Los Angeles band inc. is two brothers who specialize in stripped-down indie R&B grooves that sound as brainy as they do sexy. Because one of its songs is entitled “Lifetime,” I know the lyric in the chorus is “I can see my lifetime in your eyes.” But I liked it better before I knew the title, because the first few times it shuffled up on my iPod, I was convinced the lyric was “I can see a hot tub in your eyes.”
That’s some fairly demented lover-man poetry, a come-on as absurdist as it is lubricious, and a record full of lyrics like that would be the mash up of early Woody Allen and Prince I’ve always dreamed of. (In fact, I think I’ll listen to Beck’s Midnight Vultures right now.)
Lyrics are something that are felt before they’re understood, as Greil Marcus once pointed out. But feeling them and misunderstanding them is sometimes more fun. My friend and colleague Gavin Edwards has put out four collections of misheard lyrics — or mondegreens, as they’re also known — both common (there are still people who think Hendrix is talking about kissing a guy, not the sky) and completely baffling (yes, people love bagels, but that’s not the chorus of “Viva Las Vegas”).
Sadly, the last of those books -- the Christmas special Deck The Halls With Buddy Holly -- came out in 1998, so we may never know if anyone besides me sometimes hears Rihanna lamenting about finding love in a cowbell place. Although Gavin did contribute a list to The New York Times Magazine last year of classic mondegreens that includes this misprision of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”: “Making a hoedown there, his manager won’t be shaved” for “Making a home down there, as mine sure won’t be shared.”
That one is pretty bizarre, but some mishearings make a sort of sense — they’re just the mind using context clues to fill in the blank spot created by pumping bass or loud guitar.
The other morning on the Today show Hoda Kotb tried to sing along to the hook from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” and changed the line about “looking for a come up” to “I’m looking for a color.” I was actually on that segment, and someone asked me later on Twitter how I kept from laughing. But the thing is, the song is about shopping, so I completely understood why she thought Macklemore was looking for a color to match his flannel zebra jammies and John Wayne fringed jacket.
Of course, these days if you don’t know the lyrics to “Thrift Shop,” you just look them up online. Lyric sites and lyric videos (both fan made and the official versions that have sprung up in the last few years; They’re quick and cheap to make, and a way of capturing traffic and online revenue that might otherwise go elsewhere) are at the top of the search list for pretty much any song.
Rap Genius, the hip-hop annotation site created by three Yale grads (and powered by a $15 million dollar investment from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which thinks Rap Genius has social network potential), offers this gloss on the “I’m huntin’, looking for a come up” lyric from “Thrift Shop”: “‘A come up’ is a very common expression about gaining advantage, whether monetarily or whatever” and also “‘I’m huntin' ’ could be a pun on the movie Good Will Hunting, because he’s hunting for deals at the Goodwill store — Goodwill hunting.”
Yup, kind of a joy killer, to say nothing of a mondegreen stomper — although lyric sites can get the words wrong just like the rest of us. Rap Genius has verified accounts, but most lyric sites are just fan transcriptions. Having long believed that Mick Jagger was singing “Little Rock don’t give a f---” at the end of “Rip This Joint,” I was disappointed to check a lyric site this morning and learn it was “Little Rock, fit to drop.”
But then I cued up the song, and realized that the transcription I found definitely left a word out, and maybe got one wrong too. Listening now, I’m pretty sure it’s actually “Little Rock and I’m fit to pop” (sexier), unless it’s “I’m fit to drop” (makes sense in a song about touring) or “fit to bop” (could be, given the song’s rockabilly-on-speed vibe).
Who knows what’s really going on in that murky whirl of desperation, lust and drums, and does it even matter? Maybe Mick Jagger really doesn’t think Little Rock doesn't give a f---, and “Rip This Joint” definitely has more kick on the car radio if you think so. So I’m not giving up on my misheard lyric. I’ll let you be in my mondegreen dreams if I can be in yours.