‘Mondegreens’ is a curious name, but all becomes clear when you know that it began with a misinterpretation of a phrase in a 17th-century Scottish ballad called The Bonnie Earl O’Moray, in which one listener was convinced ‘They hae slain the Earl O’Moray/And laid him on the green’ was in fact ‘They hae slain the Earl O’Moray/And Lady Mondegreen’.
The first mondegreen I remember was a hymn regularly sung at school assemblies called ‘Lord of the Dance Said He’. Like the comedian Richard Herring, I was convinced the title was ‘Lord of the Dance Settee’, and fondly imagined Jesus clapping along with us while reclining on a sofa. Fast forward to my teens, and I would happily join in with ‘Poison Summer’ by Don Henley, and even today struggle to believe he was singing about anything else.
Here are ten more mishearings – some hilarious, some poignant – that I’ve collected over the years. Of course, none of them will ever be quite as good as your own.
So Long, Farewell
Most of us can cheerily belt out this song, delivered by the Von Trapp Family children in the wonderful The Sound of Music. ‘So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen Goodbye’. According to some, however, the true chorus runs ‘So long, Farewell, Our feet are saying Goodbye’. It’s a perfect example of a mishearing that still holds a certain amount of logic.
Address Unknown? Elvis might well have been talking about the return of dark days and a frozen romance. Except he wasn’t. ‘Return to Sender’ is where it’s at.
Money for Nothing and Your Chips for Free
Only while writing this did I discover this isn’t the correct lyric to Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’. It’s ‘Chicks for free’, stupid. That told me.
We Built this City
On sausage rolls, apparently, according to Starship (it’s on rock n’ roll, in reality, but a Greggs-founded city is a lovely thought).
Another of my teenage misunderstandings involved this hit from ABBA, in which the Dancing Queen ‘feels the beat from the tangerine’. Needless to say I now know a tambourine is the one doing the business.
Dyslexics on Fire
King’s of Leon ‘Sex on Fire’ manages to somehow lose its meaning entirely to some listeners.
I’ll never leave your pizza burning
Surely as good a promise as the one the Rolling Stones actually made: ‘I’ll never be your beast of burden’.
We Are Family
‘I got all my sisters and me’, Sister Sledge assures us. But what do you hear next? Famously, a lot of people swap out ‘Let me just state for the record’ with ‘Let me just staple the vicar’.
The Dawning of…
Take your pick between ‘The Age of Aquarius’ or ‘The Age of Asparagus’. A lot of people seem to see the merit in both.
Perhaps you’d expect this one from a lexicographer, but surely this is what Boy George meant to sing?