Lady Mondegreen and the Whoopee Cat

Posted on 2013 January 2

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Sometimes we misremember lyrics. You know, like in the song “Purple Haze”, when Jimi Hendrix sings, “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!” but it sounds like he said, “Excuse me while I KISS THIS GUY.” (I suppose that could have worked during the Hippie era.) Or when Peanuts character Linus performs in the Christmas pageant but thinks the noel’s words are, “Hark! … Then Harold Angel Sings.” Or this lyric from Led Zeppelin that everyone gets wrong: “A policeman stepped up to me, asked us, said, ‘Please, hey, would we care to all get in line'” — except it sounds exactly like, “Please, hey, WHOOPEE CAT, get in line!”

These are called Mondegreens, named for a famous misreading of an old Scottish ballad where “They hae slain the Earl o’Moray / And laid him on the green,” except the listener thought it was “and LADY MONDEGREEN.” (Evidently the good lady got scragged along with the earl.)

There was a song in the late 1960s by the group Friends & Lovers called “Reach Out of the Darkness” that went, “Reach out in the darkness / And you may find a friend.” I thought they were saying, “FREAK OUT in the darkness!” Now, I’m down with that! But “Reach out in the darkness”? And get slapped? Or bitten? Not so sure.

Then there’s “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors: “Do you hope to make her see you, fool? / Do you hope to pluck this dusky jewel?” Except to me it sounded like, “Do you hope to make her see you DROOL? / Do you hope to PLUG THIS DUSTY TOOL?” Oh well.

(If you want to laugh till you cry, go to this collection of Mondegreens.)

Over the years, I’ve also misunderstood some famous sayings. I was nearly 40 when suddenly it struck me that, when Tony the Tiger said, “Sugar Frosted Flakes — they’re GRRRRRREAT!” he wasn’t merely being a cool cat — he was growling, grring like a tiger. I had totally missed that obvious fact. (As Bugs Bunny would say: “What a maroon.”)

And it wasn’t till decades later that I finally understood the following ditty:

            Now I lay me down to sleep

            With a box of chocolates at my feet.

            And if I die before I wake,

            I hope to die with a belly ache.

It’s a silly version of a classic child’s prayer, and it always sounded merely goofy to me — a belly ache? Huh? — but one day the obvious dawned on me: the kid hopes he has the presence of mind to eat the candy. “In case I’m gonna die, Lord, I’m having the whole box!” Now it’s funny. But, again, how did I miss that?

Somebody once suggested I “might be autistic.” I answered, “Did you say artistic? Why, thanks!”

It’s just my weird brain; I can’t account for it. Maybe I’m a Whoopee Cat. Or a maroon.

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UPDATE: Survey of most popular mis-heard music lyrics.

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SUGGEST A MONDEGREEN! Use the “Reply” field below. Here, I’ll prime the pump:

“You own a chunk of the thirty-third world!” From The Pretenders’ “Middle of the Road” (should be “You own a chunk of the bloody third world…”)

“Gotta get a razor gun!” From David Bowie’s “Fame” (should be “Got to get a rain check on pain.”)

“Surround sister taking a pee!” From The Soundtrack of Our Lives’ “Sister Surround” (should be “Surround Sister, take care of me!”)

“I’m back in the shadow again!” From Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle” (should be “I’m back in the saddle again!”)

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