Top 10 misheard lyrics in rock…

Top 10 misheard lyrics

1. The Clash ‘Complete Control’

Joe Strummer is one of the great rock slurrers, the glottal stop and tramp in bus shelter ranting was part of his schtick.

Clash songs are full of those great rants, usually on the songs outro where Joe let’s rip with some mad eyed ranting at the world that took decades for the listener to decipher with strange little colloquialisms and homilies that sound quite quaint in the mad eyed ranting, so instead of something like ‘fuck the system’ or some such punk rock cliche Joe would be singing and ranting like a madman with off the wall lines.

Perhaps the best example is on Clash classic ‘Complete Control’ where he realises the trap the band have walked into by signing to CBS and makes a plea for artistic freedom, of course when we were younger we didn’t really understand what the hell he was singing about, guessing it was about governments controlling people and not record labels pushing band’s around!

Lyrics | Clash lyricsComplete Control lyrics

2. Nirvana ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is one of the great anthems, one of those songs that you hear everywhere you go and one of those songs that defines a moment. Odd, then, that the lyrics are somewhat impenetrable, all that stuff about libido and mosquitos! The line that I never quite got right was the ‘hello hello hello’ section…it is actually ‘hello, how low’ which is quite clever and sadly a warning of what was to come.

3. The Stranglers ‘Ugly’
Growing up with the Stranglers was growing up with a strange world of lyrical references where the band would take on Nostradamus, rats, ancient history, DNA, Yukio Mishima, Hellas angels, philosophy, the martial arts, ritual suicide and Norse mythology as well as nice n sleazy tales of the everyday. Their songs were littered with strange, arcane references that would make the later printing of lyric sheets on their albums quite an experience.

Their debut album, Rattus Norvegicus is full of moments of deranged weirdness but none more so than on the seething and dark ‘Ugly’ where JJ Burnel really let’s rip with his dark side very much to the fore. What the fuck he was going on about was only half cleared up when I eventually saw the lyrics printed up, they are about as dark and confrontational as it gets in rock music…

I Could Have
Read A Poem Called
To Her Instead
I Lived For The Moment
It Was A Futile
Gesture Anyway
I Was Here
And She Was Here
And Being Broad
Of Minds And Hips
We Did The Only Thing Possible

I Guess I Shouldn’t Have Strangled Her To Death But
I Had To Go To Work And She Had Laced My Coffee With Acid

Normally I Wouldn’t Have Minded
But I’m Allergic To Sulphuric Acid
Besides She Had Acne
And If You’ve Got Acne, Well,
I Apologise For Disliking It Intensely,
But It’s Understandable That Ugly People Have Got Complexes
I Mean It Seems To Me
That Ugly People Don’t Have A Chance

It’s Only The Children Of The Fucking Wealthy Who Tend To Be Good Looking

An Ugly Fart
Attracts A Good-Looking
Chick If He’s Got Money
An Ugly Fart
Attracts A Good-Looking
Chick If He’s Got Money
An Ugly Fart
Attracts A Good-Looking
Chick If He’s Got Money

It’s Different For Jews Somehow.

I’d Like To See
A Passionate Film Between
The Two Ugliest
People In The World.
When I Say Ugly
I Don’t Mean Rough Looking
I Mean Hideous.

Don’t Tell Me That
Aesthetics Are
Subjective You
Just Know The Truth
When You See It
Whatever It Is

Muscle Power
Muscle Power
Muscle Power
Muscle Power

4. Fugazi ‘Waiting Room’
Ian Mackaye is normally one of the most direct communicators in music. There is no space for confusion in his world, the perfect enunciation makes it clear what he wants you to know. Maybe the beginning of ‘Waiting Room’, the classic Fugazi song is really clear but to me it always sounded like ‘I am a pastry boy, I bake, I bake I bake…’ I thought there some obtuse style Fall style wonk poetry going on there when in fact he is singing ‘I am a patient boy, I wait, I way, I wait’ which, of course, makes far more sense in the context of the song.

5. The Fall
Where do you start? The brilliance in the Fall is in the confusion, the slurred weirdness and the half made up, half strange neo words. The weirdest thing of course is that the strange phrase you think you misheard for years is actually what he really was singing…there catalogue is littered with endless examples of lyrical misunderstandings, moments of supreme clarity, insane rambling and half meanings and poetic cul de sacs…that’s part of their genius.

6. Queen ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
A record that is still bafflingly considered by some to be the high point of music history and the past thirty years since its release been moving backwards, ‘Bohemian Raphsody’ is the ultimate in pre punk seventies, oozing a casual decadence and faux glamour that is still oddly affecting. Freddie Mercury very nearly didn’t put it on the album but it was his personal masterpiece stuffed full of obtuse and fantastically pretentious lyrics that are littered with moments of misunderstanding and confusion, especially to the 14 year old listener as the time who couldn’t possibly start to understand the songs reference points. People still mishear the ‘scaramouche’ line after all these years.

7. The Police
Sting’s mob often get into these top tens of misheard lyrics, people come to all sorts of conclusions trying to guess what Sting is singing about, they can’t believe that they have heard such a banal lyric and figure that their imagination and partially fucked up ears have misguided them somehow…they would be shocked to find out that the lyrics are just as terrible as they thought they were.

8. The Beatles ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’
There are plenty of wacky John Lennon moments,especially in the late sixties, that’s the whole int of LSD and why we love Dr Winston O Boogie so much, but it’s ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ that confuses most people with the girl with Kaleidoscope eyes somehow becoming ‘the girl with colitis walks by’ which is somehow less charming but far stranger in an unsettling sort of way.

9. Kate Bush ‘Wuthering Heights’
Kate Bush genius is perhaps a bit too much for the daft pop mainstream, her lyrics- which work on many different levels are far too often misheard and misinterpreted by the casual listener turning her great songs into easily parodied nonsense.’ Wuthering Heights’ is rife with this and there endless examples of misquotes and misunderstandings…

10. Oasis ‘Wonderwall’
Another example of lyrics that were dashed off and so nonsensical that the causal listener has to remould them, ‘Wonderwall’ sounds like it means everything with Liam giving a heartfelt performance of words that mean something but are hidden behind old George Harrison album titles (it’s great album of Indian music sketches by George from 1968) and scraps of words knocked off by Noel who can write great lyrics when he can be arsed. For the millions of people who loved this song this matters little, the words may look silly when written down but when sung sound magical and who cares when you can change them to what you want in your head.

Special number 11

I had a friend who refused to believe that Rammstein sang in German and would insists that the lyrics were in English. He would make up his own words to the songs!
Rammstein are a great example of the fact that you don’t actually even need to be bale to hear the words to understand them, you can feel the meaning…that doesn’t stop them from being quite unsettling when you see them translated…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. The line in Smells Line Teen Spirit is actually “Hello, How Low”. The lyrics to the song (and the whole Nevermind album) were printed in the Lithium CDsingle liner notes.

  2. Stevie Riks and his misheard lyrics, funny as fook!



    I remember Noel Edmonds used to do a feature on misheard lyrics on his breakfast show back in 70s, still remember the Bonnie Tyler one, It’s a Heartache as It’s a hard egg!

  3. Missheard lyrics … Always thought The Police were singing about a Mrs Jean Lobardo instead of message in a bottle, wondered who she wasm


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