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5 Famous Song Lyrics – Debunking Fact from Fiction

We’ve all been driving down the road with our radios, 8-tracks, cassettes, CD’s, or MP3’s blaring the lyrics to our favorite tunes. And if you’re like me, you’re singing along *POSSIBLY* getting the words right, and wondering what the lyrics mean.

This got me thinking: I turned to my “crack research team” and said something like, “Hey MJ, why don’t you get the 4-1-1 on six of the biggest songs in music history?”

He promptly whined back, “Why do I have to do everything? Can I just do five songs?”

To whit, I replied, “You’re not schizophrenic, and neither am I!”

[Wow, this may be the worst. intro. ever.]

 ***

1. I SHOT THE SHERIFF, 1973, Bob Marley

bob marley, I shot the sheriff, song lyrics

“I shot the sheriff
But I didn’t shoot no deputy …”

Did the deputy get shot, or not?
We dug deep into the research vaults and could find no evidence of the deputy being shot.

However, it does appear, that the sheriff was shot, and he swears “it was in self defence (original spelling).”

2. HEY JUDE, 1968, The Beatles

“Hey jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.”

Can one take a sad song and make it better?

This was challenging for the research team due to the depth in this difficult set of lyrics.

After hours, or possibly two to three minutes – sure, we put in all the necessary time – we concluded that ‘yes’ it is POSSIBLE, though unlikely, to “take a sad song and make it better.”

And we were pretty sure it would require copious amounts of ice cream, chocolate, or an iced, foil bag drink, preferably daiquiri or pina colada, to make it a whole lot better.

3. PUFF, THE MAGIC DRAGON, 1963;
Peter, Paul, and Mary

Puff the magic dragon, peter paul and mary, song lyrics

“A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.”

Did Puff really cease his fearless roar?

This one was fairly easy. Though the lyrics don’t mention it, Jackie Paper had a son – Peter Paper – who ended up visiting Puff in a land called Honalee.

You may have even heard about how Peter Paper picked a peck of pickled peppers near Susie, who was selling seashells by the seashore.

So, obviously Puff continued his fearless roar as soon as he had the company of a new little boy, Peter Paper.

4. (I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION, 1965,
The Rolling Stones

“I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.”

Can one get satisfaction?

My research team and I, conducted a poll, and determined that though we’ve also tried and tried and tried, we also “can’t get no satisfaction.” Except MLB (editor of my crack research team, piped in and yelled, “Can’t get ANY satisfaction! Thank you very much.”

5. LIKE A ROLLING STONE, 1965, Bob Dylan

bob dylan, like a rolling stone, lyrics

Thought to be the greatest song in rock and roll history by many music critics, we’ve pulled one of the most famous lines out to be put under the research microscope:

“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

Do you got nothing to lose, when you got nothing?

First of all, what’s up with the grammar in a lot of these song lyrics??

Secondly, does one ever “got nothing?”

The team was mixed on this. At first it was like, yes, you can have nothing. But then, wait, no you have to have something – your clothes, a couple of pennies you scrape together, the kids, a mangy dog, that old Green Bay Packers poster in the garage …

So, to bottomline it: If you truly “got nothing to lose,” then yes, “you’ve got nothing.” This is probably not the case with the vastest majority of us, though. We’ve almost always got something to lose.

And yes, MLB, I hear you – “It’s ‘have’ nothing to lose, not ‘got’ nothing to lose.”

***

Are there any song lyrics that you’ve researched?
(Of course, not as exhaustively as my team did, I’m sure!)

Comments

  1. I was about to argue with you, because 461 Ocean Blvd. was the number one gift on my Christmas list the year it was released. I didn’t have a clue that Bob Marley wrote it. Of course, the ONLY song I was interested in, and the entire reason I wanted the album, was for Let It Grow, and only because it wasn’t released in 45s. You’re making me date myself, MJ….stop it.

    Also, the reason that grammar leaves much to be desired in song lyrics is because “I Can Get Any…Satisfaction” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    And yes, I often have ‘nothing.’ However, it’s almost always in reference to answers.

    Do I research lyrics? Sort of. All the time. But only to find songs that go along with what I want to say in a blog post. Unfortunately that literally can take hours sometimes. And I often find that it’s COUNTRY songs that come the closest to saying what I’m looking for. :)

    Fun post! And thank you for clearing up the whole Puff thing. It’s just too sad to think that he never roared again. ;)

    • …I Can’t… Sigh. Gotta catch up on sleep someday soon.

