway, watching. The horror! How long had they been standing there? If I had known there’s an audience, well, that would have been something different.
But I digress.
I sang in junior high, then in the high school madrigal group and in every musical that would have me. I sang my way through college (although I started to realize the small-fish-in-big-pond concept around that time). I continued singing on my own as a full-fledged adult and into my married life. Hey, I married a guy who loves to sing, as well, and we can holler out tunes in our automobile, the likes which you have never heard. Seriously!
So one fine day, we’re tooling down the road and the 1981 version of “Bette Davis Eyes” made popular by Kim Carnes (but written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon) came on the radio. We’re singing along, sometimes he louder, sometimes I. Then came the line, “All the boys think she’s a spaz, she’s got Bette Davis eyes.” I belted it out — with feeling. And then I commented about how amazing it is that someone actually got the word “spaz” into a song.
My husband looked at me sideways. He asked me to repeat the line. I obliged. Then the heckling began.
I suppose at some point in my 40+ years I could’ve looked up the words to the song, but why? I knew them. I did, truly. But apparently, not really.
(It all made sense to me — sort of still does, really, because I never thought Bette Davis was much of a looker and thought, well, yes, the boys think she’s a spaz. Her eyes weren’t the eyes of a “regular” gal, so “spaz” sounded right on, if not very nice.)
My loving husband informed me that “spaz” was not cutting it. The line is: “All the boys think she’s a spy.” OK, fine. “Spy” does rhyme with “eyes” slightly better than “spaz” does. And now all my friends and readers now know my dirty little lyrics secret. Ugh.
Let it be known, though, that I am not alone in my affinity for the mondegreen (which, btw, refers to screwing up the lyrics; it got its name from Sylvia Wright mishearing a Scottish ballad of “laid him on the green” as “Lady Mondegreen” in the 1950s).
Someone (name unmentioned here, but if you can guess, go for it) was tooling along in the car with me one fine day several years ago and was belting out Elton John’s “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.” I was singing along, too, as usual. Then came the phrase “Back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad.”
This person beside me doubted me as I sang those exact words, and this person doubted me but good. Swore on eight graves that I was wrong. That there was no way in hell or anywhere else that someone would write a song — and a successful one, at that — about a horny back toad. That it didn’t remotely sound like “horny back toad.” I had to pull the lyrics up on the Internet (and not just one site, but several) to prove to this person that Sir Elton John had written those very words.
The real shame is that I don’t remember what words this person in the driver’s seat actually said in place of “horny back toad,” but let me assure you that it was far from what it should have been. It was, though, a mondegreen. Definitely a mondegreen.
- Elton John’s horny back toad is probably a short horned lizard (photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Short_Horned_Lizard.jpg)
The classic mondegreen is, of course, the bastardization of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” changing the accurate “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” to “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” I admit that I was one of the masses who botched that one. A few additional mondegreens of note:
- Iron Butterfly’s 1968 song “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” (multiple stories abound about how the title actually came about, but the idea is that it is a goof of “In the Garden of Eden”).
- Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” gets its influence from “Jamaica” but many fans believe it could be a contraction of “Did You Make Her” (as in “get lucky”).
- Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” should be “revved up like a deuce” but is often shouted to the rafters as “wrapped up like a douche.”
- Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner” has the phrase “big old jet airliner” — not “big old Jed had a light on.”
- AC/DC’s 1976 album “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” inspired yours truly to sing “Dirty deeds and the thunder chief,” sending my true love into a fit of giggles each and every time he thinks of it.
What other mondegreens are floating out there? Send ‘em to me. Of course, I may not get any responses, since everyone thinks that they know all the words already.