You may have read last week that an online poll has named The Killers’ song “Human” as the most confusing lyric in rock ‘n’ roll history. But shit, “Are we human or are we dancer?” is inexplicable only for the grudge that it seems to hold against English grammar. There are many more famously obscure songs that have generated all manner of hilariously outlandish theories over the years, so let’s survey some of those ideas. And the best place to find those interpretations? Why, SongMeanings.com, the site that our music editor Jill Mapes recently described as “the Yahoo! Answers of music.” So here’s what the internet has to offer as far as adventurous interpretations of famous lyrics go, along with a highly scientific evaluation of whether or not the theory in question is even remotely convincing. Onwards!
Manfred Mann — “Blinded By the Light”
We’ve always thought: It was basically nonsense, to be honest.
Most adventurous theory: “Telepathy is like a dream often, spoken in symbols, weaving in and out of different times, it plays to the emotions of the times, when one is in the actual telepathic state. People are not always telepathic, when their life energy is very high, they are more telepathic than at other times. Children are often very telepathic, they often pick things up very quickly, the telepathy helps them learn much faster.”
Are we convinced? No, mainly because we have the words of songwriter Bruce Springsteen to go on: “The rhyming dictionary was on fire.”
Meat Loaf — “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
We’ve always thought: The key question is, what is it that he won’t do? The generally accepted theory is that the “that” refers to things he’s referenced in previous verses (“lie to you,” not “go all the way tonight,” etc.), but there are other less… wholesome interpretations.
Most adventurous theory: “You are all totally wrong…like not even close. The girl totally wants to peg him (i.e. anal sex with a strap-on) but he’s not up for it. What else could ‘it’ really refer to?”
Are we convinced? Much as the idea of Meat Loaf having gotten a song about pegging into the charts is an appealingly subversive one… no, c’mon, it’s not about that.
The Eagles — “Hotel California”
We’ve always thought: It’s about drugs. I know, everyone always thinks everything is about drugs, but c’mon, “You can check in any time you like but you can never leave” seems like a pretty good metaphor for addiction.
Most adventurous theory: “this song is not even about what Henly claims it is about, because the fact is, the archon beings that caused the inspiration for him to write it keep him blind so that he continues to serve them. I know that already sounds crazy but stay with me.” (Followed by 600 words that, nope, don’t sound crazy at all and end in the proclamation that “Henly cannot see this point of view because like a man in a room, he cannot view the house he is in and be in the room at the same time. he is KEPT in that place so that he WONT see and since he has no belief in GOD, he will never be able to see.”)
Are we convinced? I mean, sure! Can one argue with the archon beings? What even are the archon beings? This is why you don’t smoke DMT, kids.
Led Zeppelin — “Stairway to Heaven”
We’ve always thought: It was a whole lot of impressive sounding mumbo jumbo around a loose idea of anti-materialism and the idea that cash can’t actually buy you a stairway to heaven.
Most adventurous theory: “I wrote a book called A Bloke’s Guide to Family Law & CSA and in the Child Support chapter I related the whole of [‘Stairway to Heaven’] to ’cause and effect’ in DEALING with ‘Buttercup’ who, in the FL Industry is lady #1 in STH. Now this is not a plug for my book because most of you will be American [so simply watch lady #1 as Zeta-Jones character in Intolerable Cruelty to understand how “she will nail yer ass”]. The song is about how to AVOID becoming a victim of Buttercup and her FLIndustry. Think Mc Cartney, think Cleese, both sensible men but went to water once Buttercup went for the money [called her DIP ie Divorce Investment Portfolio by FLIndustry].”
Are we convinced? TOTALLY.
Queen — “Bohemian Rhapsody”
We’ve always thought: Actually, my personal take on this was that it resembled (if not deliberately referenced) Albert Camus’ The Outsider — a bored, alienated narrator kills someone on a whim, and then deals with the consequences of his actions.
