How closely do you listen to the lyrics of your favorite tune when you’re singing along? Turns out a lot of famous pop songs have hidden meanings that we would have never guessed. From an ode to drugs to a vampire love story, here are some of the most astonishing song lyrics most of us misinterpret.
Songs with Surprising Meanings
Police – Every Breath You Take
Upon first listen, you might think this song is a ballad to a lover, but if you pay attention to the lyrics, it’s actually about a stalker. Lead singer Sting confirmed that the song is indeed sinister – most notably with the repetition of the line “I’ll be watching you.”
Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al
Many may remember the entertaining music video featuring Chevy Chase lip syncing and the song’s upbeat melody, but with lyrics like “what if I die here?”, Paul Simon is really singing about a downward spiral and an unknown future.
The Beatles – Got To Get You Into My Life
Paul McCartney sings about meeting somebody and wanting them every single day, but who is that somebody? According to a McCartney biography, the song is actually about being introduced to marijuana.
Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.
Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole both used this anthem during their campaigns, showing how patriotic the song is. But is it actually? The lyrics tell the story of a Vietnam war veteran and the narrator’s brother who never returned from fighting the Viet Cong.
Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse of the Heart
The original title of this 1983 ballad was “Vampires in Love,” which might tell you what the song is actually about. It’s indeed a song about undying love, but not the kind of undying love you probably first guessed.
Neil Diamond – Cracklin’ Rosie
“Cracklin’ Rosie” was Neil Diamond’s first #1 hit, but many people have no idea what the song means. Diamond verified in an interview that it was inspired by a Native American tribe in Canada which had more men than women.
Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville
When people hear this catchy number, they’re reminded of relaxing in the summer sun, drinking margaritas. But the lyric “wasting away” is a clue to the theme of the tune. The narrator drinks endless cocktails to “help me hang on” as he mourns a lost love, and he blames himself for the breakup of the relationship.
The Village People – Macho Man
The Village People’s music producers wanted them to sing a protest song championing masculinity. The group members couldn’t take the lyrics to “Macho Man” seriously, however, and decided to record a light-hearted version instead. Listen to the song again and try to imagine lyrics like “every man ought to be a macho macho man” as serious and not sarcastic. It’s hard to do.
Rush – The Trees
It’s easy to overanalyze a song like “The Trees” when there are images of unrest in the forest as maple and oak trees battle for sunlight, but it turns out the meaning is simple. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart saw a picture of trees and wondered what would happen if they acted like people.
Nena – 99 Luftballons
Yes, the song is about ninety-nine balloons floating in the air, but there is more to it than that. The lead singer of Nena, Gabriele Kerner, was at a Rolling Stones concert and saw Mick Jagger release balloons from the stage and witnessed them floating over the Berlin Wall. She imagined the balloons being mistaken for UFOs, leading to various countries shooting missiles at each other and starting a nuclear war. Bet you didn’t think the song actually had that intense of a backstory!
James Taylor – Fire and Rain
Most people think this song is about a woman named Suzanne dying in a plane crash. The real story is just as sad – James Taylor had a childhood friend named Suzanne who died by suicide while he was recording his first album. There was never a plane crash – the “flying machines in pieces on the ground” mentioned in the lyrics was a reference to his former band The Flying Machines.
KISS – Detroit Rock City
This 1976 party anthem isn’t just a tribute to Detroit. Lead singer Paul Stanley has said that a KISS fan tragically died in a car accident while speeding to make it to their concert on time. He was inspired to write a song about the juxtaposition of losing your life while attempting to make it to a show that celebrates being alive.