Every song has a story. We, as fans, try to make sense of what the artist is trying to say in the song, to conjure up our own version of that story, but that doesn’t mean we always know what happened. Sometimes it’s easy to predict said stories; for example, if an artist recently underwent a bad breakup and then released a song reeking of gloom and sadness, then it won’t be hard to put the finger on the inspiration behind the song. However, sometimes, even when the meaning of a song feels very obvious, it’s in reality entirely different. After all, we only know so much about the lives of the artists we love. To that end, here are a few iconic songs which have very different backstories than the one we have believed for a long time:
Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler
Total Eclipse of The Heart is one of the greatest love songs ever written. Period. It was composed, produced and written by Jim Steinman. He thought the song was very similar in terms of sound and emotion to Wagnerian music. However, there are some things that you probably don’t know about the song…
The song was initially meant to be a vampire love song. Steinman even featured the song, originally titled “Vampires in Love” in his musical “Dance of the Vampires” in 2002, which, by the way, ended up being a massive failure. When you think about it, the song does sound like a power ballad involving vehement vampires.
Like a Virgin by Madonna
Both Mr. Blonde (who thought the song was about a vulnerable girl) and Mr. Brown (who believed that the song was a metaphor for big penises) from Reservoir Dogs were wrong about their interpretations of Madonna’s Like a Virgin. Madonna even famously put the debate to rest after signing a CD for Tarantino saying, “It’s about love, not d**ck.”
The song was actually an autobiography by the writer Billy Steinberg. It wasn’t initially meant to be performed by a female singer. While explaining his side in an interview, he said, “What I meant to say was that I might not really be a virgin. I have been hurt both romantically and emotionally like many people, but I am putting water under the bridge and trying to start something new.”
Imagine by John Lennon
Imagine is one of the most famous John Lennon songs without a doubt. However, the feel-good lyrics of the song aren’t always depicting what you think they are depicting. When you think more profound, the song also describes many Communist ideas.
Lennon himself referred to the song as virtually “the Communist Manifesto.” He didn’t expect the song to become a hit, but once it did, he went on record saying that he knew just how to get your message across. “Put a little honey over it.”
Just like Heaven by the Cure
Many magazines have rated Just like Heaven highly in their lists of the greatest love songs ever made, but they also couldn’t make sense of the trick that makes one scream, hug, and laugh. The lyrics that confuse most of the fans were actually nothing but the shortness of breath.
Robert Smith, in an interview, said that the song was inspired after a trip he took to Beachy Head with his girlfriend. He said that there was a lot of hyperventilating, kissing, making out, and falling to the ground while doing so. “Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick” is an allusion to both, Smith’s cameo as a magician during his youth, and “a seduction trick from a lot later in my life.”
In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins
“In the Air Tonight” starts off slowly but oh, does it take off. However, it isn’t about a man who blatantly refused to save a swimmer who was about to drown. And, as explained by Phil himself, he didn’t invite the unapologetic person to his concert so that he could berate him with the lyrics of the son.
The song is actually a serious, self-analyzing look at Phil’s first divorce. Phil claims that he wrote the lyrics to the song in a minimal amount of time before a recording session. He also laughs at the different rumors that have spread about the meaning of the song. “I don’t really know what the song is actually about,” the singer said in an interview with BBC.
Harder to Breathe by Maroon 5
Harder to Breathe got Maroon 5 a lot of hits, and being part of their debut album “Songs about Jane,” may make you think that it’s just another song about Jane, but it’s anything but. The song didn’t come from a relationship Levine had with a woman named Jane; it came from a different one.
The song is actually alluding to the harsh music industry pressures that can get to a singer. “The song came from a time when I wanted to throw something badly. The label wanted more songs at the 11th hour, and I just ended up writing this. I was really pissed at the time, and this was my last crack.”
Blackbird by the Beatles
Paul McCartney, in an interview with a radio station, famously said that the song wasn’t about a blackbird who had lost its wings and that it was a lot more symbolic. The song was actually about the American Civil Rights Movement.
The song was actually inspired by the racial segregation that the Arkansas school system had to go through at the time of the war. USA Today was very articulate when they said, “Paul wrote Blackbird about the black struggle.”
London Calling by the Clash
London Calling is less about British politics and more about Strummer’s own fear of drowning. The Wall Street Journal published an article regarding the song in which they quoted Mick Jones saying that the band was nervous after reading a headline that said the Thames River could overflow and flood their beloved city.
As it turned out, that was the real truth behind the song. Strummer’s first few efforts at writing the lyrics were inspired by his personal fear of drowning. However, Mick Jones made a few edits to broaden the song and make it “A song that warns people about the inevitable doom of everything.”
The One I Love by R.E.M.
When R.E.M. played their first Top-10 song in concert, people reacted very romantically, and that confused the guitarist Peter Buck. “I saw couples kissing in the crowd, and it baffled me because the song had some really anti-love verses.”
Michael Stipe, the vocalist of the band, reaffirmed Buck in a 1992 interview when he said that they initially thought the song was “too violent” and “too awful” to even be recorded. However, as the song started getting dedicated by people to their loved ones, the band just thought it was best to go with the flow.
Good Riddance by Green Day
If there is one song that has been played at every prom, it’s “Good Riddance” by Green Day. “For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while” really makes you recount all the good times you had with your buddies throughout many years. However, the song wasn’t originally meant to have a romantic touch to it.
Billie Joe Armstrong actually wrote the song after his girlfriend decided to move away to Ecuador, which made him pissed at the breakup. However, Armstrong admits that he isn’t surprised by the misinterpretation of the song. “I kind of enjoy the fact that I am misunderstood a lot of the times. That’s alright” he said in an interview with VHI.