5 Classic Songs That Were Originally Creepy as Hell
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.
"Respect" Was About a Man Giving His Wife Permission to Screw Around
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
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.
"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.
"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.
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
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.
"Yellow Rose of Texas" Was About an Interracial Couple
The Famous Version:
"The Yellow Rose of Texas" is a 150-year-old folk song that Texans like to sing because the word "Texas" is repeated several times. It's a fairly antiseptic love song about a guy who met a pretty girl in Texas and is on his way back there to see her again, presumably to talk her out of rooting for the Cowboys:
One famous version is the above duet, by country stars Lane Brody and Johnny Lee, though there are literally hundreds of recordings out there, because "public domain" is the entertainment industry's favorite phrase.
This gentle folk ballad was one of the first odes to interracial love ever recorded. See, "Yellow Rose" wasn't always just a cutesy nickname to describe a Southern belle. It was originally a literal description of her skin, as the girl was biracial, which at the time was also known as being "high yellow," because old-timey racism was unspeakably strange. The song made her non-whiteness perfectly clear, as well as, incidentally, the non-whiteness of the song's narrator:
There's a yellow rose in Texas that I am going to see
No other darky knows her, no darky only me
And the spirited chorus:
She's the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew
"Sweetest rose of color" was eventually changed to "sweetest little rosebud," once the 1880s rolled around and everyone decided that a song about a mixed-race girl simply would not do. The even dustier epithet "darky" was changed to "soldier," because they couldn't very well make the Texas flower white and leave her gentlemen suitor a black man.
The song was allegedly inspired by a woman named Emily West (or Morgan, depending on who's telling the story), a beautiful mixed-race woman who helped Texas win independence by distracting Santa Anna with her feminine wiles and allowing Sam Houston's soldiers to absolutely blow through the Mexicans. (This story may or may not actually be true, considering no official records place anyone fitting that description anywhere near the battlefield.) The radical absence of white people in "Yellow Rose of Texas" has long since been edited out, because while the south has no problem using minorities to gain a competitive advantage, they'll be damned if they're going to sing about them.
"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" Was About a Man Trolling for Strange
The Famous Version:
Cyndi Lauper's 1983 smash "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" is almost as powerful a feminist statement as "Respect" and easily just as formidable a karaoke selection:
The lyrics make it unmistakably clear that she and every other strong, free-spirited woman out there has the right to rage against the social norms and do whatever she wants, up to and including spending uncomfortable amounts of time with Captain Lou Albano.
Surprisingly, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was written and recorded several years earlier by Philadelphia musician Robert Hazard, and it was every bit as complementary to the women's lib movement as Robin Thicke's collection of deep V-necks.
For the most part, Hazard's lyrics are the same as Lauper's, but the phrase “girls want to have fun” totally changes when the singer's not referring to herself but is rather a guy referring to girls in the third person. Lauper's definition of "fun" is ambiguous enough that it could be anything from sex to an all-night pizza party, and, more importantly, she's the one deciding. Hazard's version says that girls just want to have “fun” with him.
Come home with the morning light
My mother says, "My boy, you've got to start living right"
Don't worry, mother dear, you're still number one
But girls just want to have fun
These girls just want to have fun
"I'm trying to come home and go to sleep, mom," Hazard seems to be saying, "but you know how much these girls love my penis." Those fun-loving girls will be the death of him, but there is no nobler way to shuffle loose this mortal coil than having indiscriminate sex with multiple partners. The song isn't about girls having fun so much as it is about Robert Hazard having fun, and yet he didn't call it “boys just wanna have fun." It's his slimy observation about the opposite sex, not a personal empowerment anthem.
If you're still not convinced of Hazard's dubious intent, here is a bridge that Lauper didn't even bother trying to rewrite and include in her version:
I know your love for him is deep as the day's long
I know you'd never be the thing to do him wrong
But when I knock on the door, I'm close now, you'd better come
It really wasn't important. Because girls just want to have fun
Basically, "I know you have a boyfriend and you don't want to hurt his feelings, but that's all bullshit. What you really want is to drop everything and have sex with me whenever I decide to troll up to your apartment." Also, we cannot stress enough how sinister the line "But when I knock on the door, I'm close now, you'd better come" sounds. That's like something you call and tell the babysitter when you are the murderer in a campfire story.
Lauper understandably referred to Hazard's original composition as that "which we do not speak (of) lest we go blind," and made the necessary changes to the lyrics to turn the song into a massive Grammy-winning hit. Meanwhile, the appropriately named Hazard shriveled into obscurity.
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