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11 Answers To the Biggest Mysteries In Songs and Lyrics
written by Sam Greenspan

In the list I did a few days ago about the iPad, I mentioned Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon"... which reminded me of this list idea I once thought of but summarily forgot about and never wrote.

I wanted to take some of the biggest mysteries about songs and their lyrics and try to find the answers to them. Or, in most cases, at least find the most popular theories.

  1. I resist making fun of Dave Coulier as he remains the most famous person ever to retweet an 11 Points list.
    Is Alanis Morissette singing about Dave Coulier in "You Oughta Know"?

    Before Alanis was famous she dated Dave Coulier -- the Popeye impression is a real aphrodisiac, you know.

    And, in an interview several years later, he said a few of the lyrics really hit home. He did get into fights with her for "bug[ging] [him] in the middle of dinner" and he did dump her for a woman who was older but otherwise similar to Alanis ("an older version of me"). No word if that older version was perverted like Alanis, or if, by the early '90s, Canada even HAD movie theaters in which she could go down on him.

    Coulier also said he genuinely believes the song is about him. And Alanis has said it's about a "predictable" person from "a public relationship."

    So... let's go with an 88 percent chance that "You Oughta Know" is about Dave Coulier. (There's also a chance it is about Bob Saget, because Alanis briefly dated HIM too. And while this is unconfirmed, I'm sure John Stamos gave her the business too -- because no one goes to the Cheesecake Factory and just has the appetizers and entrees.)

  2. Does Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" sync up with "The Wizard of Oz"?

    If you're not familiar with this urban legend, there's a theory that if you start the "Dark Side of the Moon" album just as the MGM lion roars for the third time to start "The Wizard of Oz", they sync up. The lyrics and music eerily match up with the action on screen.

    Check out this website for a list of tons of syncs between the album and the movie (for example, on the lyrics "Run, rabbit! Run!" the Wicked Witch throws a fireball at the Scarecrow and he tries to run).

    But... as much as every teenager smoking a bunch of stems would love for all this to be true, it's really just a mix of coincidence and confirmation bias. (Kind of like every sports column written in the past 15 years.)

  3. In "Blinded By the Light", if they're not saying "wrapped up like a douche" then what the hell are they saying?

    In Bruce Springsteen's original version of "Blinded By the Light" the chorus goes "Blinded by the light, cut loose like a deuce another runner in the night." He was talking about the 1932 Ford Coupe which was nicknamed the Deuce and was a popular hot rod. You know, with the kids.

    But when "Blinded by the Light" became a number one hit for Manfred Mann's Earth Band, they changed the lyric to "revved up like a deuce." Which still makes a modicum of sense. The only problem is... it sounds extraordinary like "wrapped up like a douche."

    Springsteen even said (mostly joking) that the song never became popular until Manfred Mann made it about feminine hygiene products. Can't fully knock that. It's the reason Maxi Priest became a star. And the reason people visit Tarpon Springs, Florida.

  4. What's "a bustle in your hedgerow" from "Stairway To Heaven"?

    The most popular guess is that it's a metaphor for menstruation (with "a spring clean for the May Queen" furthering that theory). And "Stairway" is a legendary song -- so maybe Springsteen really was on to something.

    The other theory, and the one I tend to prescribe to, is that it's just a bunch of nonsense strung together to sound cool. Like Jules's Ezekiel 25:17 in "Pulp Fiction". Or any plot on "Entourage".


  5. Singing together and being vain.
    Who is Carly Simon singing about in "You're So Vain"?

    This is one of the most famous mysteries in music history. For decades, people thought she was singing about James Taylor. Then, last year, Carly said she revealed the name by whispering it in a new acoustic version of the song. People listened and believed they could hear her whisper "David Geffen."

    Speculation started that she was pissed off at Geffen, who was the head of her record label. Not because they dated -- he's all kinds of gay -- but because he was focusing on promoting Joni Mitchell instead of her.

    Carly laughed it off and says this is still wrong. So it's back to being probably James Taylor, maybe David Geffen, and maybe a bunch of other famous dudes Carly Simon banged ranging from Warren Beatty to Mick Jagger.

