“Lost my shit, trying to act casual.” For years…years…that is what I thought David Byrne was singing on “Crosseyed And Painless” off the Talking Heads Remain In Light LP.  Nope. It turned out he was singing “lost my shape.”  The mis-hearing of lyrics is nothing new; there are books, websites, entire tomes dedicated to this very thing. But I’m not interested in rehashing cases of the “excuse me while I kiss this guy” Purple Haze variety; no, what I am interested in are the stories of when learning the song’s actual words changes its meaning.  Byrne’s use of ‘shape‘ works, it makes sense in the context, but in learning the “right” lyric it effectively changed what the song meant to me—my interpretation as the listener. In fact it lost some of its power. For years I pictured an anxious dude losing his shit, you know, his anxiety overloading while, ironically, he’s just trying to play it cool and act casual. That was the introduction to the song’s character for me.  Let’s open the discussion up.  Oh, and for the record, when I karaoke this jam, I still sing “lost my shit.” It just feels better.

In The Comments: What songs come to mind where the mis-heard lyrics altered the narrative of the song? Also, in which cases were the mis-heard lyrics preferable to the “real” ones?!

MP3: Talking Heads :: Crosseyed And Painless
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40 Responses to “It Goes Like That? But I Thought It Went Like This?”

  1. I always thought that guy from Toto was some sort of meteorologist — “I test the rains down in Africa….”

  2. In “Secret Meeting: by the National, I used to think the intentionally vague background vocals during the outro alternated between “Just drop the dice and roll it” and “Don’t draw the ace and fold it”. This always fit well with the song and the overall themes of the album, with Matt Berninger/his characters debating whether to take risks and stand out or rather retreat to the nearest dimly lit bar.

    After seeing some live videos, I’m pretty sure they sing “I’m talking ace this morning”. Who knows for sure though? When asked about it, Matt said was definitely “Italian Ice Importer.”

  3. Mikey – I constantly wonder what the true vocals are in Secret Meeting as well.

  4. clueless as to what Secret Meeting is saying too

  5. I always heard “If everyone’s a little queer / Why can’t she be a little straight” in Weezer’s Pink Triangle as “If everyone’s a little queer / Why can’t she be a little strange”, and I liked it better. It works my way because it’s like a pun.

  6. This isn’t an insanely well known song, but ex-Toad the Wet Sprocket lead singer, Glen Phillips, has a song called “Darkest Hour” about the death of his father. For years, I heard one of the song’s climactic lines as “I sat beside you there / and I felt the world as it left your hands.” I thought this was an incredibly powerful image to describe having been there as his father died. Which is what he was conveying, but later I found the line was simply “I felt the warmth as it left your hands” and it was somehow way less poetic to me. It’s odd that I loved the song just a bit less after that. Strange how those things can affect us.

  7. I probably first heard “The Weight” when I was around eight. I always thought Levon was saying ” then I saw Carmen and November walkin’ side by side”. Even though I’ve heard it hundreds of times I never heard “the devil”. Carmen couldn’t hang around, so Levon goes off with November, a girl he’s never met before.

  8. hold me closer glen danzing

  9. In “Oxford Comma,” I always thought the lyric was “why would you lie about how much coke you had?” I like my version better than the actual – “why would you lie about how much coal you have?”

  10. I think most everybody thought the chorus of the Replacements’ “Bastards Of Young” was “We are the sons of no one, bastards of young”. Paul Westerberg recently said the lyric is actually “Wait on the sons of no one…….”. Who knew?

  11. I always thought Dylan was saying “He understands your orphan with his gun,” as opposed to “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun” (from “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” of course). I was surprised (and a little disappointed, to be honest) when I was corrected.

  12. For me it’s always been Kiss’ Rock And Roll All Night. I always thought they were singing, “I wanna rock and roll all night, and part of every day”. Being young and in the Kiss Army I always threw my tiny fists into the air and shouted, “Yeah! Part of every day!”

