A while back, we did a feature on some of the most misunderstood songs in music, and it’s a topic we’ve been meaning to revisit ever since. Specifically, we’re always interested in the realm of the faux love song, tracks that sound all lovey-dovey at first listen but either conceal deeper meanings or aren’t in fact love songs at all (or, at least, not love songs about people). Whether they’re rude and risqué, sinister, or just plain weird, there are some great songs that fall into this category, and we’ve amused ourselves selecting 10 of them for this feature. If you’ve any to add, the comments section is your friend.
Lou Reed — “Perfect Day”
May or may not be about heroin, depending on who you believe — but even if you discount the drug angle, there’s something decidedly sinister about “Perfect Day,” from the “I thought I was someone else… someone good” confession to the “You’re going to reap/ Just what you sow” denouement. It always amuses us when this comes on over “meaningful” moments in TV dramas/movies/etc.
The La’s — “There She Goes”
Definitely about heroin.
Blur — “Beetlebum”
Neil Diamond — “Cracklin’ Rosie”
In a slightly healthier vein, this is a love song for a bottle of wine (“A store-bought woman… [who] makes me sing like a guitar hummin’,” apparently). There’s also a school of thought that it’s about a prostitute — the “store-bought woman” line is certainly open to this interpretation. But either way, it’s not a cheery love song.
Jackson Browne — “Rosie”
There must be something with the name Rosie, eh? At first listen, this sounds like a love song for a groupie, but it’s less about that and more about Browne’s fantasies about said groupie and the use to which he puts them when he’s alone in bed at night: “Rosie, you’re all right, you wear my ring/ When you hold me tight, Rosie, that’s my thing/ When you turn out the light I got to hand it to me/ Looks like it’s me and you again tonight, Rosie.” Aaaaaand it’s time to change the sheets again.
Pixies — “Here Comes Your Man”
Funnily enough, the jauntiest song Frank Black ever wrote isn’t about waiting for your boyfriend, despite what the chorus might lead you to believe. It isn’t even about waiting for a drug dealer, as some have suggested. No, it’s about “hobos traveling by train and dying in a big earthquake in California.”
The Beatles — “Martha My Dear”
A love song, sure, but not quite what it appears at first glance — the Martha who Paul McCartney describes as “my inspiration” and “my love” is, um, his dog. Or, at least, that’s certainly where the title comes from — there’s also speculation that the song is about McCartney’s girlfriend, while the man himself has said it’s about his “muse.” In any case, McCartney clearly had a thing for animals (oh, stop it) — “Jet,” by his post-Beatles band Wings, was about his pony.
Antony & the Johnsons — “Fistful of Love”
We guess this is a love song of sorts, too, but it’s a pretty harrowing and depressing one, a portrait of a relationship based around domestic violence and destructive need rather than any sort of healthy love and mutual respect.
M83 — “Don’t Save Us From the Flames”
Before Anthony Gonzalez started producing made-for-Pitchfork pop songs, he specialized in psychedelic epics like this one, from his excellent 2005 album Before the Dawn Heals Us. It’s a suitably romantic-sounding wall-of-sound piece built around the chorus “Tina,” but the rest of the lyrics reveal that Tina’s fate is a less than pleasant one — she appears to have been in a car crash, and pieces of her brain are now strewn in the narrator’s hair.
REM — “The One I Love”
And finally, yes again, the classic — this isn’t a love song so much as an absence of love song, a rather mean-spirited kiss-off to a jilted former paramour. It never ceases to amaze us how people somehow manage to interpret this as some sort of college rock romantic classic — it just goes to show that there are plenty of people who never listen beyond the chorus.