5 Beloved Songs (That Are Secretly Horror Shows)
Somewhere out there is a person who sang "I want you to play with my ding-a-ling" as a kid and only today realized that, maybe, there was more to that song than they first thought.
So it is with a great many songs. Your reaction on learning the truth needn't be "this song is evil and must be set aside." But it sure might be, "Huh. How did I never notice this before?"
Why Is Britney Spears So Scared Of Her Boyfriend?
It's somewhat futile to try analyzing the lyrics of '90s pop songs. Most '90s pop songs were written by Swedish men in faraway board rooms, men who didn't have any special message to impart but had a good sense of what's catchy. I could sit here and try to puzzle over why one of the biggest songs of 1999 ends with the words "I never want to hear you say I want it that way, 'cause I want it that way," but that way lies madness. These songs don't actually mean anything.
So, if you were to listen to all of "Sometimes" by Britney Spears, good luck trying to sort through the contradictions and figure out exactly where she and this guy are in their relationship. Still, you don't need deep analysis to face the opening lines of the repeated chorus, which go:
Sometimes I run
Sometimes I hide
Sometimes I'm scared of you
Hold up. A song like this is supposed to be as uncomplicated and relatable as possible. Fearing and wanting to hide from your boyfriend is not normal. What is she saying? The nicest interpretation of what's going on here is, "Stop pressuring me into having sex," which ties into the persona Britney was going for (I'm told that, canonically, she is still a virgin, despite having multiple teenage children). But even that level of threat doesn't fit well into the idea of hiding in terror, and of course, all of this is paired with the brightest and bubbliest music video imaginable:
We should have been extra on edge to find trouble in this nonsensical song because this was a follow-up to what's widely considered the greatest pop release of all time, in which Britney urged her boyfriend to "hit me, baby, one more time."
Now, there's a story behind why that earlier song got those lyrics, and it goes back to the Swedish men I talked about. "Baby One More Time" was written by Max Martin, the same Swede who wrote, "I Want It That Way" (a song that makes no sense, by The Backstreet Boys' own admission). Martin thought "hit me" is American slang for "call me," the equivalent of "hit me up." The lyrics were supposed to scan as "phone me again, baby" or just "respond, please."
So, that's your musical trivia explanation for what was going on. The song isn't "really" about a domestic violence victim wanting her partner to relapse because she prefers abuse to indifference, as R&B group TLC thought it was when Martin offered them the song, and they said no way, we're not singing that.
But that doesn't answer the real question. What did we all think it meant when we heard the song? All those tween girls singing "hit me, baby," what did they think they were singing about? Bang me, baby? No -- no one ever says "hit me" when they mean "bang me" (hit this, maybe, but never "hit me"). Beat me consensually, while having already been in the process of fucking me? That's what Rolling Stone thought, calling the song "S&M-tinged," but you'd have to ignore everything else in the chorus to make that work.
Moral guardians at the time did object to the song, by the way. Not to the hitting part, but to music video Britney baring her midriff while dressed in a school uniform. Real laser-focused, those outraged parents.
Eddie Vedder Is Way Too Close To His Dead Girlfriend
The same year "Sometimes" came out, we got "Last Kiss" by Pearl Jam. You also might know the song from any of the many other versions recorded of it since the '60s. "Last Kiss" tells the story of the singer getting into a car crash that kills his girlfriend, a story that ends with these words:
I held her close, I kissed her our last kiss
I found the love that I knew I would miss
But now she's gone, even though I hold her tight
I lost my love, my life that night.
Wait, what? "I HOLD her tight"? How is he still holding her when she died on some previous night? I had to check a bunch of lyrics sites to see if maybe I was hearing wrong, and he actually held her tight, but no, they all say, "I hold her tight."
There are only two possibilities here. Either:
1) The singer means "I cherish her memory," couldn't word it in a way that exactly said that, but figured we'd get the point.
2) He actually is still clutching the corpse long after she died. Is it because he wants to kiss the corpse? No -- he already gave her their last kiss. He must be considering doing something more. Suddenly the chorus makes sense:
Oh, where oh where can my baby be?
The Lord took her away from me
She's gone to heaven, so I got to be good
So I can see my baby when I leave this world.
He has no reason to actually be confused about his baby's absence. He knows she died, in an event he'll never forget. With this chorus, he must instead be battling with the dilemma of whether his baby is the body in front of him in his basement or the departed soul in heaven -- and he keeps reminding himself she's the departed soul, but he has trouble taking this fact to heart. And he keeps telling himself he must be good, he must not sin with this corpse, but the temptation is almost too much to bear.
Does he give in to temptation? For a little while, we hear him struggle;
Oooh oohooh ah mmm
Ooooooh, oooh erm erm erm
OohOOh ... hmm ooh ooh
Ooooooh, hooh ooh ooh.
Sadly, the song ends like this:
Aw OH ohOHOHoh ...
OHHHH aw OHuhoh
uh AWWW ohohohOHHH ...
As everyone reading this article well knows, that is the sound of Eddie Vedder orgasming. His battle against his darker impulses ended in defeat. And the body he still holds tight is now anointed with pearl jam.
The Girl In The "Itsy Bitsy Bikini" Song Dies
In 2006, the AP and various news outlets reported the death of the man who wrote the song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini." This came as a big surprise to the actual songwriter, Paul Vance, who was very much still alive. It turned out that the dead man, Paul Van Valkenburgh, had falsely claimed for years that he'd written the hit, saying he'd missed out on royalties thanks to signing a bad deal. The truth (Valkenburgh had nothing to do with the song) only emerged after he died, an obit reported his lies as fact, and Vance came forward to dispute it.