  6. We know some of "American Pie" is about the Buddy Holly plane crash, but what's the rest of it about?

    Casey Kasem, of all people, once claimed that he talked to Don McLean and found all the answers to the mysteries of "American Pie". Who's the Jester? The king and queen? The girl who sang the blues? Satan? And they are, respectively: Bob Dylan, the Kennedys, Janis Joplin and Mick Jagger.

    McLean flat out denied all of that, said he never talked to Casey Kasem (I guess he didn't want to make a special request... and dedication), and said "songwiters should make their statements and move on maintaining a dignified silence." In other words, he'll never confirm what the hell he was talking about.

  7. In Mr. Big's "To Be With You", what is that line about greens and blues?

    I joked about this mystery lyric last week in 11 Photos of Child Stars All Grown Up (That Will Make You Feel Old). Basically, when people sing along, they sing:
    I'm the one who wants to be with you,
    Deep inside I hope you feel it too.
    Waited on a line [mumble mumble mumble]
    Just to be the next to be with you.
    So for this list I decided to track it down and make a call. It's haunted me for almost two decades now, after all. (I remember slow dancing to that song at a middle school dance making that [mumble mumble] joke. Yes, I've been using the same material since 1992. Go ahead, call me Jeff Foxworthy.)

    The lyric is, officially: "Waited on a line of greens and blues." As for what that means, the prevailing theory is that "greens" represent jealousy and "blues" represent depression. Basically, while one of the guys from Mr. Big watched a bunch of other dudes run a train on the girl of his dreams, he alternated between envy and fury. Makes decent sense. Let's go with that.

    By the way, I chose to decode this early '90s song instead of decoding Snow's "Informer". There are only so many hours in the day.


  8. Is "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins about Phil calling out a guy who saw a girl drowning and didn't save her?

    According to legend (and also according to the lyrics of Eminem's "Stan") this whole song was a revenge gambit by Phil Collins.

    Phil saw someone watch another person drown and not help. As for why Phil himself didn't help... well, urban legends sometimes have holes in them. (Like, for instance, the one where the trucker keeps flashing his high beams to alert a woman that a murderer is in her backseat. Why didn't he just ram the back of her car? Why?)

    Then Phil wrote this song, tracked the guy down, invited him to the concert, gave him front row tickets and called him out in front of everyone.

    It's not at all true. The song is about Phil Collins being upset over his first marriage ending.

    Now, as for the mystery of whether or not "In the Air Tonight" has THE single best moment to air drum along to in the history of music... I'm going to give that an absolute YES.<

  9. What was Billie Joe McAllister throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

    In Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe", Billie Joe McAllister throws a mysterious object off the bridge with the song's narrator, then later jumps off that very bridge and kills himself.

    The popular theory is that they had an out-of-wedlock baby and threw it off the bridge. Billie Joe handled the trauma by killing himself, the female involved handles it by singing this song.

    Bobbie Gentry has stated that she has "no idea" what she and Billie Joe were throwing nor why he killed himself. In other words, she's using the "Sopranos" or "spinning top in 'Inception'" or "where is Springfield?" defense.


  10. What is the "pompatus of love" in "The Joker" by Steve Miller?

    "Pompatus" isn't a real word -- frankly, it sounds like Sarah Palin mishmoshing of "pompous" and "coitus." Steve Miller once said "pompatus" was just a made-up meaningless word that's "jive talk."

    Which is sort-of true. "The Joker" is primarily constructed of lyrics from other songs (call it 66 percent tribute, 34 percent plagiar-- err, a clever artistic choice). And "pompatus" comes from a 1954 song called "The Letter" by a doo-wop group called The Medallions.

    That song has a lyric about "the pompitudes of love." Vernon Green was the lead singer of the Medallions; he says the lyric actually started as "puppetutes," which was a paper doll he cut out of his dream woman.

    So... we're no further along in cracking that mystery than we started. Maybe I should've spent my time researching how many people actually called Steve Miller "Maurice."

  11. Is James Taylor singing about a girlfriend named Suzanne who died in a plane crash in "Fire and Rain"?

    It's not. Suzanne was just a friend of his. He felt her death was a metaphor for his struggle with flying high and crashing with his heroin addiction. Yep. He thought a friend dying in a plane crash was a metaphor for his life. He's so vain.

This list was originally published on Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Music.
It currently has View Comments.

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