The 12 Blogs of Christmas: Nine. A Very Mondegreen Christmas

Phew, so Nine Lessons and Carols last night was followed by a gorgeous night out down the pub with the Mayor. So I’m feeling rather mulled this morning. Thankfully, my across-Christmas workload has now hopped to Tuesday, so I’ll be going along to the BristolCon Fringe meeting tonight, along with a number of other writer mates.

Arriving online this morning is the Festive edition of the Tangential Deviation podcast, hosted by Producer Dave from The Cornell Collective, with me for once as his guest. It’s a good chat, and gets surprisingly deep, as I often go at this time of year, and where I haven’t quite been yet, on these blogs or in reality.

The third volume of The Wife in Space blog, The Pompous Tory, with an introduction by yours truly, is out on February 22nd, and is now available for pre-order.

And I tell you, I’m still getting additions to the ‘existing BBC telefantasy from before 1990 that’s not on DVD’ blog post. I’m aiming to collect them all and do a newly definitive edition before the end of the 12 Blogs. When I’m feeling less mulled. They’re happening by accident now. Gary Russell was just saying how good it was that The Phoenix and the Carpet (which he’s in) is now in the BBC Store, and added ‘of course, it’s never been on DVD’. I do believe I emitted a sort of wailing bellow.

Tom has been having a lovely time lately, having just about come through his tantrum phase (fingers crossed).  But one shadow on his festive preparations has been… that terrifying episode of In The Night Garden where Mr. Pontinpine’s moustache… detaches itself from his face and goes flying around!  From Twitter, I gather that horrified reactions to this episode from toddlers are by no means a unique occurrence.  I think we’ve hit upon some previously undisclosed details of the tiny psyche there.  Caroline managed to take a photo of one particularly edgy moment…

Tom Mr. Pontipine

Yes, we are raising a clone of Simon Pegg.  I’ve only just noticed.

Anyway, today’s blog is one of the two I’d been preparing in advance. The subject is Mondegreens, mishearings of lines, particularly in songs, that impart a whole new meaning to listeners. I remember when I was a student, a friend was taking in the lush countryside of the Trough of Bowland, and sighed ‘this is a very alloha wylie moment’. It turned out he’d always thought the first line of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ contained Celtic words of wistful beauty about the moors. Myself, I always thought bullets, rather than bullies, gave you black eyes in ‘Senses Working Overtime’ by XTC, and Rocky Horror was made more even interesting for me by the associations set off by ‘opportunity bless my soul’ in Meat Loaf’s number.

I asked a bunch of creators for their favourites, hoping not just for funny ones, but occasions when the new meaning was actually important or meaningful to that person. I got loads of great responses.

Let’s start with novelist Emma Newman:

‘For most of my life, I thought the lyrics in Bryan Adams’s “Summer of 69” were so racy. I thought the opening to a particular verse was: “I had my first real sex dream, hanging at the five and dime.” Whenever I heard it I felt slightly embarrassed and wondered what on earth it was about that place that made him fall asleep and then dream of sex. Closely followed by the question: why would anyone want to sing about that? Another was the Simply Red song which I was convinced talked about holding back someone’s ears. As a child, I also found this a rather strange song topic. “Holding back the ears….” Why? Were they very big and the person was being sick and so he was being a good friend, holding them back like hair? WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO SING ABOUT THAT?’

Comicker Dan Slott’s mishearing takes a very dark turn…

‘When I first heard Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” over the radio, I didn’t hear “Never Gonna”. I heard “I’m A’ Gonna”. And I thought, “Boy, that’s a disturbing song. Why do people like this?” “I’m a’ gonna make you cry. I’m a’ gonna say goodbye. I’m a’ gonna turn around and HURT you.” I kept looking at people funny, like “Why are you singing along to that. That’s messed up. He’s gonna run around and desert you!”‘

Young Sherlock Holmes novelist Andrew Lane:

‘I was convinced for many years that in the James Bond theme song “Live and Let Die” Paul McCartney sings: “… Makes you give up a cry / of ‘live and let die!'”‘

SFF novelist and Down and Safe podcaster Amal El-Mohtar:

‘I cannot stop hearing Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” as containing the lyric “Praise you like a shoe.”‘

Rom com novelist and Doctor Who writer Jenny Colgan:

‘The one that never goes away is “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel: “had a come-on from the horse on Seventh Avenue”. Also I always forget that I call Jay-Z Jay- Zed in my head because I think it’s funny, then I say it out loud and people just think I’m a total idiot.’