    • Ha, I can’t believe you doubted me on that reference, KK. Sure, I thought there’d be the one-off Clapton fan, but you should know my “crack research team” (no, we’re not on crack!) does their due diligence. Plus, I may have been old enough to have been around for the original and many cover versions.

      Good point about the grammar. Many songs have squeezed in error-prone grammatics (new word) just to make a rhyme work.

      Glad you know about Puff, now. There’s probably a lot of relieved people now. :)

      • LOL. I had never heard of Bob Marley until I watched The Kid. If I had before, I must have assumed that it was a reference to Scrooge. :)

        Definitely sort of a Clapton fan here. At least for a handful of songs.

        And yes….song writers are allowed to use bad grammar in the name of rhyming. Thank goodness about Puff, too. I’m sure that along with National Underwear and Hoodie-Hoo days, there’s also a holiday to mourn the end of Puff’s roar. :)

  2. Incisive, MJ, especially your conclusions about Puff, one of those dragons I have always wondered about.

    And I thought your intro was rather good.

  3. I’m no mathematician, so don’t quote me on this, but if two negatives make a positive, maybe The Stones were taking a sad song about one’s inability to achieve satisfaction and making it better by employing the double negative.
    Thus:

    can’t (-) + no (-) = satisfaction (+)

    Has your research team investigated anything by America? “A Horse With No Name” by any chance? I mean, if the ocean is a desert with its life underground and the first person narrator insists that he has, in fact, been through the desert, has he been through the desert-desert, or the ocean desert?

    Don’t try asking that at cocktail parties, unless you go to the kind of parties where Puff the Magic Dragon shows up.

    • You are cracking me up right now, HC!!

      First of all, I love your creative math, and can totally get behind that. Check.

      Secondly, “A Horse With No Name” – your assessment is pure genius. I recommend you do a post on this, STAT!

      And yeah, you’re too right about the cocktail party. hehehe

  4. I like the Puff The Magic Dragon tongue-twister the best! haha! Is that really about MJ? Seriously? I had no idea until Meet The Parents.

    • My research revealed that Puff was written by a Cornell student and then modified by PP&M when they found it in an old typewriter. It in fact, was about a dragon and not about MJ. Though that has been the urban legend for decades. :)

  5. After my afternoon of dark writing, I needed this post. Thank you for being so dang funny.

  6. I rarely get song lyrics right, so I wouldn’t even think about researching except for wondering stuff like why T.I. is singing about Obama and Joe Biden in his song Whatever you like (um, he’s not) or why Fiona Apple is Feeling like a Gribbon (again, not). My research would be figuring out what a gribbon is and then why I actually thought it was a word. :)

    • That’s awesome: TI and Fiona Apple. hehehe

      I always thought Stevie Nicks song “Edge of Seventeen” was:
      “Just like the ONE-WINGED dove …” I thought, how cruel is it to have a one-winged dove. I kid you not, I found out not long ago that it was a white-winged dove. Makes so much more sense. ;)

  7. Puff the Magic Dragon! Hah! That’s the first song I ever learned to play on the guitar. And, Gawd, I thought it was so DEEP, singing those lyrics as soulfully as a preteen girl possibly can without the aid of a particular prohibited puff of oregano-looking stuff. But, no, I didn’t research the lyrics. I absorbed them into my earnest pores and wrote horrible, horrible short stories and songs about them. Yup. *blushing furiously*

    • I can see little preteen Desi, strumming her heart out, with the super-serious face.

      I hope you still have the short stories and songs. If so, you have to pull a few of them out and run some blog posts. Maybe put adult-Desi spin on them.

      Or is it just me who seems willing to look really foolish on their blog? ;)

      • Hahahaha! No, you’re not the only one. I do try not to contribute to repetitive stress injuries related to eye-rolling, though! =D

  8. MJ:

    Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.

    You’ve gotta have something, if you wanna be with me.

    Just sayin’

  9. I’m sorry but I can’t quit laughing about the “one-winged dove”. That just ruined me for the rest of the night. I can’t even think now…

    • Hey now, Lori, I can’t help it that it made the song even more mysterious. ;)

      Glad you could laugh at my expense. I’m a giver that way.

