The Mystery of Song Lyrics


I have just listened to the entire Ultimate Collection of… Steps. Yes you read that shit right! The pop-tastic 5 piece British group who were big in the charts in the late 90s.  Not only did I listen to the album in its entirety without skipping tracks or attempting to perforate my ear drums with a Bic ballpoint pen, I bloody enjoyed it! I still can visualise the horrendous camp music videos in my head and so as I sat at my desk ‘working’ I was throwing some unbelievable shapes to 5,6,7,8! However when it came to the lyrics I found that my memory was rather hazy/massively altered. Like I know the lyrics… but what I remembered way back when were just in fact actual words I made up! And so now when I go to sing impressively out of tune in the comfort of my own home… my brain is just reciting the made up versions of the song. This got me thinking…

How many songs do we all think we know when we actually don’t? You know that embarrassing moment when you’re with a group of mates belting out a chooooon and all of a sudden you forget the lyrics or you simply don’t know them… so you try to style it out by mumbling and tailing off whilst taking a sip of your drink to disguise your shame! Or just completely mishearing the lyrics in the first place and then regurgitating some shit that makes no sense… but if it’s in tune then everything is fine! Right?! It's like a shit game of chinese whispers that went horribly wrong.

I was at my friend’s house the other day just listening to the music channels on telly when some old skool dance classic came on. The sort of music you smashed your lungs to at school discos whilst doing the running man because that’s the only dance move you knew. Anyways… one of the lines in the song is this: “My love has got no money - he's got his strong beliefs” HOWEVER, when I was a youth I would sing: “My love has got no money - he's got his Trumbalese!” Now for the love of god, what the fuck is a Trumbalese?!! It’s not even a word! Another classic was from my uni days and featured my friend singing to OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya’ and one of the main lines is “shake it like a polaroid picture”… but alas my friend was found blissfully singing away “shake it like a polar bear teacher!” HUH?!! Now if we all just took a minute to listen to the garbled bullshit words and phrases we’ve just made up… we would realise that we have just invented our own ridiculous language.

Now here comes the science… there is a term for defining the need to sabotage a song by making up words /alternative lines due to mishearing them and that is called Mondegreen. This was first popularised by an American Writer Sylvia Wright back in the 1950s. Yes there is actual evidence to the support the fact that muppets like you and I invent new meanings to songs because they maybe unclear or we’re too lazy to listen properly. Some folk believe it’s a psychological problem based around ‘cognitive dissonance’ where beliefs, emotions and ideas clash, and we as individuals find it too uncomfortable to hear a poem or song in our own language and not be able to make out the words. Interesting theory… but wrong. I just think it’s heaps more fun to make up words. Simples.

Myself and my gay Irish hubby would often play a game (usually when drunk) where we sing a song Glee-esque but purposefully own the fact that we don’t know the words hence the reason we try to shoe horn in the most amount of profanity and highly offensive imagery ripped from a school playground. At Christmas time I heard him singing in the shower ‘Silent Night’ and before the second verse erupted, the sweet carol now resembled a song about hookers and child prostitution! Such festive joy.

Making up words to a songs is fun! Especially when they make no sense at all and have the power to offend everyone within ear shot. Dance like nobody is watching… and sing like nobody gives a shit… because I’m pretty sure they don’t.

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