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Music tends to be a "names changed to protect the innocent" kind of business. That's why it's so easy to miss that some of the most famous songs in history were written as direct insults to actual people. The following songs take on a whole new meaning once you realize ...

6
"Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" Is About Steven Tyler Hitting on Vince Neil

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We know what you're thinking -- what's insulting about this song? It's Steven Tyler's tender ode to a cross-dressing paramour. Good for him for being so open about it in the notoriously close-minded and forbidding mid-'80s, when such things were still taboo even though every damn dude on MTV looked like a woman.

And that's exactly how the confusion started.

SGranitz / WireImage / Getty
Tyler was actually the third manliest musician on TV during the '80s.

The story goes that Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were hitting the bars in their pre-sobriety days, so let the meaning of that "Cruising to a bar on the shore" line be a mystery no longer. During their night out, Tyler spotted a beautiful woman and, even though she was facing away from him, fell instantly in love. He was getting all set to lay his swollen-rodent charm on her when she turned around and ... she wasn't a she at all, but famously pretty Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil.

Hanging out with the band after the incident and listening to their limited vocabulary gave Tyler the inspiration he needed to put words to the hook that had been knocking around in his head, which became the familiar "That, that, dude looks like a lady!"

Larry Marano / Hulton / Getty
OK, yeah. We get it.

Neil was so embarrassed about it that he denied the story for years, claiming it was about a night with Tyler at a drag bar, because that's way less embarrassing. He eventually came clean, though, admitting in his autobiography that, yeah, Steven Tyler wanted that ass.

Let us be thankful that the only result of this mix-up was one of Aerosmith's less terrible late-era songs and not one of those sex tapes that Vince Neil used to be so fond of making.

Ebet Roberts / Redferns / Getty
Incredibly, this is not a screengrab from one of those tapes.

5
The Only Feel-Good Oasis Song Is About Kurt Cobain's Depression

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Back in the halcyon days of the '90s, when misery was in and hygiene was decidedly out, appropriately named Oasis had one of their first hits with the uncharacteristically positive "Live Forever." It was a refreshing departure from the otherwise angst-ridden airwaves, with lyrics about the joy of living, picking yourself up, finding meaning, and "just want[ing] to fly."

Jeff Fusco / Getty
An urge well-known to most people born in the United Kingdom.

Of course, if you're at all familiar with the bratty, foul-mouthed antics of the fraternal backbone of Oasis, Liam and Noel Gallagher, you know it's also quite a departure from their usual brand of surliness, so there had to be a catch.

Indeed, Noel had taken an issue with this douchebag who was making quite a name for himself with his dirty, pessimistic little songs -- Kurt Cobain, maybe you've heard of him? In an impressive display of completely misunderstanding what depression is and how it works, Noel decided that Kurt was taking his incredible success and life in general for granted. After all, Noel had less than he did, and he was still happy to wake up every day, so what was this asshole's problem? He wrote the song in 1991 as a way of telling Cobain, "Hey, life is pretty cool, buck the fuck up."

KMazur / WireImage / Getty
"How can a man with sweaters so large be so sad?"

Obviously it didn't work, which could be blamed on a few different factors. For one, having a Gallagher brother tell you to stop being so grumpy is like the comic Gallagher telling you to stop being so rough with fruit (or to stop being racist). It's easy to see how someone might blow off a "Do as I say, not as I do" suggestion like that one.

Possibly playing a larger role in the communication breakdown that kept Noel Gallagher's life-saving advice from reaching its intended target (Kurt Cobain's head) was the fact that by the time the song was released it was August 1994, which eagle-eyed readers will note is the year that Kurt's suffocating depression (or wife) finally did him in. Probably would have been better to have just sent him a letter or something.

Dave Hogan / Getty
If only they'd trained the pigeons living in Liam's hair to drop Prozac.

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4
John Lennon and Paul McCartney Secretly Taunted Each Other on Record

David Redfern / Redferns / Getty

You might not be aware of it, but after the breakup of the Beatles, the relationship between John Lennon and Paul McCartney was a teensy bit strained. When Lennon heard a new McCartney song called "Too Many People," in which he reeled off a laundry list of complaints that included "too many people preaching practices," he was primed to overreact a little to what he rightly assessed as a suggestion that maybe he and his wife were a touch overzealous with the enlightened bullshit. And that's exactly what he did with the aptly titled "How Do You Sleep?"

