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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

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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!

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"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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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."

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"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.

3"Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne

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What You Think It's About

Most of the audience will recognize this song as one of about 20 or so Christmas standards that dominate department store and elevator airwaves starting immediately after Halloween and continuing until we're all too buried in credit card debt to even think about what song is playing overhead.

"Do You Hear What I Hear?" was originally written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, but it's been covered by hundreds of different artists, most famously by Christmas crooner Bing Crosby. The song seems to be a simple ditty about the baby Jesus' birth, because those are the kinds of lyrics we're all into during the holiday season. But a close inspection reveals that there's something else in the sky with Jesus in this famous Christmas anthem.

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Not even close, jerkface.

What It's Really About

"Do You Hear What I Hear?" was written in response to the Cuban missile crisis. If you're unfamiliar with that harrowing moment from history, track down the first person who actually remembers when this song was released and ask them to regale you with tales of the time when the U.S. and Russia nearly obliterated each other with nuclear weapons in 1962 before the Beatles even had a chance to swoop in and calm us all down.

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"We're going to have to change the chorus of 'I saw her nuclear shadow standing there.'"

The song was written as a plea for peace by people who thought they could be minutes away from complete nuclear annihilation. Lyricist Noel Regney was living in New York City at the time, a place that pretty much always expects to be the target of terror and destruction. He was inspired to write the song after watching babies being pushed in strollers on the sidewalks of New York City, and then most likely imagining them exploding in a fiery inferno (Merry Christmas!). That probably explains these now-terrifying lines:

Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

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They removed 22 references to shitting their pants from the first draft.

Both songwriters later admitted to not being able to personally perform the song, as it brought up too many traumatic emotions from the time when it was written. We've heard rumors that Sisqo stopped performing "The Thong Song" for the exact same reason.

2"Hook" by Blues Traveler

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What You Think It's About

You might (or more likely, might not) recognize "Hook" as Blues Traveler's big hit that isn't their other hit. With a cursory listen, it sounds like a fairly average song. Save its crazy harmonica solo, there isn't really anything that makes it stand out from its late '90s pop contemporaries. The chord progression of the song is the exact same as the infamous classical piece "Canon in D" by Pachelbel, which is an incredibly commonly used chord structure in pop music. And it's being played exactly as it was played back then. Most artists at least have the decency to mess around with the formula and make it work for them.


For comparison, here's the original.

Blues Traveler didn't change a damn thing. What kind of cookie cutter bullshit is this?

What It's Really About

Blues Traveler's brief descent into formulaic pop music was meant to protest ... formulaic pop music. When analyzed musically, "Hook" comes off as lazy, but when paired with the lyrics, its genius begins to reveal itself. Singer John Popper opens the song with the line "It doesn't matter what I say/So long as I sing with inflection," and then he proceeds to sing an entire song about how he has nothing to say, but it doesn't matter because no one's paying attention anyway. We can't help but notice that he's singing with tons of inflection, though, so that's a nice touch.

To make it even more blatant, Popper sings the line "When I'm feeling stuck and need a buck, I don't rely on luck, because the hook brings you back." That's pretty ballsy. He's not only admitting that if he needs some extra cash to add a few more harmonicas to his arsenal, all he has to do is whip out the old "Canon in D" formula that we all know so well and slap some lyrics on top, and the mindless masses will gobble it up.


It's kind of a thing.

And he was right. Maybe almost too right.

Despite the fact that the joke was on them, the general public loved it. Even though Blues Traveler put mocking lyrics on top of the oldest, most overused cliche there was, the song was the biggest selling single the band ever had.

1"99 Luftballons" by Nena

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What You Think It's About

In case you're young enough to think that "Gangnam Style" was the first foreign-language song to go huge in the West, there is actually a long tradition of hits in the "Who cares what the lyrics are saying, this song is catchy as shit!" category. In the 1980s, that song was the upbeat "99 Luftballons" from German band Nena:

The "entirely in German except for the word 'balloons'" hit was first played in the United States as almost a novelty song that you could dance your ass off to (even without a chubby Korean guy in a tux). But things took a markedly darker turn when the song was tweaked for the American audience.

What It's Really About

When "99 Luftballons" became a hit, the band went into the studio and recorded an English version called "99 Red Balloons" to capitalize on their newfound fame. Records scratched and dogs did that thing they do in movie trailers where they go "aroo??" as everyone realized that they were dancing and singing along to a bleak song about total nuclear annihilation. This was in 1983, mind you, when total nuclear annihilation was still a very real threat.

Even the balloons are bad times, as the lyrics reveal that the 99 balloons in question set off a false alarm that triggers a full-scale nuclear war. (Ha! No way would something like that happen in real life.) So what, now we have to go look up the lyrics of all of these fluffy non-English songs to find out if they're trying to slip some nightmarish shit into our brains? Is "Gangnam Style" about the last day before an asteroid hits the Earth? Does "Numa Numa" translate to "Pedophiles Pedophiles"? We're not sure we want to know.



Andy Kneis is a writer, twitterer and maker of blog-type things.

For more meanings you may have missed, check out 6 Famous Movies With Mind-Blowing Hidden Meanings and 6 Pieces of Music That Mean The Opposite of What You Think.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Mysterious Song Titles With Perfectly Stupid Explanations

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