5 Insane Lost Verses That Change the Meaning of Famous Songs
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 ...
"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.
"Who Are You" Was Originally Pete Townshend Complaining About the Music Biz
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.
"White Christmas" Is About Being Stuck in California
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:
Elton John's "Daniel" Was a Blind Vietnam Vet
It's been said (by us, right now) that 90 percent of all popular music is about love and sex. Take any random song and it's a fair bet that the singer has someone or wants someone or lost someone. And if the song title is someone's name, the odds are even better. Who are "Roxanne," "Carrie Anne," "Barbara Ann"? We don't know ... but we have a pretty good guess.
The bet gets a little less sure when the title's a man's name and the singer's male. When "Louie, Louie" came out, while people were sure there was something dirty about it, they didn't picture a threesome between the singer, Louie, and Louie. But when the singer's gay, like people assumed Elton John was long before he came out, then sure. The song can be a love song from one man to another. So "Daniel," Elton John's song about ... someone named Daniel, leaving on a plane? Various people have speculated that it's a love song. And although the lyrics explicitly refer to Daniel as the singer's brother, that's not enough to push some off their pet theory.
No, this isn't weird at all. This is just how brothers bond.
The song's real meaning was made clear in a lost final verse, which writer Bernie Taupin says he cut because the song was too long. Daniel isn't just the singer's older brother, like the known lyrics say. He's the singer's blind brother -- the line "Your eyes have died/But you see more than I" is supposed to be literal. And he's blind because he lost his sight fighting in Vietnam. In the song, Daniel goes back to Texas after being in Vietnam and then gets a bunch of attention, both positive and negative. He says, "To hell with it," and he leaves for a place where no one knows he's a hero. Spain -- because "Spain" rhymes with "plane."
We can't share the extra verse's actual lyrics with you because they haven't been written down publicly anywhere, but we can only assume that they involve Daniel getting harassed by a local police force and having to go on a murderous rampage.
Note to self: Driving is no longer your strong suit.
"The Big Rock Candy Mountain" Is About Gay Hobo Sex
Whatever the mystery or controversy behind most of these songs, at least they're meant to be enjoyed by adults, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. But songs written as far back as "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" tend to morph into nursery rhymes over time, until they're sung almost exclusively by or for children.
The song's best-known version tells of a magical place. There, peppermints grow on trees. Lemonade flows in streams. The very ground is made of candy. The song is saccharine and cloying and various other adjectives that unintentionally riff on the song's lyrics. Yet in its earliest form, the song's extra words render it a lot darker, on several levels. Let's start with the milder bits, shall we?
Listen to the opening verse, as sung by its writer, Harry McClintock, in 1928:
One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fire was burning
Down the track came a hobo hiking and he said, "Boy, I'm not turning
I'm headin' for a land that's far away beside the crystal fountains
So come with me we'll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
The magical story in the song is narrated by a hobo to a boy. The description of an ideal land is a hobo's tale of his destination. And this ideal land is a bit different in the original. It's not a place delicious to 21st century children. It's a place perfect for 20th century hobos. The "peppermint trees" are, in the original song, "cigarette trees." The lakes of "gold" and "silver" originally hold "stew" and "whiskey." Cops have wooden legs on the Big Rock Candy Mountain because that keeps them from catching hobos. The jails are made of tin so you can break right out of them. The railway guards are blind, so you can sneak aboard and sleep whenever you like.
And free trashcan fires for everyone!
But you're probably now most shocked by one thing: Why haven't we mocked the creepy subtext of a hobo trying to lure away a boy? The reason: It's not subtext. The song has a final verse, one that's rarely sung, perhaps never recorded, and only shared by McClintock to prove a copyright claim. In the verse, the boy (the "punk") responds to the hobo (the "jocker"). Books from the era censor the exchange with a string of asterisks. It goes:
The punk rolled up his big blue eyes and said to the jocker, "Sandy
I've hiked and hitched and wandered too, but I ain't seen any candy
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore, I'll be god damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore on the Big Rock Candy Mountains."
Yes, the hobo spins his tale hoping that the boy will follow and he can sodomize him. Tramps regularly tried to seduce youngsters with such "ghost stories," and this song parodies them or is an outright "homosexual tramp serenade." McClintock based it on his actual experiences. He said that while on the road, "There were times when I fought like a wildcat or ran like a deer to protect my independence and my virginity."
Yeah, we're not sleeping tonight, either.
We'd end this on a joke about the hobo's "big rock candy" penis or something, but that wouldn't be a joke. That's the actual song.
Menezes broke down and got himself a Twitter page. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Related Reading: Curious about the true stories behind your favorite songs? This article includes the incredible story of how the Beach Boys plagiarized Charles Manson. And if stolen music is in your wheelhouse, this list of song-stealing musicians should be everything you've ever dreamed of. And why stop the disillusionment there? Did you know Radiohead hated the song Creep? And they aren't the only musicians to despise their most iconic songs.