Crime novelist Martyn Waites:

‘I used to think that Sam Cooke in “Wonderful World” was something of a kitchen appliance thief as he sang “Don’t know much about the fridge I took”… Same with Tony Hadley, on Spandau Ballet’s “Gold” where he was “sorry ‘bout the cheese on the wall”. But my favourite, because it always gives me such a strong mental image, is Tubeway Army’s first hit, “Are Friends Electric?”. Gary, playing fast and loose with the rules of grammar and sentence construction, tells us that there’s: “a man in a long coat with a greyhound smoking a cigarette.” I’ve got a perfect mental picture of this talented greyhound as he stands on his back legs, trying to strike a nonchalant pose.’

To continue the dairy theme, Doctor Who writer and podcaster L.M.Myles:

‘Imagine Dragon’s “Demons” has the lyrics “we are all made of greed” which I found enormously disappointing as I thought it was “we are all made of cheese” on countless listens, which I’ll still sing because, obviously, that’s tons better.’

And Russell T. Davies has an absolute corker:

‘When I was about 8 – no, Google, turns out I must have been 10 – I thought the lyrics to Wizzard’s “See My Baby Jive” were not “She hangs on to me and she really goes” but “She hangs on to me like a billy goat.” Bless little me, replacing something overtly sexual with something, er, animal. But I still think my lyric is better, and that’s what I sing! Merry Christmas!’

Verity! Podcaster Deborah Stanish also took something out of the gutter:

‘Like so many others, it took me an embarrassing number of years to realize that “Nights in White Satin” wasn’t actually “Knights in White Satin” which, frankly, makes for a much more exciting song. A doomed, noble and chivalrous quest is WAY more fun.’

SFF novelist Adrian Tchaikovsky:

‘There’s a line in “Brave New World” from Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” which goes “imagine the destruction of all that you despise”. For years, after hearing this around age 10, I thought it was “imagine the destruction of all the Tudor spies.” I was left for ages with a residual belief that some sort of Elizabethan underground was running all the way to the nineteenth century, until it was crushed by the Martians.’

Another SFF novelist whose imagination took hold of a lyric is Adam Christopher:

The most recent one I still enjoy is from Taylor Swift’s song “New Romantics”. I always hear “the rumours are terrible and cruel” as “the Roombas are terrible and cruel”, which brings to mind some kind of apocalyptic domestic robot revolution (possibly in a world full of lonely Starbucks lovers…)

And to continue this theme from novelists, here’s Sophia McDougall:

‘I just remembered last night that when listening to “Roses in the Hospital” by the Manic Street Preachers I always used to hear “Like a leaf, in the autumn breeze” as “If I could live in the out-of-reach” and I still think it’s so much better.’

And yet more of this from Elizabeth Bear, author of Karen Memory:

‘There’s a line in Shriekback’s “Sticky Jazz” that I persist in hearing as “an Appomattox of the Mind.” The original line is “higher mathematics of the mind,” but really, sometimes my thought process resembles an extremely bloody battle in a long, drawn out civil war. So I like my version better.’

And still more, from fantasy novelist and, again, Down and Safe podcaster Scott Lynch:

‘Midnight Oil lyrics, both times. From the song “Brave Faces:” “I’ve seen men that have been marked out / ruled out by grim assassins;” and yet I always heard that last bit as “dream assassins,” which was an image I loved. It could have a literal fantastical meaning or it could just refer to what right bastards the sorts or people who usually serve as villains in Midnight Oil songs are. I also came up with the totally misheard lyric “the conscience of the storm” from another Midnight Oil song. I love that phrase so much I mean to use it as a novel title; it was actually going to be my first novel, until I started fiddling with The Lies of Locke Lamora on a whim, and the rest is history.’

Novelist and comicker George Mann:

‘There’s a Sophie Ellis-Bextor song called “Catch You”, and I still hear and sing “Cat Shoe” every time I hear it on the radio.’

Creator of Ack Ack Macaque, Gareth L. Powell:

‘I also like to deliberately mishear lyrics when singing along, for instance that famous song by The Beatles, “I don’t care too much for monkeys, monkeys can’t buy me drugs”.’

Comics artist Laurence Campbell:

‘My son thought the chorus of “Voodoo People” by The Prodigy was “Magic of the nudie people”.’

Comic writer Rob Williams:

‘I once worked with someone who genuinely thought, in the Whitesnake song “Here I Go Again”, that David Coverdale sang “like a homo I was born to walk alone”.’

Fellow comicker Cavan Scott:

‘I originally thought Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” was “Got Lost for a Laugh” and I’ve only just realised Chris Rea doesn’t sing, “soon there will be a three way” in “Driving Home for Christmas”. I always thought that was why he was so keen to get there.’