  13. Bear with me while I me while I discuss this somewhat lame song:

    When the Don Henley song “End of the Innocence” was a hit, it would get stuck in my head constantly, maddeningly. There was one passage I actually liked, though, that (I thought) went “they’re beating plowshares into swords for these tight old men with the electric canes“. To me, this line created an image of drunken, blind (hence the canes), lecherous, good-old-boys out to score with the girl in question. I thought it was a neat turn of phrase that embodied a jaded, removed demeanor that appealed to me at the time.

    Years later, I realized that the line in fact was “for this tired old man that we’ve elected king.” Still a nice phrase, but one that was more overtly political. And while I agreed with the anti-Reagan sentiment of the line, it seemed out of place to me in the song. I was disappointed to say goodbye to the image that the incorrect line had conjured.

  14. On the Fleet Foxes LP the chorus of the song “Quiet Houses”. I have no idea what the chorus is but my wife sings it as “Donkey Man!”. I know that’s not it. I don’t know what it is. But I’m not sure I even want to know. I like our version better. That’s what makes music/art great. You can make it your own. It’s very democratic [via Pete Hamill Blood on the Tracks liner notes].

  15. From Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem” I heard “the man almighty” which was actually “the man on my tv.” The misunderstood lyric doesn’t make more sense than the actual, but it does add a certain level of understanding when the two are combined.

  16. Definitely “Chanbara” on In Casino Out by At the Drive-In. I could have sworn the chorus repeated “I have to go…!” To my unpleasant surprise, it’s a name of a small town, Ayacucho. The new meaning is much less urgent, I liked it the ‘old’ way.

  17. My question isn’t one of words but of punctuation.

    There’s a line In Wilco’s “She’s a Jar” that I stumble on every time I listen to it.

    Is it: “However, you might feel tonight is real.”

    Or is it: “However you might feel, tonight is real.”

    The placement of that comma can make a big difference in the meaning of this line. I’m partial to the second interpretation, but in the song Jeff Tweedy pauses slightly between “however” and “you.”

  18. Back in the early ’80’s, while a lad in the NYC ‘burbs, I was listening to the radio (probably WNEW) when some guy called in and requested “Living in the Bronx”, the new Who song….. Turned out to be “Eminence Front”. Everyone got a good laugh out of that one.

  19. Until recently, my girlfriend used to think that the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” said: “Spanish bombs / empanada!” instead of “in Grenada.” While I told her the right words, whenever I hear it, I can’t help but hear her version…

  20. I used to go back and forth in my mind about this line from Radio Cure by Wilco:
    “Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable”
    Sometimes I hear it as:
    “Oh, distance hast the way of making love understandable”
    Obviously two completely different things, but both can make sense to me depending on my mood. When everyday mundane life is getting you down, distance can help you appreciate and miss what you have. Distance can also make you forget what you have and start to look towards other things. I used to wonder if he did it on purpose, but it’s probably just me.

  21. I was about 12 years old and I was in the car with my mom singing along to “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” and my mom said “I always thought the song was called ‘Thirty Thieves and the Thunder Chief’.” I just thought it was cool that my mom listened closely enough to AC/DC to get the words wrong. To this day I still sing her version.

  22. Dave! My wife and I sing “Donkey Man” to that Fleet Foxes song, too. I won’t tell you what the lyric actually is.

  23. on a side note to whoever posted about In Casino Out, that may be one of my favorite At The Drive In LPs.

  24. in pearl jam’s smile, off no code, i hear “free cookies and smiles all around”. ed (one of the most notorious mumblers in music) actually sings “three crooked hearts, swirls all around”. i like my version so much better i want to write the band asking the to sing it my way. what could be more smile inducing than free cookies?

  25. Speaking of notorious mumblers, Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi” from _Love and Theft_ gave me one of my favorite mis-heard lyrics. My friend and I always heard the line as “I was thinking ’bout the things Roses’ had,” as in the large discount store chain, Roses. I was really bummed to find out it was “I was thinking ’bout the things that Rosie said.” I much prefer to think of Dylan mentally compiling a shopping list for his trip to Roses.