Mark and Colleen Hayward / Hulton / Getty
In reality, both men slept on piles of money so large that they outweighed several island nations.

Lennon kicked McCartney where he knew it would hurt the most: right in the talent. He informed his former songwriting partner that "all you done was yesterday," a sly reference to the classic Beatles hit, and called his new sound "Muzak to my ears," while calling McCartney himself a narcissistic mama's boy who surrounds himself with yes-men. He even goes so far as to pronounce McCartney's solo career DOA, saying "those freaks was right when they said you was dead," referring to the conspiracy theory that McCartney had died and been replaced by a lookalike in the Beatles' heyday. It's as vicious as a hippie is allowed to get without being politely but firmly asked to leave the commune.

While McCartney has always denied it, it was rumored that he hit back with "Let Me Roll It," whose Lennon-like sound gave listeners suspicion that McCartney was parodying his style. McCartney isn't exactly above such things: The Beatles classic "Helter Skelter" was written after being underwhelmed by the hype surrounding the groundbreaking, eardrum-rupturing sound of the Who, and deciding that he could do it better.

Michael Ochs / Stringer / Getty
"I had worse hair than any of them."

Lennon was no stranger to slipping personal attacks into Beatles songs, either: "Baby You're a Rich Man" was a mocking tribute to manager Brian Epstein, and at one point in the song, Lennon slurs "Baby, you're a rich fag Jew" over the chorus, possibly to take the heat off the rumors that he and Epstein had been having an affair. Lover's quarrel or homophobic, anti-Semitic douchebaggery? It doesn't really matter, we already knew Lennon was a huge asshole.

3
Justin Timberlake Got Sassy With Prince on a Timbaland Song

Gustavo Caballero / Getty

Timbaland's 2007 hate anthem "Give It to Me" is just a mess of insults splattered all over the industry's faces, with digs rumored to be aimed at Fergie, Janet Jackson, and producer Scott Storch, who you almost certainly don't remember as that record producer who rose to fame in the middle part of the last decade despite his staunch refusal to stop wearing those obnoxious sunglasses.

Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
He must have big ol' bulbous mantis eyes under that.

By far the most interesting insult, however, is Justin Timberlake's shot at the only man hot enough to make paisley look sensual: Prince. To be fair, Prince totally started it. During his set at a 2006 Emmy Awards afterparty, he made the seemingly-out-of-nowhere statement, "For whoever is claiming that they are bringing sexy back, sexy never left!"

Timberlake is staunchly close-lipped about the subjects of his cattier songs, still refusing to admit that "Cry Me a River" was about Britney Spears, even though everyone's grandmother knows it is. Nevertheless, he almost certainly shot back in his verse on Timbaland's track, posing the elegant and certainly valid question, "If sexy never left, then why's everybody on my shit?" Why, indeed.

Gustavo Caballero / Getty
No, seriously. Someone please tell us why.

He makes another good point that Prince isn't exactly blistering up the charts these days. Not only is that true, but in a delicious case of karmic justice, Prince hasn't had a Hot 100 single since the year he made that apparently unprovoked attack. We'd be shocked if you can name it without Googling.

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2
Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" Is an Accurate Warning About the Dangers of Andy Warhol

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A lot of Bob Dylan lyrics sound like pure gibberish if listened to at normal speed. When science is able to isolate those lyrics and slow them down enough to make each individual word audible, though, they often reveal themselves to still be pure gibberish.

Douglas R. Gilbert / Redferns / Getty
No, Bob Dylan, you're blowin' in the wind.

There are exceptions, of course. Take the super classic "Like a Rolling Stone," for example. Its lyrics about falling from grace, the people you meet on the way down, and "scrounging for your next meal" are soberingly relatable to anyone who's ever found themselves down on hard times. Unless you count slow record sales in the '80s, you can probably leave Bob Dylan out of that group. Similarly, for the people the song was written about, at least back then, times were anything but hard.

If for some reason descriptors like "Napoleon in rags" who "carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat" didn't make it perfectly clear, the object of Bob Dylan's folk rock rage is legendary artist and weirdo Andy Warhol.

