I’m Not Gonna Write You a Love Song…

When I was in fourth grade my friends and I, intrigued by the lyrics of Sir Mix A Lot’s rendition of ”Baby Got Back,” asked our teacher for permission to choreograph a dance to the song for the class talent show.

Her first question: “Well what’s the worst word in the song?” Our answer “big butt!” She gave us permission, rationalizing that at least someone in the class said “butt” on a daily basis every day anyway. Luckily, we changed our minds shortly before the talent show, distracted by Ace of Base as I’m sure many pre-teens from 1994 can relate.

Since I was old enough to turn the dial on the radio that was wedged on the shelf over my bedroom desk in my childhood house, song lyrics have had an impact on me. Anytime I’ve fallen in or out of love or lust or had a great summer or a bad summer or danced at the prom with THE GUY I wanted to dance with or maybe it was on a particularly emotional episode of Dawson’s Creek…you get it. It’s not all about the music to me, but the lyrics to a song need to say something.

A post on Divine Caroline captured my attention recently because I spent high school reading (and reading into) song lyrics and trying to position them against my own life. Did everyone do this? I swear…I did have friends…really…NO REALLY!

Anyhow. In Eight Commonly Misinterpreted Songs, Vicki Santillano lists eight songs to which people commonly misconstrue the lyrics. She mentions some good ones, like REM’s Losing My Religion and Dave Matthew’s Band’s Crash. Some of her list is on my iPod as we speak. And Vicki’s idea was so genius, I’ve decided to add a few of my own songs on here, songs that I disagree with or that I perceive to be misinterpreted by many.

1. Free Falling - Ahh, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. If I had a dollar for every time someone in college turned the volume up to this song so they could totally rock out and sing along, I’d quit my job and move to Australia. This isn’t a happy go-lucky song, but a song about heartbreak and loss. I like this song and I like Tom Petty and part of why I like it is because the lyrics are full of hidden meaning. Tom sounds like he’s relieved to be free falling - independent, uninhibited, but rumor has it that he’s actually talking about breaking his girlfriend’s heart by committing suicide. Or is it the other way around? See, really not so cheerful.

2. The First Cut Is The Deepest - Sheryl, we like you. You’re a single mom, you’re a totally cool rocker chick and you dated Lance Armstrong. But I don’t think the first cut is the deepest. With any song, the lyrics are open to interpretation, but if we’re talking about break-ups, the first cut is nothing. The first time I was hurt by a boy, I thought I would never feel better. But time marches on, you meet new boys, you grow up and go to college and before you know it you’re dating twenty-seven year old investment bankers and they’re not boys anymore, they’re men with mortgages and ex-girlfriends and former fiances and they can still hurt you as badly as they did when they were twelve. And when they do you feel that pain and all of the pain that you felt before. The first cut is a preview, but no matter how much we grow and learn, it never gets easier to have your feelings hurt.

3. Long December - I love the Counting Crows. I’ve seen them a few times in concert and they’re one of the few bands I would say I’m a fan of. As in, I’ve paid to see them and I’d do it again. There are a lot of Counting Crows songs with convoluted meanings but given that we just wrapped up December, I thought this one appropriate. I remember listening to this song in seventh grade and thinking it was so deep and dark but not really understanding it. I’ve heard lots of “explanations” about it - the singer’s girlfriend died in a car accident, the singer had cancer, the singer’s girlfriend had cancer, the singer’s girlfriend died of cancer…nothing happy. But according to Adam Duritz in the Storytellers video, it’s “a song about looking back on your life and seeing changes happening….and looking forward and thinking… ya know…things are gonna change for the better.” Geez, mention the word ‘hospital’ in a song and everyone freaks out.

If you made it through this long, quasi-depressing analysis of nineteen-nineties Top 40 hits, tell me, what are your favorite song lyrics? Are there any that you’ve misinterpreted? Are there any traditional “love songs” that you think are downright ridiculous?

26 Responses to “I’m Not Gonna Write You a Love Song…”

  1. LizSara says:

    Oh it was all going so well until you said that The First Cut is the Deepest was a Sheryl Crow song…cos that’s a cover version. Depressingly it’s actually by Rod Stewart if my memory of all things sad serves me correctly.

