The Truth Behind Some Of History’s Most Iconic Songs

Many people listen to music for nothing more than the catchy tune, not thinking to look deeper into the lyrics or facts behind the music. A shame, too, considering many songs have hidden messages or were written by legends using pseudonyms, such as The Bangles “Manic Monday” being written by “Christopher,” aka Prince.

And that’s not even the most show-stopping musical fact out there; keep reading to learn more!

“Mother And Child Reunion” Was Inspired By A Chinese Menu

“Mother and Child Reunion” was the lead single on Paul Simon’s second studio album Paul Simon. But there is something about the popular song many people don’t realize; the song title wasn’t some random phrase Simon pulled out of thin air.

Paul Simon In Japan 1974
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

The title of the track was actually inspired by a menu item at a Chinese restaurant, a chicken and egg dish called Mother and Child Reunion.

The Title “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Started As A Joke

While it might be one of Nirvana’s most iconic songs, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” actually started as nothing more than a joke. Kathleen Hanna of the band Bikini Kills saw Teen Spirit deodorant at the grocery store, thinking it was the quirkiest name for deodorant.

MTV Unplugged: Nirvana
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Later that evening, after partying with Nirvana, she wrote “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the wall, having the name in her head from early that day!

“Walk This Way” Was Inspired By Young Frankenstein

Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way” from the 1975 album Toys in the Attic is one of their more popular songs. Interestingly, the band had some trouble coming up with a title for the track. That is until they went to see Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards - Show
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

After seeing the film, the band joked about Marty Feldman telling Gene Wilder to follow him through the creepy castle, limping along and saying, “walk this way.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” Was Written As A Vampire Love Story

The song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was a track on Bonnie Tyler’s fifth studio album, Faster Than the Speed of Night. While it’s clear that it’s a love song, there is something many people probably don’t know. Jim Steinman originally wrote the track as a vampire love song!

Midem 1979 Cannes: Bonnie Tyler
Illustré/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Illustré/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images

During an interview with Playbill, Steinman said, “…I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical of Nosferatu…”

“This Land Is Your Land” Is Not Patriotic

Woody Guthrie’s 1945 song “This Land is Your Land” is typically thought of as a patriotic song, being sung by school choirs in celebration of America. Unfortunately, the original song, sans the omitted verses, isn’t patriotic at all.

Woody Guthrie Portrait
Library of Congress/Getty Images
Library of Congress/Getty Images

The original song illustrated the vast social and economic inequalities found within the United States and how people were suffering from the Great Depression. It was one of Guthrie’s many attempts at bringing social justice to the top of the agenda.

Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” Is About Birth Control

“I Shot the Sheriff” was released by Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1973. At first, many people believed the song to be literal and about police officers. But, in 2012, Marley’s former girlfriend, Esther Anderson, set the record straight.

Bob Marley Performs At Crystal Palace Bowl in London
Pete Still/Redferns
Pete Still/Redferns

According to Anderson, the entire song is about Marley being opposed to her use of birth control, with “sheriff” actually meaning “doctor.”

“Casey Jones” Advises Against Drugs

The Grateful Dead’s song “Casey Jones” has been a fan favorite since its release in 1970. It’s said that they played the song over 300 times during their heyday! Even so, many people don’t realize the song is actually the opposite of what they think.

Dead Head Mickey
Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Light, fun, and catchy, many people think it’s about the title character having a good time doing drugs. But the fact of the matter is the lyrics actually advise against it!

“Hey Jude” Is About John Lennon’s Son

Released in 1968, The Beatle’s song “Hey Jude” quickly became a number one single in more than one country across the globe. What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that Paul McCartney wrote the track for one person in particular–John Lennon’s son, Julian.

The Beatles Release Sgt. Pepper
Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images
Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images

The song was meant to comfort the young boy after his parents split up. Originally, the track was even titled “Hey Jules.” McCartney switched it to Jude, thinking it sounded a bit better.

“Independence Day” Is About A Different Type Of Freedom

Martina McBride’s 1994 hit “Independence Day” might have been an instant classic for people to blast on the Fourth of July, but the song is actually about a different type of freedom.

Paul Natkin Archive
Paul Natkin/WireImage
Paul Natkin/WireImage

The track actually discusses domestic violence and a woman who is finally able to gain her freedom from her husband. So, instead of a country gaining freedom and independence, it’s the woman who finally gets away from a bad situation.

“Bad Reputation” Is About Gender Issues In The Music Industry

Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” sounds like another anthem speaking to the angsty teenager. But the lyrics actually speak of the various gender roles and molds the music industry puts women in and her refusal to change for them (even after being denied by 23 labels!).

Joan Jett
Pete Cronin/Redferns
Pete Cronin/Redferns

According to Historian Kathleen Kennedy, “Joan Jett penned these lyrics as a defiant reply to what she understood as the different codes of conduct applied to male and female rock performers.”

“Rich Girl” Is Actually About A Rich Guy

Hall & Oates released “Rich Girl” in 1976 as the single on their album Bigger Than Both of Us. And while the track is literally titled “Rich Girl,” the origin story behind the lyrics actually has to do with a rich guy.

