A few months ago, I wrote a couple of columns about artists who changed lyrics to the songs they covered. Some made the songs better, others the exact opposite of that. But did you know that sometimes artists change their own lyrics before recording a final version?
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"No, I just assumed all lyrics stayed exactly the same from the moment they were scribbled on a napkin up until the second
they pushed "record" in the studio. What is wrong with you?"
Sorry. You're right. That was a stupid question. Of course you knew that. Lyrics do go through some changes from the time they start out to the time they're finalized. But sometimes those changes are fun and notable. How many times? Five. Exactly five times. Here are five interesting examples of lyric changes in classic rock songs. Commit them to memory and whip them out the next time you're listening to an actual classic rock radio station instead of your Spotify playlist. So never. You'll never do it. Maybe you can tell these to your dad so the two of you can bond for the first time in years since you grew up to be the kind of miserable little shit who reads facts from the Internet on your smartphone while taking a dump.
Before Billy Joel was famous for crashing his car into houses or not starting the fire, he was famous for marrying the hottest woman of the '80s. But before that, he was famous for being the Piano Man. But after the Piano Man and before the Christie Brinkley thing, he had a popular song called "Honesty."
But this heartfelt piano ditty wasn't always so sentimental. Billy Joel, like most songwriters who aren't Elton John (who has his lyrics handed to him), starts with the music before adding words. The story goes that while "Honesty" was still in the music phase, its working title was "Sodomy."
Published lyric: "Honesty is such a lonely word."
Original lyric: "Sodomy. It's such a lonely world."
Apparently, longtime Joel drummer Liberty DeVito came up with the original lyrics as a way of motivating Joel to write proper lyrics to replace the completely inappropriate ones. Liberty would sing into Joel's headphones every time they rehearsed the music. Well done, Liberty. And congrats also on "We Shitn't Fart the Fire," "Still Cock 'n' Balls to Me," and "Only the Good Die Blow Job."
Boy, I bet you think this is an entry about how the Beatles song "With a Little Help From My Friends" used to have different lyrics. I mean, that's totally understandable. After all, "With a Little Help From His Friends" is in the title of this entry, and Paul McCartney was a member of the Beatles. I get it. But you're forgetting one thing: I'm not very good at titling things. Oh, and I'm an asshole. This entry is actually about the Beatles song "I Saw Her Standing There."
Anyway, even though John Lennon and Paul McCartney are one of the most successful songwriting teams in the history of music, they actually didn't collaborate that much. Instead, they usually wrote their songs separately and published them under both names. Isn't that sweet? The great Lennon/McCartney song "Yesterday" is all McCartney, and the super awesome Lennon/McCartney song "I Am the Walrus" is all Lennon. But although "I Saw Her Standing There" was mostly a McCartney song, Lennon did make one significant contribution.
Published lyric: "She was just 17. You know what I mean."
Original lyric: "She was just 17. Never been a beauty queen."
Apparently, when Lennon heard the original lyrics, he laughed and told McCartney they were awful, leading to the much more pedo-y rewrite you know today!
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"Hey, 17 is legal!"
Did you ever see the '60s classic The Graduate? No? You really should. It's an absolutely fantastic film. Sort of like Garden State, but without all the things that suck.
Like Zach Braff trying to be profound. Good luck searching the abyss, dude.
Anyway, The Graduate tells the story of the unhappily married, middle-aged Mrs. Robinson and her seduction of a young college graduate. Director Mike Nichols had asked Paul Simon to write three original songs for the movie. He did not. But he was goofing around with a song that had nonsense lyrics that sometimes included "Mrs. Robinson" and other times "Mrs. Roosevelt." I've seen various versions of the story, but essentially, desperate for music, Nichols pretty much said close enough and told Simon to nix the Roosevelt part.
Published lyric: "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson."
Original lyric: "Here's to you, Mrs. Roosevelt."
Seems like people like to hate on John Lennon these days. After 30 years of revering him as a saint, society is finally ready to take a dump all over this musician for not being the Christ-like figure that only desperate, weak-minded people needed him to be in the first place. Good job, society!
Anyway, anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the Beatles and Lennon knows that he was a bit of a dabbler. In addition to drugs, he experimented with Indian philosophy, civil protest, EST therapy, and new age philosophies about finding inner peace through trance or hypnoid states -- which is what the book Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston is partially about.
Lennon's 1973 hit "Mind Games" had been around since the Beatles' Let It Be sessions, but the lyrics were a bit different then. Resurrecting the song in 1973, Lennon replaced his former hippie rhetoric with his new psychological influences.
Published lyric: "We're playin' those mind games together. Pushin' the barriers, plantin' seeds"
Original lyric: "I want you to make love, not war. I know you've heard it before."
But just in case you were jonesing for the old lyrics, you can hear Lennon singing them just as the song fades out or check out the original demo.
People used to call the Clash "the only band that matters." Today, some of those people are old, and others are dead. But if you try hard enough, you can find them, and if you poke them with a stick, they'll say some angry things about what's happened to the music business.
"The suits took over, man!"
Anyway, the Clash was a great and important band, even if too many sought to place them on an impossibly high pedestal in the '70s and '80s. And in 1977, they released a classic anti-American diatribe with "I'm So Bored With the USA." Except the song didn't start off political at all.
Published lyric: "I'm so bored with the USA."
Original lyric: "I'm so bored with you."
See, there were two sides to the Clash: Mick Jones, who was more into being a pop-singing rock star and went on to record "Rush" with his band Big Audio Dynamite, and Joe Strummer, who was much more of the political punk. Apparently Jones played Strummer a song about his on-again, off-again relationship with his girlfriend called "I'm So Bored With You," and Strummer misheard him before adding a bunch of America-hating lyrics.
It's a little hard to believe. "Oh, yeah, I must have misheard you, buddy. Um, anyhoo, just wrote a bunch of additional lyrics totally more in the style of the songs I care about rather than your crap because I, um, misheard you."
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For more musical knowledge bombs, check out 19 Secret Inspirations for Famous Song Lyrics.