    Similarly, that same friend always heard a line in the lyrics to the Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” as “When I haver..” Knowing the band was Scottish, he figured ‘haver’ was some Scottish word. When he looked up the lyrics, he was so terribly disappointed in what he found (“When I wake up,” I believe; accent obscuring it), that he purposefully tried to forget what he had learned because it displeased him. He preferred to still just believe that the phrase was “when I haver.” That lead to us deciding the English language needed a new word: “haver.” It means – “to purposefully forget information that is displeasing.” I use it quite often.

  26. Pernice Brothers, “Somerville.”
    “I’m sick of the city, I’m sick of the fashion show.”
    Loved that line, and felt it from Philly.
    Only, apparently he wasn’t so sick of the city, just the cynicism.

  27. I always thought September Gurls said, “sometimes boys got it bad”. I interpreted that as a sensitive boy convincing the listener that it’s hard being a boy, too.
    In a funnier misinterpretation, my boyfriend thought for years that Jarvis was singing, “your leopard knibblers turn me on” in I Spy. I asked him what the hell knibblers were…and he said, what the hell is Ladbroke Grove? Fair enough.

  28. I always thought “September Gurls” said, “sometimes boys got it bad”. I interpreted that as a sensitive boy convincing the listener that it’s hard being a boy, too.
    In a funnier misinterpretation, my boyfriend thought for years that Jarvis was singing, “your leopard knibblers turn me on” in “I Spy”. I asked him what the hell knibblers were…and he said, what the hell is Ladbroke Grove? Fair enough.

  29. In Joanna Newsom’s “Good Intentions Paving Co.,” she sings “I’ll get this joy off of my chest at last,” which I had always heard as “I’ll beat this joy off of my chest and ass,” which I thought was much better lyric.

  30. @John, I concur.

  31. For the longest time I thought Elton John sang, “she’s got electric boobs” in Bennie and the Jets, when it’s really “boots.” This electric boob image really freaked me out as a kid!

  32. shit! you mean it is NOT electric boobs?!? that just ruined my day.

  33. A friend of a someone I knew thought the opening of Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones was “Joan Coat said she bought a cot of fears.”

  34. Random trivia – this type of mishearing or misunderstanding is called a “mondegreen.” I think.

  35. I was disappointed to find out the Moody Blues, on Threshold of a Dream, were singing “ride..my seesaw” instead of the more poetic “ride..my sweet soul.” I know, the name of the song shoulda been a clue…

  36. My girlfriend once quoted the line from The National’s Fake Empire as “We’re half awake, in a thinking pie” (the line of course, is “We’re half awake, in a fake empire”

    She thought the character was restless because he was thinking so much, I don’t know how the pie fits in, but it made sense to her. I still can’t listen to it now without hearing “thinking pie.”

  37. i always thought the flashdance song was “take your pants down, and make it happen” which always made me a little uncomfortable in the car with my mom.

  38. “I’ve kissed mermaids with the Armenians” – B.Francis
    oh wait
    “I’ve kissed mermaids, rode the el nino” -B.Francis

  39. The Proclaimers DO sing “When I haver”. Haver means to talk incessantly without saying anything important. Like after a few pints of beer, or listening to someone tell you about what happened on Jersey Shore last night.

  40. I know this is a couple years late, but the same thing just happened to me with this song! I still LOVE it beyond I can fathom but I do agree. It loses a tiny bit of power, but becomes more conceptual and in line with what the rest of the song is about.

    Anyway, I wanted to share what I think is the best misheard lyric in my life… and that would be Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight… “I can feel it coming in the air tonight… hold on.” I always felt that that was a few thousand times more powerful than “oh lord”. In fact, I love “hold on” so much that I use it as a standalone lyric in one of my songs. I stole the power. I am DEFINITELY going to do that with “Lost my shit” as well. 😀

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