The Most Misunderstood Songs of All Time

Music has ways of speaking to you like nothing else can. However, you might not know your favorite song as well as you’d think. Songs can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and what the songwriter originally intended can easily get lost, while other songs have hidden meanings only a select few know about.

Just how well do you really know your favorite tune? Take a look at these commonly misunderstood songs and find out!

The One I Love by R.E.M.

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A lot of times song titles can be deceiving. Although the song title indicates some kind of ode to love, it is not quite that. With lyrics like “This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind. A simple prop to occupy my time” does not indicate any kind of romance. It is not advised to play this song in any romantic setting. But to the artists credit, more than ninety seven million have played this song on Spotify. Hopefully they have all gotten the memo by now.

Alive by Pearl Jam

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Pearl Jam is one of the most known rock bands in the world. Formed in the 90’s, the band produced one of their most popular songs, called Alive. Event though the song may seem like an uplifting rock anthem, it’s not. It’s actually a semi-autobiographical account that reflects on the front man, Eddie Vedder’s childhood. It reveals what he felt when the news of the passing of father surfaced. Later, in an interview the rockstar mentions that this music is “cursed”, but it did help him get over it.

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day


We are all familiar with one of Green Day’s most iconic songs, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). It has played in numerous festive events such as proms, graduations etc. However, what we initially thought was a casual passing-of-time ballad it’s not quite the case here. Frankly, Good Riddance is more of an ode to missed opportunities and wasted lives. The nostalgic feeling is purposely there due to the chords played by Billy Joel in the acoustic guitar.

Closing Time by Semisonic

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Closing Time has become more than a simple track in an album. It has become an anthem for the bar nation around world. In the bar culture the song indicates that it’s the last call “to finish your whiskey and beer”. In reality, the song doesn’t have anything to do with that. This tune is partially inspired by the birth of vocalist’s daughter. Closing Time actually meant that the musician’s heavy drinking and partying days were over. On a less serious note, that’s a very creative way to announce that to his drinking buddies.

In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins


Perhaps one of the most discussed songs of the 21st century, In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins has a lot of different interpretation. In opo culture knowledge, this dark pop hit is known to be about a man who could have saved another man from drowning but chose not to. But that’s not exactly what it means. Phil Collins says that the song is about what he was feeling after he got divorced. Colins said on a live TV that there was a lot of anger in that song. To Collins credit, we can be sure that this song will always remain timeless.

American Girl by Tom Petty


One of America’s most beloved songs, American Girl by Tom Petty quickly rose up the charts to became an all time classic. Yet, despite its status, the song’s lyrics has been misinterpreted by the masses. This American Girl he talks about in the track is only a figment of his imagination. Petty explained that the he was “writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have”. At the time he was living in small studio in Encino, California and that was the inspiration behind the lyrics.

Every Breath You Take by The Police


Every Breath You Take by The Police is arguably one of the most famous misinterpreted songs of the 80’s. If listened carefully the lyrics is a depiction of an extremely unhealthy relationship. It’s definitely not the gentle love song most of us seem to think. It’s the opposite. The lyrics follow a dark story of obsession and dealing with a love lost in all the wrong ways. Even Sting, the vocalists from the band, admits this is somewhat of a sinister song.

Blackbird by The Beatles

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Originally written by Paul McCartney, Blackbird is one of The Beatles most played songs. And it’s also one of the most debated ones. While many people thought it was a delicate love song, that was not the case. Sir. Paul McCartney admits that the melody is actually about the Civil Rights and the black people’s struggle in America. He extends explanation by saying that the blackbird was not meant to be taken literally, “it’s a bit more symbolic!” For that we must all hail The Beatles.

Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen

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Many of us have thought of the tune, Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen as a fists-in-the-air, patriotic anthem of kinds. However, in reality it’s considered a defiant song. Springsteen discusses that was saying that being “born in the U.S.A” meant that he deserved better than what he was getting. He was depicting the ambiguities and challenges of the country that he had grown up in.

