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

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


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.

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.

"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

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


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


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

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why you should absolutely protest cranberry sauce.

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