Kids learning the national anthem could be forgiven for hearing the lyric "by the dawnzer lee light"—even though the latter doesn't make any sense, in any language. The actual line is "by the dawn's early light." Author Beverly Cleary immortalized this mistake in her children's book "Ramona the Pest."
Misheard lyrics are known as mondegreens, a term that dates back to 1954. American author Sylvia Wright coined it in Harper's Magazine while recounting a ballad that had confounded her when she was a child.
But this misfiring of the connections between the ears and the brain can plague anyone of any age. It's been the subject of both academic study and serious journalism. Researchers found that people sing the "wrong" words to a song due to an illusion of sound; it could indicate what we hope to hear, as reported by New York magazine.
If nothing else, mondegreens are almost always funny (if not a bit embarrassing), so Stacker compiled a list of some of the most humorous misheard lyrics from popular music over the last 70 years. To qualify its popularity, each song on this list had to spend time on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—and many became #1 hits. This collection comes from pop culture references, news articles, music publications, social media posts, and community forums on the internet.
- Misheard: "All the lonely Starbucks lovers"
- Correct: "Got a long list of ex-lovers"
In 2014, Taylor Swift's lead single from her album "1989" was "Blank Space," which percolated at the top of the charts and brewed up some controversy when fans heard the line, "All the lonely Starbucks lovers." The lyric Swift had really written was "got a long list of ex-lovers." Still, some listeners were unconvinced, including Swift's own mother, according to a now-deleted tweet posted by the singer.
- Misheard: "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy"
- Correct: "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky"
This song lyric in Jimi Hendrix's most popular record was so famously misheard it spawned a series of books by author Gavin Edwards, including his "'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy and Other Misheard Lyrics," published in 1995. What Hendrix is actually singing in his seminal guitar anthem "Purple Haze" is the lyric, "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky"—not "this guy."
- Misheard: "Hold me closer, Tony Danza"
- Correct: "Hold me closer, tiny dancer"
Even though the correct lyric is contained in the song's name—"Hold me closer, tiny dancer"—there's a long tradition of mishearing Elton John's 1972 single "Tiny Dancer" as an ode to actor Tony Danza (even though his first Hollywood credits didn't come until 1978). This auditory misfiring even made its way onto an episode of "Friends," during which Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) explains that she hears John crooning to the "Who's the Boss?" sitcom star.
- Misheard: "Eight-inch bagel… that's good pipe"
- Correct: "Eight-inch big, ooh, that's good pipe"
Rapper Saweetie burst onto the mainstream music scene in 2019 with her single "My Type," which sounds a lot like an ode to a New Yorker's favorite grab-and-go breakfast. In a sultry growl, she says, "Eight-inch bagel… that's good pipe"—or does she? Turns out, the actual lyrics are "Eight-inch big, ooh, that's good pipe." What the "ooh" is referencing, however, is left to our imagination.
- Misheard: "Fun Dip"
- Correct: "Thunder"
Sometimes the lyrics that are heard incorrectly tell us more about the person listening to the song than the song itself. Case in point: Imagine Dragons' "Thunder," one of Billboard's best songs of 2017. Some hungry fans with a sweet tooth have insisted the word "thunder"—again, right in the song title—sounds just like the candy product "Fun Dip." It's even spawned numerous parody videos on social media.
- Misheard: "Billie Jean is not my mother"
- Correct: "Billie Jean is not my lover"
You'd think that after over 40 years since Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" went #1 in 1983, hardly anyone could doubt that the woman referenced in the song's title is whom the line "not my lover" refers to. But one of the most commonly mistaken lyrics still today is "Billie Jean is not my mother."
- Misheard: "Louie, Louie, grab her way down low"
- Correct: "Louie, Louie, me gotta go"
One of the characteristics of the Kingsmen's 1963 hit "Louie Louie" is its garage rock sound—with distorted vocals that have created so much confusion over the years, the issue was taken up by the feds. A now-debunked rumor stated that the song was full of concealed obscenities that could only be heard if you played the vinyl record at a slower speed. There's no consensus as to what those "dirty" lyrics actually are, though—and the FBI never found any proof, despite investigating them for over two years.