Most adventurous theory: Not so much adventurous as facepalmingly depressing, there are about a gazillion commenters swearing blind that Freddie Mercury wrote this about having AIDS, presumably with the aid of a time machine. Or maybe he didn’t need one! Theories on this point include: “When Mike Myers approached Freddie to write a song for Wayne’s World, he begged the comedian to write this song about his struggles with the disease” and “ur wrong all over first cases of aids were documented in Africa in 1948 and it was well knwon in american by 1950 and the song was written and released in 1975 he has PLENTy of time to get aids and write about it.. + to add to this all the internet was started in late 30’s as a secret government project.”
Are we convinced? Sigh.
Bob Dylan — “Mr. Tambourine Man”
We’ve always thought: It was about a man with a tambourine, for fuck’s sake.
Most adventurous theory: “to me this song is clearly a reference to Plato’s cave analogy. For those of you who don’t know, Plato’s cave analogy is regarded as the most important piece of philosophical manuscript ever recorded and forms the basis of all major religions today. You can find it on the net if interested.”
Are we convinced? Well, it’s better than “DUH LOL ITS ABOUT DRUGS.” There’s not enough philosophy in songs (not if you set aside every band who’s referenced Nietzsche, anyway).
The Beatles — “I Am the Walrus”
We’ve always thought: This is a far more compelling argument against marijuana decriminalization than the GOP have ever been able to muster.
Most adventurous theory: “a philosophy for life: everyone in their lifetime is at one point the walrus, the eggman, and even.. the goo goo goo joob. so i suppose the walrus is the leader, the eggman is the follower, and the goo goo goo joob is just undecided. this song holds all the answers.”
Are we convinced? What? Dude, pass the Ben & Jerry’s.
Don MacLean — “American Pie”
We’ve always thought: Well, we’re happy to go with the conventional “discussing the death of the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly and Richie Valens in overwrought Christian imagery” theory here.
Most adventurous theory: “im not saying any one is worng but this is how i see it plain and simple it’s about the end of the world when the father son and holy gost took the last trian out of here= all the chirstans went up to heaven and no one was left for god to take up the day the muisc die= satan isnt going to let us have any plesure is he? no! the writer is proubaly thinkin about the end of the world coming i sure do you dont know when it’s comeing but in the bible god said he’d consum the earth with fire so this song could be anyting bu tthis is what i think it is and nobodys gona change my thinking:)”
Are we convinced? Nope. But enjoy The Rapture, super_chick.
Leonard Cohen — “Hallelujah”
We’ve always thought: This is one of Cohen’s more abstruse lyrics, actually. But I’m gonna go with love, and specifically the way it embodies both the sacred and profane, which perhaps explains the copious use of religious imagery and the references to the story of King David and his fall from grace.
Most adventurous theory: “The lines, ‘I’ve heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord’ refers to sexual practices, possibly the manipulation of the clitoris. The fact that, ‘you don’t really care for music do you’ suggests that the lover doesn’t care about the beauty of love-making but simply wants to reach orgasm. The following lines, ‘it goes like this the 4th the 5th’ although directly relating to musical theory might also suggest the use of 4 and 5 fingers inserted inside his lover. The idea of the ‘baffled king composing Hallelujah’ suggests that the lover is sexually dominant and although the ‘king’ (i.e. Cohen)may love the subject, he is just a tool in the lovers sexual pleasure.”
Are we convinced? Good lord. I’ll never listen to it quite the same way again. (But no.)
Oasis — “Wonderwall”
We’ve always thought: It’s a pretty simple love song that Noel Gallagher jazzed up by lifting the title of a George Harrison solo album.
Most adventurous theory: “Noel’s wonderwall is music, and his Penny Lane is Paul McCartney. He has spent his whole life peering into the light coming through the aperture of media- his observations of his hero living a public life. Through music Noel is having an imaginary dialogue with Paul. The relationship of the speakers is that of mentor/role model and student. Noel is struggling internally with the idea that songwriting and performance has nothing to do with artistic authenticity- it’s just acting and burlesque to the Collins’ of the world- the word on the street. Noel wishes Paul would respond to criticism of his later work by producing new great material but that’s a bit ironic if satisfying the masses means being inauthentic to one’s artistic self.”
Are we convinced? Um, Gallagher has always been smarter (and occasionally more profound) than his critics have given him credit for.