Photo of HALL & OATES
Erica Echenberg/Redferns
Erica Echenberg/Redferns

The song is about a fast-food chain heir who was the ex-boyfriend of Daryl Hall’s girlfriend, Sara Allen. According to Hall, “you can’t write, ‘You’re a rich boy’ in a song, so I changed it to a girl.”

“Wish You Were Here” Isn’t About Syd Barrett

When people first listen to Pink Floyd’s 1975 song “Wish You Were Here,” they typically think that the lyrics are about none other than Syd Barrett, one of the original founders of the band.

Pink Floyd Live At Hakone Aphrodite
(Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
(Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

And while that’s a great sentiment, it’s not actually the true meaning behind the song. According to Roger Waters, the lyrics are actually directed at himself. It’s about being present in the moment in order to truly experience life.

R.E.M’s “The One I Love” Isn’t Actually A Love Song

Contrary to popular belief, R.E.M’s 1987 song “The One I Love” isn’t a love song, no matter how many times people dedicate it to their loved ones. The track is actually the complete opposite, illustrating emotional abuse between people and being used as a “prop” over and over again.

R.E.M.
Gie Knaeps/Getty Images
Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

During an interview with Musician magazine, lead singer Michael Stipe said the song is “incredibly violent…It’s very clear that it’s about using people over and over again.”

“Take Me Home” Was Inspired By A Movie

Phil Collins’s song “Take Me Home Tonight” is arguably one of his more famous tracks. Ironically, people typically get the meaning of the song incorrect, thinking it’s literally about a man returning home.

Phil Collins posing with the Telegatto award he won
Angelo Deligio/Mondadori via Getty Images
Angelo Deligio/Mondadori via Getty Images

Well, that’s not the case. The song was actually inspired by the 1975 psychological thriller One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Instead of a man going home, the lyrics are referring to a patient in a mental hospital.

“Let’s Go All The Way” Has Nothing To Do With A Relationship

Yes, the title and the lyrics of Sly Fox’s 1985 song “Let’s Go All The Way” alludes to a relationship. The thing is, it’s not about a relationship at all, nor does it once talk about anything physical!

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Fuzzy Dan/YouTube
Fuzzy Dan/YouTube

According to songwriter Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, the song is always misinterpreted and is actually a song of encouragement, particularly the title line. Speaking of the song, Cooper said, “Whatever your goal, dream, or vision, you should go all the way to get it.”

Heart’s “Barracuda” Is Not About Fish

Contrary to popular belief, Heart’s song “Barracuda” is not actually about a marine animal. The song’s lyrics are all about lead singer Ann Wilson’s anger towards Mushroom Records for a publicity stunt they pulled about her and her sister, Nancy.

Nancy Wilson Of Heart
Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The song particularly expresses Ann’s rage over a male reporter who brought up the made-up scandal. According to producer Mike Flicker, “”Barracuda” was created conceptually out of a lot of this record business [nonsense]… It was born out of that whole experience.”

“The God That Failed” Is About A Bandmate’s Mother

The title of Metallica’s track, “The God That Failed,” doesn’t really do the heavy metal group any favors, with many people thinking the band is praising the devil. Well, that’s not really the case.

Metallica in concert 1984
Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images
Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to the band, the song is actually about faith and people being overly reliant on it, particularly for healing. The lyrics were based on lead singer James Hetfield’s mother and her unwillingness to seek treatment for her cancer, saying God would heal her.

“Macho Man” Was Originally Written As A Serious Track

The Village People aren’t exactly known for their serious tracks, especially considering their most iconic song is none other than “Y.M.C.A.” But that doesn’t mean they didn’t originally write one of their songs on a serious note.

Village People
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

The track “Macho Man” was written to illustrate the stereotypical archetypes of men in America.

“Le Freak” Is About Chic Being Denied Entry At Studio 54

“Le Freak” by Chic is a disco and funk song that was released in 1978. Honestly, most people don’t listen to this song for its deeper meaning but to boogie the night away. But that doesn’t mean the song is void of meaning.

CHIC
Doreen Spooner/Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Doreen Spooner/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

In fact, the song is actually about the time Chic’s bassist and guitarist were both denied entry to New York’s iconic Studio 54! Apparently, the bouncer told them to “f off” because their names weren’t on the list. It became the premise for the line “freak out!”

“Smoke On The Water” By Deep Purple Was About A Rocket That Launched In A Casino

The noticeable guitar riff was written after someone launched a rocket inside a casino during a Frank Zappa concert. A fire soon broke out, destroying the casino complex.

GettyImages-84885055-70254
Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images
Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images

The title “Smoke on the Water” came about after Roger Glover saw the smoke roll over Lake Geneva.

“The Way” By Fastball Was Interpreted About Youth And A Road Trip, But There’s A Dark Twist To It

In a dark twist, “The Way” was inspired by a news story of an old couple who disappeared at a festival in Texas.

GettyImages-176690561-87462
Rick Kern/Getty Images
Rick Kern/Getty Images

When the band recorded the single, they read in the newspaper that the couple was found dead at the bottom of a canyon in their Oldsmobile vehicle.