London Calling by The Clash

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Known for lashing out against injustice and rebelling against the establishment, The Clash were an iconic punk rock band, known for their song, London Calling. This protest song has a lot more in it than we think. Therefore, most of us don’t fully understand it. This track includes metaphors and themes such as social displacement, unemployment, racial conflict, drug use, and more. The song was a top ten chart success in the UK and it looks it needs to be studied in order to fully understand it.

Higher by Creed

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Considered to be one of Creed’s biggest hits, the track Higher has been a topic of discussion for a while. Some fans argue that the song’s title indicates a drug-induced high. Other fans say that it might have some religious connotations due to the frontman’s devotion to Christianity. Yet, the lead singer Scott Stapp, admits that in a nutshell, the song is about the concept of lucid dreaming. This proves that sometimes only the musician can explain the real meaning of it.

Always by Bon Jovi


Bon Jovi fans are so used to his love-ballad-style songs that perhaps they did not notice the darker underpinnings of the song, Always. According to the singer-songwriter, Jon Bon Jovi, this track is certainly not a romantic one. He explained that the it’s about a man who falls in love with a women, but her love for him is not reciprocated. This neglection from her, turns into an unsettling obsession for him. It is advised to not deal with a heartbreak this way.

Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan

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Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan can be considered one of his most iconic tracks. However, through time, the meaning of this song has been misinterpreted by many listeners. In fact, this is one of Dylan’s least cryptic lyrics. It’s simpler then we may think. To further explain it, Mr. Tambourine Man was Dylan’s band member, Bruce Langhorne, who played an instrument that was similar to a tambourine. The lyrics follow Langhorne’s life story and all the drama that came with it.

Hotel California by The Eagles

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Hotel California by The Eagles is understood by pop culture to be a song about purgatory. Specially because of the verse “this could be heaven, or this could be hell”. Yet, The Eagles themselves would disagree with that. Don Henley, the singer of the band, says that in reality the track is a commentary on the hedonism and self-indulgence of the American culture. It’s a deconstruction of the American Dream.

Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary

Given the lyrics, song title and the fact the this tune was recorded in the 60’s, we could surely assume that the song Puff the Magic Dragon is about drugs, right? Well, not exactly. It’s actually quite an innocent tune and has nothing to do with the use of illegal substances. It’s about a child who had an imaginary dragon friend named Puff, but then the child got older and decided to unfriend the dragon. Good-bye dragon friend!

Perfect Day by Lou Reed


Even though music and drugs have always had a symbiotic relationship, it’s still very rare to hear drugs been talked about in this fashion. Perfect Day by Lou Reed, resembles a love ballad, specially due to the soft piano playing in the background. However, Reed’s “perfect day” is not exactly what we may think. Used in several commercials and ad campaigns, this tune is quite an odd choice given what song really means. The song pays homage to narcotics and glorifies in a very subtle manner.

Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams

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We may assume that the timeless hit, Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams is a nostalgic tune about the band’s time during the summer of 1969. But, it’s not as innocent as we think. Summer Of ’69 is a surprisingly sexual story which the number sixty nine refers to the sexual position. However, it’s difficult to think of this song through this perspective due to Adam’s clean looks and polite manners.

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

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Since the day of its inception, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, has been known to be a 90’s masterpiece. Yet, there’s been a lot of misunderstanding regarding the lyrics. Even amongst the ex-band members. It is said the song title came upon the singer, Kurt Cobain and his girlfriend. At the time, they came across a deodorant can, called Teen Spirit. After they broke up, while still grieving, Cobain wrote this song as an attempt to pen his frustrations with his ex-girlfriend.

Like a Virgin by Madonna

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It’s intuitive to think that the 80’s hit, Like a Virgin by Madonna, is about a young woman having sexual intercourse for the first time. Madonna’s sensual performance and provocative vocals surely points us in that direction. Yet, we are fooled once again. The song was written by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg and it’s told from a male’s perspective. Steinberg declared that the famous hit was about how vulnerable he felt when getting into a new relationship. He felt as if he was a virgin.


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