Peter Zeliznak
Pictured here, as a statue.

Dylan had taken up with famous Warhol "it girl" Edie Sedgwick and took exception to the way she was being treated by the white-haired oddball and his various sycophants and used what would go on to be one of his most famous songs to call Warhol out. The narrative of an upper-class girl falling from high society into destitution was Dylan's warning to Sedgwick about what would become of her if she didn't get away from Warhol.

Tragically, Dylan's predictions came true for poor Sedgwick: Having pissed away her trust fund impressing her friends and getting herself a nice, shiny drug habit, she died broke and alone five years later. She'd been reduced to stealing and selling family heirlooms to buy drugs, perhaps having taken Dylan's lyrical advice to "take your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it, babe," a bit too far.

Hulton Archive / Getty
This all ties nicely into our theory that Andy Warhol is the father of lies.

1
Endless Hate Songs Are Actually About Courtney Love

Ebet Roberts / Redferns / Getty

Courtney Love has pissed off more hitmakers over the years than Napster and STD screenings combined.

It started in 1995 with Dave Grohl, ex-drummer for Nirvana, when his new band Foo Fighters released "I'll Stick Around," venting bitterly, "How could it be I'm the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity?" Grohl apparently spent the next five years nursing his hatred, coming back with 2000's "Stacked Actors," calling her "a wonderful liar" and "just another aging drag queen," among many, many vicious insults.

Monica Schipper / FilmMagic / Getty
The worst being "You are Courtney Love."

While Grohl won't come right out and say who his shots are aimed at, he's just dying to imply it as much as possible, and Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins has no problem speculating, "I'm sure there's a little bit of her in there. She needn't be too vain, it's not all about her." Just in case he hadn't made his feelings known, he makes sure to point out, "She's fucked. For millions of reasons ... Dave would never fully admit it to you, but I know."

The Courtney Love hate got passed around like, well, Courtney Love in the ensuing years, first to ex-lover Trent Reznor and then to old drug buddy Scott Weiland. Later in 2000, Reznor wrote "Starfuckers, Inc.," a song about exactly what it sounds like, with Love and former protege Marilyn Manson in mind. Manson, having just come off a nightmarish tour with Love that ended when she abruptly walked out on it, decided to get in on the fun, co-starring in the music video that features an obese woman with a bandage over her nose (obvious references to the plastic surgery and weight loss that accompanied Love's Hollywood makeover) dressed unmistakably similar to Love in Hole's "Miss World" video, suspended over a carnival dunk tank marked "Waste" ... in which she is eventually drowned.


Marilyn Manson, Emperor of Subtlety.

For his part, Weiland wrote a song for Stone Temple Pilots' 2001 album, Shangri-La Dee Da, called "Too Cool Queenie," about a woman who criticizes her rock star husband literally to death. He spells it out for us in his autobiography, just in case we thought it might be about that other famous lady rocker whose iconic husband committed suicide.

The final blow came from, of all people, Gwen Stefani, in 2004. Apparently she took offense to some comments Love had made about the music business being like a high school, calling Stefani "the cheerleader" to her smoking-shed rebel. Mad as hell that Love would dare to imply she was cute and popular, Stefani wrote "Hollaback Girl" in a mocking call-and-response style. Its challenges didn't exactly shatter her stereotype, though: "I heard that you were talking shit, and you didn't think that I would hear it ... So I'm ready to attack, gonna lead the pack, gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out."

John Shearer / WireImage / Getty
Gonna wear a bonnet that makes me look like a scary-ass governess from 1887.

Nice try, but we're pretty sure she's heard worse, Gwen.


You can read more from Amanda at Mannafesto or follow her on Twitter. She would like to thank Kathy Benjamin for the Justin Timberlake suggestion.

Related Reading: Speaking of hidden meanings, these songs all have lost verses that completely change their interpretation. You probably didn't know 'Honky Tonk Woman' included references to a bisexual orgy. And you ALSO probably didn't know that Axl Rose recorded himself having sex for the song 'Rocket Queen'. If you found all that shocking, this article about famous songs written by the last person you'd expect should hit the spot.

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