    Anyway moving swiftly on, can we get a vote in for Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. This week my friend asked me to sing it at her (church) wedding. I tried to tell her that it was about sexual positions but she didn’t believe me

  2. Claire says:

    I once heard someone play U2’s “With or Without You” at their wedding. It wasn’t their first dance, but still, people, listen to the lyrics: “I can’t live with or without you.” Is that really the wedding day message you want to send?

  3. Matt says:

    I cant believe you traded sir mix alot for ace of base. Was it, I saw the sign?

    but Tom Petty is all kinds of awesome. I actually have his greatest hits CD in my stereo right now.

  4. Dan says:

    I can go with LizSara - The First Cut is the Deepest is indeed a Rod Stewart song from the {*gasp*} time of my High School days. But … it was actually written and performed first by Cat Stevens clear back in 1967. Check out the wikipedia entry for the title for details.

  5. maris says:

    1967 was before my time! Sorry Everyone! Regardless of who sang it, I stand by my thoughts on the lyrics :)

  6. longredcape says:

    I can’t stand it when people use Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” in the wrong context. It is a BREAKUP song, people. You WERE meant for me. Listen to the lyrics! A boyfriend in high school put that on a mixtape for me. THANKS, DUMBASS. Also, someone I know put it on a “soundtrack” for their wedding. I don’t know why, but that has always infuriated me.

  7. kristin says:

    free falling has been on repeat for me as of late. but it’s totally because it’s depressing and about heartbreak and that seems to be a mood for me right now.

    would love to hear an interpretation of yellow by coldplay as well as better man by pearl jam. both hugely misconstrued songs.

  8. Jane says:

    I always thought “The First Cut is the Deepest” was about breaking up and getting back together, despite the singer knowing it’s not going to work out because things have been irreparably damaged, and they’ll never reclaim what they’ve lost.

    “If you wanna try to love again, baby I’ll try to love again, but I know the first cut is the deepest.”

    Ok, I sound like a total nerd who overthinks song lyrics, and am going to go sing Ace of Base in the corner now.

  9. Tristan | the almost right word says:

    This is hilarious, Maris. On the Tom Petty note, I’ve always wondered about “Last Dance with Mary Jane” — it was always rumored to be about marijuana, but then the video…with Kim Bassinger being dead and weird? Very confusing.

  10. brandy says:

    Two things: I love Sheryl Crow DESPITE the fact that she dated Lance Armstrong. And I think she has nice hair but I like Cat’s version better. Also… this makes me sound weird but I still like “Crash” despite the whole ‘peeping tom’ aspect.

  11. Therapeutic Ramblings says:

    Great topic! I heart good music, and I loathe crap interpretations. I may have to add my own.

  12. Princess Pointful says:

    When I was dumped the first time when I was 14, I listened to You Oughta Know on repeat.
    And had no idea what “go down on you in a theatre” referred to.

  13. thatShortChick says:

    I once had an english teacher who took umbrage (her word, not mine) with alanis morrissette’s song “ironic.”

    my teacher said that “rain on your wedding day,” “a black fly in your chardonnay,” “a death row pardon two minutes two late” are all things that are disappointing NOT ironic.

    so i’ve always thought about that every time i’ve heard that song.

  14. brandy says:

    Princess Pointful- Unfortunately I went to a school where EVERYONE knew what ‘go down on you in a theatre’ meant and practiced it quite often. Seriously. I would be going to the movies with my mom and I would see kids from my school rocking the bases two seats in front of me. THAT’S what I unfortunately think of when I hear that song. Oy.

  15. The Dumbest Smart Girl You Know says:

    Umm, here’s one:Outkast’s “ms. jackson”…yeah, I def thought the lyrics were “I apologize, attributize” rather than “a trillion times.” I heard it on the radio today and CRACKED UP.

    And I second the need to discuss “Better Man” This post was a great idea!

  16. Fabulously Broke says:

    i DO recall Ace of Base being a major part of my life then.

    Baby got back. That song makes me laugh every time I hear it

    One couple did it as their wedding song and danced the antics to it. HILARIOUS!

    Fabulously Broke in the City
    Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver.

  17. Renee says:

    *Phew* I’m glad someone cleared up the Cat Stevens reference. Come ON, he’s a classic!!!

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  19. Rahul says:

    This is getting a bit more sjuebctive, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of neighbors will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune Social is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose.

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