- Misheard: "There's a bathroom on the right"
- Correct: "There's a bad moon on the rise"
Creedence Clearwater Revival was at its peak in 1969 when it released "Bad Moon Rising," a country-tinged rock tune that asks listeners to heed its warning: "There's a bad moon on the rise." But many fans have thought the band's lead singer, John Fogerty, was giving directions: "There's a bathroom on the right." In fact, it's such a long-running gag that the vocalist (and the song's lyricist) told New York City radio station Q104.3 he sometimes intentionally sings the wrong words now too.
- Misheard: "I wanna rock and roll all night and part of every day"
- Correct: "I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day"
With their theatrical makeup, wild costumes, and pyrotechnics-filled stage shows, members of the band Kiss seem like the ultimate rock stars. So fans might be surprised to hear Gene Simmons sing that he wants to "rock and roll all night" and only "part of every day." But the truth is, as explained in an episode of Disney's "The Muppets Mayhem," it's "party every day"
- Misheard: "So open the door"
- Correct: "Soy un perdedor"
No one probably expected the California-born, '90s alternative musician Beck to be singing in Spanish in his debut hit song, "Loser." So instead of the lyrics "soy un perdedor" (which simply translates to mean "I'm a loser"), some listeners have filled in the blanks with more likely—and perhaps more expected—lines, like "So open the door."
- Misheard: "Well, I farted, but I kept it hid"
- Correct: "Well, I thought it, but I kept it hid"
The 2021 pop hit "Cold Heart" is actually a mashup of classic Elton John songs, remixed together by EDM trio Pnau and featuring rerecorded vocals by Dua Lipa. One line, in particular, which originally appeared in John's record "Kiss the Bride," trips up those who try to sing along: "Well, I thought it, but I kept it hid." Some internet users have suggested Lipa is singing something entirely different: "Well, I farted, but I kept it hid."
- Misheard: "Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche"
- Correct: "Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce"
"Blinded by the Light" is one song your ears might have a hard time hearing correctly—even when you know the real lyrics include "blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night." According to the song's lyricist, Bruce Springsteen, it references the car known as the Little Deuce Coupe—but even knowing that, it may still sound like "wrapped up like a douche."
- Misheard: "Sweet dreams are made of cheese"
- Correct: "Sweet dreams are made of this"
The 1980s duo Eurythmics exploded onto the American pop music scene with its first U.S. single, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)." The song's popularity launched largely thanks to an iconic music video featuring singer Annie Lennox in a bright red buzz haircut and a suit. But there must not be too many lip-readers out there, because there are plenty of fans who've mistaken the lyric "sweet dreams are made of this" for "sweet dreams are made of cheese"—probably because of Lennox's pronunciation of "this," which sounds more like "these."
- Misheard: "Don't bring me down, Bruce"
- Correct: "Don't bring me down, groose"
If you were wondering who "Bruce" is in the Electric Light Orchestra song "Don't Bring Me Down," lead vocalist and songwriter Jeff Lynne couldn't tell you—because the shoutout isn't actually a man's name, but a nonsense word made up on the spot: "groose." Though, in a 2016 Rolling Stone article, Lynne confessed to sometimes giving up his original lyric, giving into the widely held misconception, and just singing "Bruce" in concert.
- Misheard: "Sherry don't like it"
- Correct: "Sharif don't like it"
"Sherry don't like it" isn't how the chorus of the Clash's "Rock the Casbah" begins. Instead, the British punk rockers are singing, "Sharif don't like it"—a response to the news that Ayatollah Khomeini had banned all Western music in Iran in 1979, according to American Songwriter magazine's explanation of the song's meaning.
