Have you ever heard a band perform live and realized that they switched up some lyrics on you? It's not because the singer was too stoned to remember the right words, it's because songs frequently go through major changes, particularly when it comes time to lay the track down in the studio. Sometimes, for example, important verses get cut to be more audience-friendly, simply because they're about all-male orgies or hobo sex.
But damn, when you see these original lyrics, it puts the song in a whole new, unsettling light ...
#5. "Honky Tonk Woman" Cuts the Part About a Bisexual Orgy
In "Honky Tonk Woman," the Rolling Stones sing of hopping from woman to woman, trying to get over one lover in particular. First the singer drowns his sorrows in Memphis until a barfly drags his (unconscious?) ass upstairs. Then the action shifts to New York, where the singer hooks up with a divorcee. He resists her advances at first, but she wins him over; she blows his nose and blows his mind, and so on. It's basically Mick Jagger singing about the sexual escapades of a man who still had way less sex than Jagger did in real life:
But in one version that the Stones would perform live, the adventure continues with a third verse (sometimes it replaces the second verse):
To start with, the verse goes:
Strollin' on the boulevards of Paris
Ah, there we go. Classic sequel escalation. The third installment goes international! Now we'll presumably get to hear about the Stones entering some cafe or whorehouse for further amorous escapades.
Naked as the day that I will die
"AND be buried."
Uh ... OK. Didn't think the song was going to go with public nudity, but Europeans are more open-minded, or so we hear. And props for replacing the "as the day I was born" cliche with the image of an erect Keith Richards in the coffin. (An inaccurate image, of course; he will never die.) So, walking les rues de Paris, cock flapping in the wind, surely it's time for the singer to run into his next female love interest.
The sailors, they're so charming there in Paris
Again, unexpected. But let's not jump to conclusions. He's run into a crowd of sailors because ... maybe they're all going to hunt down some ladies together?
But they just don't seem to sail you off my mind
"Would you care to make a donation ... to the dick bowl?"
Well, that settles it. This follows the same template as the previous verses ("Cause I just can't seem to drink you off my mind"; "She blew my nose and then she blew my mind"). Having exhausted America's supply of women, the singer next seeks satisfaction by flailing nude into a pack of very confused French sailors. And even as he's being (presumably) beaten and arrested, he still can't get the Honky Tonk Woman off his mind.
#4. "Who Are You" Was Originally Pete Townshend Complaining About the Music Biz
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People who had never heard of "Who Are You" (and had barely heard of the Who at all) got to know the song as the theme for the first CSI show. The opening wasn't quite as memetic as another CSI opening, but it did all right:
In the song, the singer wakes up in a London doorway to the sight of a policeman. He drags himself into the Tube and staggers home drunkenly to his nagging wife. The song sounds like it's about a poor bum, and it is, said Pete Townshend eight years after writing it. It's about poverty and the pain of living on the streets, and a man looking to the sky and demanding of God, "Who are you?"
I stretched back and I hiccuped
And looked back on my busy day
Eleven hours in the Tin Pan
God, there's got to be another way
But that wasn't how the song started out. The song had another verse, which was considered lost until a 1996 release:
I used to check my reflection, jumping with my cheap guitar
I must have lost my direction, cause I ended up a superstar
One-nighters in the boardroom petrify the human brain
You can learn from my mistakes, but you're posing in the glass again
Huh. After sympathizing with a schmuck who works long hours and sleeps in doorways, the song suddenly explores the pains of a rocker who's mad at producers. That's kind of a shift, isn't it? Nope. Because both verses are about a single night in Pete Townshend's life.
Yeah, it's exactly what you think.
It was the middle of March in 1977. Townshend had spent months trying to hammer out royalties on the Who's American sales, and the negotiations culminated in a 14-hour meeting. The meeting succeeded, in a way: Record exec Allen Klein ended up handing over a check with a smile. But this last act set Townshend off -- he realized that he'd been arguing so hard over "a bloody check," so he blew up at the others and stormed out.
He grabbed a bottle from somewhere and then found his way to London's Speakeasy Club. Soon he was so drunk that he could barely recognize those around him, at which point he spotted two members of the Sex Pistols and approached them, on his knees. "We're FUCKING FINISHED!" he said. "It's a disaster! Rock has gone down the fucking tubes!"
He then took out his check and ripped it into pieces.
That'll ... show ... them?
We can assume his agent sent him a new copy of it the next day, but that's just about where Townshend's memory goes dark. And when he woke up, he was in a Soho doorway, a policeman looking down at him. Just like the lyrics say.
It was an experience so powerful that he just had to put it into song ... but making sure in the process to emphasize the "rugged life on the streets" part and not so much the "rock star angry about royalties" part, presumably because it's a little harder for the music-buying everyman to sympathize with the latter.
Long live the oppressed, downtrodden lifestyle of rock and roll.
#3. "White Christmas" Is About Being Stuck in California
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Since we're stuck hearing them over and over during the six-month holiday season, it's surprising how many Christmas songs we really don't know the words to. There are like half a dozen carols that use their first line as the title, and for most of them, we couldn't sing the second line for you (forget about the whole thing). Other songs, like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," we'd swear we know, but then some smartass busts out seven extra verses and bridges.
Then there's "White Christmas." It's not just the best-selling Christmas song of all time -- it's the best-selling song of any kind. Bing Crosby's version first popped up in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn, where he sings it during an actual white Christmas. You've probably heard the song during some white Christmas of your own. Any time you see it on TV, the network usually helpfully provides a stock background of a white Christmas.
But if you think about it for more than a few seconds, that makes absolutely no sense. The song is about someone dreaming of a white Christmas. So it can play during a pre-Christmas scene when it's snowing. It can play at Christmas when it's not snowing. But you shouldn't associate it with an actual snowy Christmas scene, unless the singer is spectacularly bad at dreaming.
Well, as it turns out, composer Irving Berlin had a very different scene in mind when he wrote the song. Unsurprisingly, Holiday Inn was filmed in Los Angeles on the Paramount Studios backlot. Berlin was staying at a bungalow at a Beverly Hills hotel, and when the California heat hit him, he thought about how uninspiring an environment this was for trying to write a Christmas scene.
So, he wrote the following lyrics:
The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, LA
But it's December the 24th
And I am longing to be up North
The original was called "This Town Can Lick My Asshole."
That became the opening verse of "White Christmas." The whole song, in which the singer fantasizes about snowy trees and sleigh bells, is actually a depressed complaint from someone stuck in La La Land for the holiday. The opening lines didn't make it into the Bing Crosby version, but various artists shriek them out in their covers: