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One explanation for misheard lyrics is that us music listeners cobble together a semi-plausible lyric if we lack the experience to understand the real one

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Jason Chaney, Managing EditorI remember the moment vividly. A youngster still living under my parents' roof, I had spotted the cassette case for a Johnny Rivers album that my mom played all the time. I looked at the list of tunes and all was well until I got to the name of perhaps his most famous song — and I felt like an idiot because I had been hearing and occasionally singing it wrong for years.

Seems Mister Rivers was not singing about a secret ASIAN man like I had always assumed, but rather a secret AGENT man. Upon further reflection, a secret agent makes way more sense than a secret Asian — at least when it comes to song topics — but I guess brains will hear what they want to hear.

I later took some solace in learning I'm not the only one who got it wrong. Lots of other people made the same mistake – and many others. In fact, it takes little internet search time to find all kinds of examples of misheard lyrics that are as hilarious as they are perplexing. For example, some people thought Jimi Hendrix wanted people to "excuse me, while I kiss this guy." Another incorrectly heard lyric from a Monkees hit dramatically changes the mood of the song: "Then I saw her face…now I'm gonna leave her." And who could forget when Creedence Clearwater Revival uttered those words that people with full bladders had been longing to hear: "I see … a bathroom on the right."

How in the world do so many of us get it so wrong? How could we be convinced that Hendrix wanted to give some guy a smooch — so much so that he would lyrically interrupt his song to announce it? Why would anyone ever think that CCR was singing about the location of a restroom? I had to know, so I reached out to the all-knowing Google.

It turns out, according to some articles I encountered, that these misheard lyrics are called mondegreens, which is itself a misheard line from a Sylvia Wright poem. "Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands … Oh where hae ye been? … They hae slain the Earl o' Moray…And Lady Mondegreen." Turns out that "Lady Mondegreen" doesn't actually exist — the last line of the verse is supposed to be "laid him on the green."

One explanation for misheard lyrics is that us music listeners cobble together a semi-plausible lyric if we lack the experience to understand the real one. So, if you have never heard of such concepts as kissing the sky or a bad moon rising, you are bound to come up with something else that fits.

Using that logic, when I was growing up, I was apparently more aware of Asian people than secret agents. And there are supposedly a legion of Elton John fans who are more familiar with Tony Danza than tiny dancers.

I suppose that could be true. But I think it fails to explain why some folks hear Annie Lennox singing "Sweet dreams are made of cheese." Some people sing things like "I can see clearly now, Lorraine is gone," and you can't tell me they are more familiar with Lorraine than the rain.

Perhaps what scientists don't want to tell us is that music makes us go braindead. The rational, serious parts of the brain takes a back seat as the spastic-dancing, air guitar-playing, partying side of our noggin takes over. With that side of the brain in charge, we're bound to screw up the details. It's inevitable.

So, I guess we should enjoy it. Perhaps this human race of ours will never reach a point where we get song lyrics correct 100% of the time. But like Jon Bon Jovi once sang, "It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not." — or did he sing that "it doesn't make a difference if we're naked or not"? I guess it depends on who's listening.


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