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Mondegreens – it’s a cognitive thing

Found in: Miscellany & Merriment

Misheard lyrics; it’s been a problem since we were chocolate monkeys. The songwriter tries to share his insights and the singer, perhaps in his earnestness to deliver the message with maximum feeling, mangles the words into something that we, with our gift for filling in cognitive gaps, get all wrong. If you ever wondered why Madonna was so anxious to tell you that she was a Cheerio girl or Creedence Clearwater Revival wanted you to know there was a bathroom on the right, you’ve been a victim of this all-too-common phenomenon, known as mondegreens.


Don’t you know you’ve got two chocolate monkeys? – Peter Gabriel


It’s so common, in fact, that it has a name, first coined in 1954 by the writer Sylvia Wright, who remembered being read the 17th century poem “The Bonnie Earl o’Moray”, which included the lines “They hae slain the Earl o’Moray/And laid him on the green”. Young Sylvia was sure the line was “And lady Mondegreen”. When corrected, she insisted “I won’t give in to it. Leaving him to die all alone without even anyone to hold his hand – I won’t have it!!!” And thus was officially launched the Mondegreen – a misheard lyric, often bolstered by being preferred to the correct one.

Wright lists others, including “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me” becoming “Surely good Mrs Murphy shall follow me”. In a similar vein, my mother remembers a fellow churchgoer changing “I shall find a solace there” to “I shall find a shoelace there”.


So here’s our Mondegreen top ten, in no particular order:


number one

From Steve Winwood’s Higher Love, “Bring me a higher love” becomes perhaps a little more achievable when it is “Bake me a pie of love”.


number two

For Elvis Presley, “Everybody in a wholesale frock” was dancing to the jailhouse rock.


number three

In Apologize, OneRepublic complained that “It’s too late to order fries”.


number four

In Madonna’s La Isla Bonita, “Last night I dreamed of San Pedro” became “Last night I dreamed of some bagels”


number five

In You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Neil Diamond complained “You hardly talk to me anymore, when I kung fu the door at the end of the day”. He might have got a better response if he had simply walked through the door.


number six

Chumbawumba had it even worse in Tubthumping: “I get locked out, so I go out again” instead of “I get knocked down, but I get up again”.


number seven

In Beast of Burden, the Rolling Stones assured us “I’ll never leave your pizza burning”.


number eight

In Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, “And as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our soul” becomes “And there’s a wino down the road. I should have stolen Oreos”.


number nine

Pat Benatar urged us to “Hit me with your pet shark” instead of your best shot.


number ten

When Bachman Turner Overdrive sang Taking Care of Business, it appeared their business was making carrot biscuits.

Feel free to share your (family-friendly) favorites!