Writing a song is hard -- it’s gotta be poetry that people can dance and sing along to, or your label will drop you and you’ll be relegated to the one-hit wonder graveyard. As a result, a lot of people never stop dancing long enough to really listen to a song, or its meaning is intentionally obscured because it’s too much of a downer to make you boogie. We’ll tell you one thing: Lord Byron never had to deal with this.

“I Shot the Sheriff”

Bob Marley

(Ueli Frey/Wikimedia Commons)

A 2012 documentary revealed that lyrics like “Sheriff John Brown always hated me, for what, I don’t know/Every time I plant a seed, he said ‘Kill it before it grows’” referred to the doctor who prescribed birth control pills to Bob Marley’s girlfriend at the time, to Marley’s disapproval. He ended up having 11 children with various women, so that’s just greedy.

“Ticket to Ride”

Beatles

(Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

It sounds like a typical breakup song, and it pretty much is, but “Ticket to Ride” has two fairly immature double meanings, depending on which Beatle you asked. Paul McCartney thought they were talking about literally taking a train to a town named Ryde on the Isle of Wight, while John Lennon was writing about the health records carried by Hamburgian sex workers. Those guys really needed to communicate more.

“Jolene”

Jolene wasn’t the name of a woman trying to take Dolly Parton’s man but an eight-year-old girl. Parton signed an autograph for her at a concert and thought she had such “beautiful red hair, this beautiful skin, these beautiful green eyes” and her name was so pretty that she decided to write a song about… a homewrecking skank.

“Pretty in Pink”

The fact that it was made famous by a movie whose plot hinges on a pink dress obscures the real meaning of pinkness in the song, which is nakedness. It’s about a few frequently naked, i.e. slutty, women known by the Psychedelic Furs’s Richard Butler, mashed into an amalgamation whose sluttiness “makes her feel empowered somehow and popular, and in fact, the people that she's sleeping with are laughing about her behind her back and talking about her.”

“Summer of ‘69”

Bryan Adams

(A&M/YouTube)

The summer of 1969 was presumably romantically unexciting for Bryan Adams, who would have been nine years old, which is your first clue that the song isn’t about the year. It might have been initially, when the phrase was included as a throwaway line, but then Adams added “Me and my baby in a 69” at the end of the song and thought it was so funny that he started telling everyone it was about “making love a la 69,” so now you know he’s the kind of guy who says things like that.

“Born in the U.S.A.”

No matter how badly political rally organizers want it to be true, “Born in the U.S.A.” is not about how awesome it is to be American, which is obvious if you listen to any part of it that isn’t the words “Born in the U.S.A.” It’s about a Vietnam veteran who returns home to find himself unemployable and homeless, so maybe not something you want to bring up, politicians.

“All Star”

Smash Mouth

(Interscope/YouTube)

Why is the ice we skate getting so thin? Climate change. While Smash Mouth intended to write the song mostly as a message to fans who got rightfully bullied for being so into Smash Mouth, some clairvoyant spirit took control of their bodies and lines like “It’s a cool place and they say it gets colder/You’re bundled up now, wait ‘til you get older” sneaked in there. Feel free to comb the Smash Mouth catalog for other potential harbingers of doom.

Top image: Interscope/YouTube

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