      • OMG! I can only make that one worse! Forgive me, I was… 8 years old when that came out?! But I thought she said, “Just like the white winged girl…”, I don’t know, i guess I thought she was an angel or something. I haven’t thought of that song really since I was small, but geez, I believe I’m right up there with the one-winged dove!

  10. Thanks for the in depth coverage of a few classics and to answer your question, MJ, I leave the research to the A-team…found right here! :)
    I do want to know more about Hotel California…if you got the time…and please, bring me my wine. :)

  11. Excellent post! I’m with Colleen above always hearing lyrics that don’t don’t exist. I am crying at the “one-winged dove” and will most likely be singing that from this point on!
    “I Shot the Sheriff” also brought back some great memories. My friend Eileen and I knew every word and sang them like the badass rock stars that we were during our front porch performances.

    • Great, I’ve created a whole lot of “one-winged dove” singers, now! :)

      Any chance you have a taped version of your I Shot the Sheriff performance? Inquiring minds would love to see that, Lisa.

  12. Judy Berman says:

    Loved your post. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” is one of my favorites still, bad grammar and all.
    I have to confess I’m still trying to decipher “Green Door” and “Who Put the Ram in Ram-a-lam a Ding Dong?”

  13. I think you and your team of experts just discovered a NEW GIG! Think of the possibilities. All the inquiring minds want to know……

    I get the song lyrics wrong. I apparently can’t hear worth a damn. There is a pop song called, Bleeding Love. I thought they were saying dreaming love, until my daughter informed me otherwise. It just doesn’t make sense. If you keep bleeding, keep bleeding in love, won’t you need a transfusion????

    :-)

    • Thanks, Angelia. I could have gone on forever looking up songs, but time is never on my side. Still, it’s so much fun to research music.

      I love that Leona Lewis song. I have to come clean, I didn’t know the name was Bleeding Love. :)

  14. I couldn’t get no satisfaction until I read this post. Now it’s all good.

  15. Ha! I for one enjoy a nice, dual-personality intro. And I’ve often wondered about Bob Marley lyrics…! I so often get the lyrics wrong, though, that researching them would prove especially fruitless.

    • So right. If you get the lyrics wrong, it’s difficult to find the right lyrics. I had quite a few choices in mind when I started this post, and then couldn’t remember the song title, AND had the wrong lyrics in my head and couldn’t find the right ones. HA!

  16. All Along the Watch Tower

  17. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’ has forever haunted me. I have no idea what it is about and I have never met anyone who could explain it. It is a great song – reminds me of something a marching band would perform. Yet it is total nonsense, mostly just the word ‘tusk’ yelled between pounding drums. I’d love nothing more than to hear someone explain this one.

    • The song is about Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks’s affair. Lindsey Buckingham was calling them out in the lyrics. Tusk is thought to be about, um, male genitalia. It was also musically a big shift from the huge commercial success of the Rumours album. Sorry, I’m a Fleetwood Mac fan. :)

      There you go, Renee, more than you wanted to know.

  18. Here’s one for your team of experts…what I really want to know is: who was the Walrus? John, Paul, Ringo or George?

    • Ha, good one Nisha. Here you go from Wikipedia:

      The walrus is a reference to the walrus in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (from the book Through the Looking-Glass).

  19. I love ANYTHING by Queen–look up the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody–one of my favorite, all-time classics! But I also loved Puff The Magic Dragon when I was a kid. That song always made me cry!! You’ve got some great classics here!
    Hop over to my site and help celebrate my 1 year blog anniversary today!! Just imagine I’m sending over a glass of champagne for a toast!!

    • Very good point about Bohemian Rhapsody – one of the classic rock-epics, and a favorite of mine. I did look it up and, thank you very much, have been singing many of the words incorrectly. :)

      I’ll pop on over to your site, now.

  20. I suppose singing Thriller while sporting the one-glove Michael Jackson look is too embarrassing to mention, so I’ll just say I had a crazy friend who did this and made up the words that weren’t clear. I, too, liked Puff, but I never knew who Paul McCartney was talking to. I hope Jude heard him.

  21. Can reveal it for all of us, Mj that from where did you hire your research team? :) They are doing really good Job. As always…. really funny post!

  22. I’m not sure, but if you say “debunking” several times in a row, it starts to sound like a made-up word.

Love to hear from you.

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