Television showrunner Javier Grillo-Marxuach, creator of The Middleman:

‘For the past thirty or so years there have been two songs that alternately dominate my soundscape to the point of bitter, psychotic distraction. They are “Volare” and “Hooray for Hollywood.” Daily, there isn’t a period of at least one hour in which my mind is not occupied trying to jam some word – or combination of words – that I have heard into either of these songs. On the “Volare” front, I can tell you for a fact that the six month period during which the remake of Solaris was advertised and released was a really difficult time for me. Similarly, today I received a DVD screener for Bridge of Spies immediately my mind shouted “BRIDGE OF SPIES! Don’t try to cross it, it’s a BRIDGE OF SPIES! It’s full of espionage and big bad lies! The Bridge of Spies…” Honestly, I’m shocked I get any work done. Kill me. Please.’

Lou Anders, author of the Thrones and Bones books:

‘”‘Cause we’re living in a world of fools/Breaking us down/When they all should let us be/We belong to you and me…” That’s the line from the Bee Gee’s 1977 hit “How Deep is Your Love.” That’s the real line. But that’s not the line I hear. My oldest friend, a guy I’ve known since the first grade, is named Chris. He and I discovered Batman together. We watched Star Wars together a hundred times (I’m not sure how, but his father had an actual video of the film on BetaMax the year it came out!). We read The Lord of the Rings and watched the 1978 Ralph Bakshi film together. We painted hundreds of metal miniatures and played Dungeons and Dragons. He was there for every formative experience of my life from first grade through twelfth. And we played a lot of foosball together. (What Americans call table football – Paul.) He had a table in his basement, along with a jukebox and a disco ball. One time, I caught him singing, “‘Cause we’re living in a world of foos.” Because, you know, everybody played foosball. I called him an idiot at the time when he told me that’s what he heard. These days, I don’t listen to the Bee Gees. I don’t have a single one of their albums. But periodically, when I think of our childhood growing up together, I sing the song his way.’

Peter Ware, Deputy Editor of Doctor Who Magazine:

‘Up until very recently, I though that the this symbol * was called an Asterix, and that the famous cartoon Gaul was named after it, and for years, I wondered what mancheeruns were, because of the lyric, “Golden Brown, texture like sun, lays me down with my mancheeeruns’.”

Editor and agent Julie Crisp:

‘I used to come out with a lot of what my friends called “Crispisms”, where I’d get a popular saying wrong just by a smidgen. Possibly my two favourites which I still misquote sometimes – are “to hell with a cartwheel” rather than “to hell in a handcart” and “that old peanut” rather than “that old chestnut”.

SFX Magazine journalist Nick Setchfield:

‘There’s a moment in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when Spock and McCoy are rigging a photon torpedo to take down the Klingon ship. The weapon readied, DeForest Kelley cries “Lock and load!” I was convinced he cried “Rock and roll!”, which I have to say I prefer.’

Tricia Sullivan, author of Occupy Me:

‘Pink, “Heartbreak Down”. I drove around in my car for like a year bellowing, “All I wanted from you was a library too” before my daughter sorted me out. When she’s not with me I still sing it that way. It’s pop for the bookish.’

Danie Ware, the novelist who runs events and social media for Forbidden Planet, echoes a lot of people, I’m sure:

‘I still sing “Beelzebub has the Devil for a Sideboard” when belting my way through “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But I only do it when no-one can hear me, so that’s okay.’

Comedian, Editor and BSFA Chair Donna Scott:

‘My particular mondegreens are Sisters of Mercy, “Dominion” – “In the land of the blind key” – like I didn’t know the original quote, flippping good English student, me! The Levellers, “Battle of the Beanfield” – “It seems they were committing treason/by trying to live on their own.” – like they were naughty teenagers stomping off from mom and dad’s house.’

Finally, and spectacularly, novelist Tobias Buckell went to all the trouble of doing a Transformers-related blog post of his own in answer to this question, and very funny it is too.

Thanks, Tobias, and to all our contributors.  Do any of you have any of your own you’d like to mention?  If so, I’ll see you in the comments, and then I’ll see you tomorrow for some more festive fun. Ho ho ho!

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5 Comments on “The 12 Blogs of Christmas: Nine. A Very Mondegreen Christmas” so far - join in!

  1. Pam Richardson

    I can not believe how big your little pooh bear is! He’s too cute ( and he does look like like a mini Simon Pegg)!

    I glad I’m not the only one who sings things wrong. I forever sang “How Soon Is Now” by the Smiths as “I am the sun and the air” rather than “I am the son and the heir”…I mean, it was only a few years ago I was like, oh yeah, that makes more sense…

  2. Craig Oxbrow

    I was always puzzled by Jumping Jack Flash being raised by two lesbian hens.

  3. Bradstreet

    Huge fan of Kate Bush, but for a long time I wondered why WUTHERING HEIGHTS had the line “You had a temper like my jealousy, too hot and greasy”.

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