We get furious at Hollywood for cranking out endless adaptations and reboots of old stories, but famous musicians do it almost as much -- with the right combination of talent, production, and MC Hammer, any moldy old song can become a brand-new hit. However, some George Lucas-style wizardry is occasionally called upon to "update" the lyrics, because the words of those forgotten originals are routinely bizarre, racist, and/or totally insane.
#5. "Respect" Was About a Man Giving His Wife Permission to Screw Around
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The Famous Version:
Undoubtedly Aretha Franklin's most famous song and a staple of children's movie montages for decades, "Respect" tells the story of a woman who simply wants respect as both a mate and as a human being:
The track became a rallying cry for feminists everywhere -- a strong woman not just asking for respect but demanding it.
"Respect" was written and initially recorded by soul legend Otis Redding, whom you may recognize as being neither a woman nor particularly a feminist. The song is an object lesson on how minor changes and context make all the difference in the world:
So where Franklin is belting out a powerful anthem for underappreciated women everywhere, Redding's version is about a world-weary road musician telling his kept wife that she is absolutely free to have sex with whomever she wishes, so long as she doesn't do it while he's at home. Check out the differences -- in Franklin's version, she sings:
I ain't gonna do you wrong while you're gone
Ain't gonna do you wrong 'cause I don't wanna
All I'm askin'
Is for a little respect when you come home
That's pretty straightforward -- she is trustworthy and loyal and deserves to be treated as an equal. Redding, however, could give a howling monkey shit what his lady does while he's playing gigs out on the road, so long as she knows that she'd better shoo any and all gentlemen callers out of the door before his Cadillac hits the driveway:
Do me wrong, honey if you wanna
You can do me wrong, honey while I am gone
But all I'm asking for
Is for a little respect when I come home
Plus, we're guessing he meant this as a reciprocal arrangement.
No ambiguity here: Redding is encouraging his lady to screw around while he's gone -- she just needs to make sure he doesn't find a strange cufflink on his nightstand when he gets back. It's vaguely sexist (Redding says, "I am about to give you all my money, all I'm asking for is a little respect when I come home"), but even worse, it paints him as such a desperately broken man that he is willing to let this person walk all over him. This is a little different from the message of self-empowerment that Franklin wanted to send, so the lyrics were (appropriately) changed.
#4. "Shake, Rattle and Roll" Was About Raunchy Table Sex
The Famous Version:
Bill Haley & His Comets became one of the first rock 'n' roll superstars as a result of their iconic recording "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which, like every popular song of the day, was either about an unjustly aloof girl or the abstract concept of rocking, depending on what verse you were listening to.
Like the majority of early rock songs, "Shake Rattle and Roll" was a cover, because apparently there were only, like, five guys writing songs back then. The original artist, Big Joe Turner, recorded a decidedly different vision of the song, with lyrics that make it absolutely clear that he is singing about house-quaking thunder sex.
You see, "shake, rattle, and roll" was a euphemism for fucking, much like "rock 'n' roll" and "leave it to Beaver." Haley and Turner's versions are both about sending their lady to the kitchen to rattle some pots and pans. But while Haley was 100 percent concerned with breakfast, Turner was talking about having a poetic sexcapade next to the toaster:
Well, you wear those dresses
The sun comes shining through
I can't believe my eyes all that mess belongs to you
Truly, there's nothing a woman appreciates more than having her figure referred to as a mess. The silver-tongued bard continues:
I said, over the hill and way down underneath
You make me roll my eyes baby, make me grit my teeth
Yep, Big Joe is totally singing about ejaculating in one of several places on his girl's body, though whether it's "over the hill" or "way down underneath," we cannot be certain.
I'm like a one-eyed cat, peepin' in a seafood store
Oh, OK. That's where. Shockingly, Haley's version left that line intact, despite the fact that it is easily the most graphically sexual statement in the pantheon of 1950s pop songs. However, because Haley's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" is absolutely literal, we assume he thought Big Joe was talking about a half-blind cat wandering into a Red Lobster.
#3. "Maniac" Was About a Serial Killer
The Famous Version:
1983's "Maniac," the cornerstone of the Flashdance soundtrack, told the uplifting story of a girl who danced really, really hard with a 1980s perm and Jazzercise socks, because she expressed herself through aerobic exercise and didn't care whether or not you could handle her realness:
Now it may strike you as odd that the lead single from a movie about a dancer should be called "Maniac" and not "Dancer" or something like that. That's because songwriters Dennis Matkosky and Michael Sembello originally wrote the song about an actual maniac -- as in, a person who murders other people for terrifyingly little reason.
"How's your fava beans and Chianti?"
You see, Matkosky and Sembello had been hired to pen songs for Flashdance, but sat down to watch television instead, because it's hard to write dance music when you just aren't in the mood. Matkosky happened to catch a news report about a guy who had killed a bunch of people and buried them in his yard, and was suddenly struck with a lightning bolt of divine inspiration. He quickly whipped up some lyrics that would eventually become "Maniac," although this early draft was noticeably different:
She's a maniac, maniac on the floor
And she's dancing like she's never danced before
He's a maniac, maniac, he just moved next door
He'll kill your cat and nail it to the floor
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"My beautiful hardwood? He is a maniac!"
He showed his work to Sembello, and the two wrote the entire song right there as a goof, virtually identical to the version we all know, except of course for the lyrics about haunting madness and gleeful animal cruelty. Even the music was written with a crazy person in mind, with Sembello and Matkosky crafting the bridge to sound like "how an insane person would play 'Chopsticks.'"
Unfortunately for all of us, they never recorded this version of the song, as record company honcho Phil Ramone declared he liked the song but wanted them to change the lyrics to be more Flashdancey so it could be used in the movie. So they rewrote the lyrics, because jokes are fine but money is money.