6 Popular Songs You Didn't Know Have Dark Hidden Messages

The drawback of making a subtle point in a song about the human condition is that nobody pays attention to subtle points in songs. Your average listeners aren't priming their ears for the moment when an artist makes the perfect lyrical metaphor about unrest in the Middle East. They just want to dance.

That's why people keep thinking that "Born in the USA" is a patriotic song, and why most people don't get the subversive message of ...

#6. "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie


What You Think It's About

With its simple but catchy melody, "This Land Is Your Land" sounds like about the least offensive song ever written. Songwriter Woody Guthrie adapted it from an old American folk song, and the lyrics boil down to the almost childishly innocent message of "America is wonderful, let's share it, everybody!"

Yep. Just an all-around great patriotic song upholding the blandly positive idea that everyone is welcome in the USA. Nothing to see here!

"Yay for the section of Earth that we live on!"

What It's Really About

"This Land Is Your Land" is, for lack of a better term, a song about communism. The opening lines are a bit of a giveaway, but only if you know the background: "This land is your land/This land is my land." OK, well, that doesn't have to be referring to the idea of public ownership of all property. Maybe "The invisible hand of the free market will dictate who is the rightful owner of this land" just didn't fit into the rhyme scheme.

But in fact, Guthrie was a fairly outspoken communist sympathizer. And the song wasn't written just as a folk song about America and its people. Guthrie specifically wrote it as a rebuttal to the song "God Bless America," a tune he considered overly patriotic and sappy. He didn't think it represented average, working-class Americans like himself and their feelings about the government.

Via Wikipedia
"Kill the fascists, and the barbers too while you're at it."

Lyrics that didn't make the final version of the song that really hammer the point home were later found by Guthrie historians. As in hammer and sickle? Political jokes are hard. Anyway, here are the lyrics:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

See, it's because the old emblem for Communist Russia was a hammer and- oh, fuck it.

Now that would have put a different spin on things. At some point Guthrie cut those lines, presumably figuring that a subtle approach would be best to get the point across. As this list is going to make abundantly clear, it totally doesn't work that way.

#5. "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Jimi Hendrix


What You Think It's About

Hendrix's performance at Woodstock is now a thing of legend. Hendrix took the stage as the very last performer of the concert, and he tore through a two-hour set at an ungodly hour of the morning, leaving nothing but burnt guitars and melted hippie faces in his wake.

The most memorable moment in his set list is his impromptu rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the middle of an extended jam. Throwing in psychedelic noises and guitar flourishes, his version of the American national anthem has become synonymous with the Woodstock festival, and in turn has come to represent an entire generation of counterculture Americans during the '60s who just loved to get off on peace and love.

And in turn, counter-authority teens in the late '90s who just liked their fashion.

What It's Really About

It's easy to miss, you know, because it's an instrumental, but hiding just under the surface of Hendrix's iconic take on "The Star-Spangled Banner" are various references to the horrors of war. Things start out pretty standard, but when he hits the "... and the rockets' red glare" line, Hendrix goes into full-on freak mode. Those crazy sounds aren't just Jimi making noise for the hell of it; those are the "rockets" referred to in the song dropping and exploding. And after that? Screams. Later he adds in some machine gun noises for good measure.

Still not convinced? Listen closely about a minute later, when Hendrix plays a portion of the musical piece "Taps," a song traditionally played on a bugle at United States military members' funerals. Hendrix just took you on an Apocalypse Now-style tour through war. You heard bombs explode all around you, you heard the screams of the people killed, you got fired on by a machine gun and then you died. All with the backing track of "The Star-Spangled Banner." And probably a shit-ton of acid.

Via Wikipedia
"I take my LSD with a goddamn funnel."

#4. "I Love LA" by Randy Newman


What You Think It's About

If you've ever seen a shitty movie set in Los Angeles, you most likely have heard Randy Newman's ode to his hometown, "I Love LA," probably being played alongside a cliche shot of the Hollywood sign. Or if you've ever attended a major sporting event in the city, you've heard the song whenever the home team scored a goal or won a game. Every single time. Whether it's the Lakers, the Dodgers or the Kings, you're hearing that damn song. Meaning it's been playing in LA pretty much nonstop for the past 30 years or so.

Given the title and the occasional chorus of people shouting "We love it!" in response to Newman listing off various LA landmarks, it would naturally lead a person to believe that this song is an anthem about how Los Angeles is a fantastic place. And you're right!

The sand is cocaine!

What It's Really About

Just joking! You're wrong! Like many of Newman's other misunderstood songs (the lone exception being "Short People," which he totally meant), "I Love LA" is intended to be satirical and sarcastic. It's all about the city's contradictions. For every mention of the city's idyllic setting, like its mountains and trees, Newman offsets it with a scene of those less fortunate, like a homeless man "down on his knees."

"We love it!"

Not even the extremely upbeat-sounding section of shouted street names is safe from Newman's sarcasm. At first listen, it doesn't seem like there's anything particularly critical about it, but locals will notice that these street names point out the dichotomy of LA better than any other lyric can. The streets Newman names range from the richest neighborhoods in LA to the absolute poorest. Basically, the song takes you from Brad Pitt to MC Hammer in a single verse.

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