- Misheard: "Cinnamon buns"
- Correct: "You should've been gone"
Steve Perry has one of the most distinctive singing voices of any man in the rock 'n' roll era—even if his diction isn't the clearest. In his first solo hit after departing the band Journey, "Oh Sherrie," it's the very first line that trips up some listeners, who thought he was calling out, "Cinnamon buns!" The real first line? "You should've been gone."
- Misheard: "I miss the rains down in Africa"
- Correct: "I bless the rains down in Africa"
Toto's biggest hit song—and the band's only #1 record—is the mysterious and exotic-sounding "Africa," which actually contains multiple misheard lyrics. In the chorus, some fans hear "I miss the rains down in Africa" instead of "I bless the rains." What's more, the confusion deepens when the line in one of the verses, "As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti," sounds like "rises like a lepress" (that is, a woman leper).
- Misheard: "I ain't talkin' 'bout the linen"
- Correct: "I ain't talkin' 'bout movin' in"
In the 1970s, England Dan & John Ford Coley were known for their romantic, soft rock sounds that dominated the adult contemporary airwaves. And their biggest hit, "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," was no exception—but they did not sing the line "I ain't talkin' 'bout the linen." The correct lyric is: "I ain't talkin' 'bout movin' in."
- Misheard: "Listerine, Listerine"
- Correct: "Glycerine, glycerine"
It sounds like it could be a hit parody by "Weird Al" Yankovic—but fans imagined Gavin Rossdale, the lead singer of '90s grunge rock band Bush, is singing "Listerine" instead of "Glycerine." In reality, he's not urging for daily dental care when he sings, "Don't let the days go by…"
- Misheard: "It's gonna be May"
- Correct: "It's gonna be me"
One of the most widespread misheard lyrics in the modern age is also one of the most celebrated—every year, just before May Day, on April 30. That's because when Justin Timberlake sings, "It's gonna be me," in the 'N Sync song of the same name, he pronounces "me" like "may"—and in 2012 (12 years after the song was released), the internet exploded with "It's Gonna Be May" memes.
- Misheard: "Medieval woman"
- Correct: "Evil woman"
In the Electric Light Orchestra song "Evil Woman," lead vocalist Jeff Lynne sings the word "evil" with three syllables, drawing out the "ee" sound over the course of two notes. The result? A mistaken title (and lyric) that brought the song into an entirely different era: "medieval woman."
- Misheard: "Haul the bathtub just to please you"
- Correct: "All the better just to please you"
Kim Carnes was one of the biggest pop singers of the early 1980s, known for her distinctively raspy vocal style—one that could've enunciated just a bit better. In her Grammy Award-winning chart-topper "Bette Davis Eyes," it might sound like she's singing, "Haul the bathtub just to please you," but the real lyrics are: "All the better just to please you."
- Misheard: "Go ahead and sell me out, and I'll lay your s--- bare"
- Correct: "Go ahead and sell me out, and I'll lay your ship bare"
According to the authoritative music magazine SPIN, Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" contains the line "Go ahead and sell me out, and I'll lay your ship bare." So why is the word "ship" censored in versions played by some radio stations and streaming services?
According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, it's because it sounded too much like a bad word with the same first three letters—which is a case of music execs either mishearing the lyrics themselves or anticipating audiences mistakenly hearing an expletive. (For what it's worth, Adele clearly sang the word "ship" during her 2020 appearance on "Saturday Night Live.")
- Misheard: "Reverend Blue Jeans"
- Correct: "Forever in blue jeans"
If you've misheard Neil Diamond's "Forever in Blue Jeans" as "Reverend Blue Jeans," you're not the only one. Comedian and former talk-show host Conan O'Brien confessed in a 2023 podcast episode that he's among the throngs of fans who thought Diamond was paying tribute to a man of the cloth who took Casual Friday very seriously.
Data reporting by Lucas Hicks. Story editing by Chris Compendio. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Abigail Renaud.