None of that is really relevant to what we're talking about today. But learning about it was why I was thinking of this ridiculous song, about a girl whose new bikini is much smaller than she expected. She first delays leaving the locker room, then keeps a blanket around herself, then gets in the water and refuses to leave.
At the end of the song, she turns "blue." As a kid, I figured that meant the blue water dyed her skin. I don't know if I ever thought that's how water works, but it seemed to make sense in the world of this silly song. Only with the cynicism of adulthood and knowledge of mortality do I now realize the truth: She caught fatal hypothermia. This interpretation is backed up by Wikipedia -- arbiter of consensus, if not of fact -- and in case you assume she ends up leaving the water alive even if the song doesn't specifically mention it, the final lines disabuse you of that notion:
From the locker to the blanket,
From the blanket to the shore,
From the shore to the water
Guess there isn't any more
Music can be about death, of course, but what a strangely upbeat melody for a tale of fatal body shaming. This song also had various cover versions by children's performers, which small children are supposed to sing along with. Supposedly, the original also led to a spike in bikini sales. That feels a little odd. Sure, we can all picture '60s teens getting excited upon learning a swimsuit is risque, but "this suit will make you want to literally die rather than be seen in it" sounds like a questionable selling point.
Related: 55 Facts About The Songs Of The '60s
The Guy From "Sixteen Tons" Has A Lot Of Issues
"Sixteen Tons" is about how mining sucks. You should know that going into this. You'd have to be nuts to hear the song and not pick up on that (like, say, when G.E. used the song in their pro-coal ad featuring sexy miners). Yes, mining's not a fun job to do, and those folks up at the mining company are cruel over bosses we're all supposed to grumble about. The miner himself, meanwhile, the singer of the song, is a hero, strong and fearless. Listening to the song, you're supposed to side with him.
When I was young, we sang this song at camp. It came with such official approval that we kids had to privately make up our own naughty version, about a fat kid who owes his soul "to the grocery store." For some reason, around the campfire, we were not handed verse number three of the original song, which goes like this:
I was born one morning, it was drizzlin' rain"
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the cane brake by an old mama lion
Can't no high-toned woman make me walk the line
The verse begins much like every verse in the song does, with our miner friend explaining how incredibly badass he is, but then it takes a turn. He expresses frustration over women wanting to limit his actions. Who is this high-toned (socially or morally superior, smart) woman he meets? What rules is she setting -- are they something crazy and unreasonable like using a napkin when he eats, or maybe is it something really basic that she has the right to demand he not do? And, most perplexing of all, why does he suddenly feel the need to boast about disobeying women after an otherwise consistent song about how tough a miner he is?
The song ends on this verse:
If you see me comin' better step aside
A lot of men didn't, a lot of men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't getcha then the left one will
This verse, we did sing around the campfire, and it was our favorite part, with final lines illustrated by the swinging of little child fists. But with verse three having established the singer as worryingly insecure, these clearly false claims of having killed various men now ring hollow. Of course, the song's original claim of the singer loading 16 tons of coal the very day he was born was also probably exaggerated, but so long as this was a song of camaraderie with fellow workers, there was no need to overanalyze it. In the end, though, when it turns into out-of-nowhere death threats against you, the listener, you've got to step back and say, "Really? Are you okay, buddy?"
Listening to this now feels like an interview with a coal miner that goes off the rails. It starts with a conversation about mining as planned, then the interviewee randomly says, "You know, I hate goddamn city women," and in the end, he wants to fight you, and so it's time for you to leave.
Mary Poppins Takes The Time To Sing About How The Chimneysweep Doesn't Rape Her
Technically this is a song about someone not abusing women, but the very fact that lyrics need to go into the matter raises some issues. The tune in question is "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins. Odd job man Bert (Dick Van Dyke) has taken to drawing on the London sidewalks, Mary uses her powers to move the whole gang into one of these drawings, and music ensues. Sings Mary:
Oh, it's a jolly holiday with you, Bert
Gentlemen like you are few
Though you're just a diamond in the rough, Bert
Underneath, your blood is blue!
You'd never think of pressing your advantage
Forbearance is the hallmark of your creed
A lady needn't fear when you are near
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear!
Bert never presses his advantage, and a lady needn't fear when he is near? Well, that's good to know, but how strange that Mary considers this unexpected enough to be worth noting.
Especially in a kids' movie. Now, no kid is going to get harmed by hearing that a chimney sweep has passed his Sex Offender Registry Information (SORI) check. If you don't know what the words mean, they're not going to scar you. But usually, sex references that go over kids' heads are for parents' entertainment. We'd all understand if Mary sang something like this:
Oh, it's a jolly holiday with you, Bert
Though your face is smeared with grime
I can see your brush is very thick, Bert
You can sweep MY chimney anytime!
Because that sort of innuendo would give parents a chuckle. But what were we expected to take away from the song as written? Were we supposed to conclude that all the other chimney sweeps we see dancing in this movie pose a grave danger to Mary if they get her alone, which is why she always carries a pointy umbrella? The inevitable chimneysweep home invasion scene now comes across as much more frightening:
Actually, now that we've established that all chimney sweeps are rapists, maybe I was being too easy on Bert earlier. The song starts with him flirting with Mary, and only after an entire dance sequence does she reply with her verse. On second thought, she's not singing about trusting Bert. She's rebuffing him by passive-aggressively saying, "One thing I'm thankful for is I know you're not going to try anything with me. I feel perfectly safe with you."
Thankfully, a sudden rainfall destroys the chalk drawing and brings all the characters back to the real world, under the eyes of the London constabulary, before Bert can lash out over being friend-zoned.