Saturday, February 15, 2014

We All Live in a Yellow Mondegreen

I was nine years old when the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show fifty years ago, and I missed it. I was watching part two of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh on Disney's Wonderful World of Color (in black and white, as we did not have a color TV). At the time, I was more interested in Disney than rock and roll, but my tastes changed. I soon became a Beatles fan, as did everyone in my family, with the possible exception of my father. (I can't say that Dad, who preferred classical music, ever loved the Beatles, although he eventually grew to appreciate them.)

We had the first Capitol album (Meet the Beatles!) and we played it over and over again until we wore it out. I was envious of my friend Steve, who had all of the Capitol albums. My friends and I used to go to Steve's house, put the whole stack on his parents' state-of-the-art hi-fi, and jump around the living room, singing along with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Singing along with the Beatles could be a challenge. It was sometimes difficult to understand what those four young Liverpudlians were singing, especially when they were trying to sound like Chuck Berry or Little Richard.

Speaking of Little Richard, his song Long Tall Sally, covered on the second Capitol album (imaginatively titled The Beatles' Second Album) was one of the songs that puzzled me most. What was it that Long Tall Sally had that Uncle John needed? Pretty good guitars? Pretty picture cards? Listening to the original Little Richard recording years later wasn't much help (although I did learn that surprisingly, in addition to being long and tall, Sally was also bald). But now, thanks to Google and the Internet, I can instantly look up the lyrics and discover that the mysterious line that troubled me all those years ago was—
Well Long Tall Sally's built pretty sweet
She got everything that Uncle John need
When I was a kid, there was no Google or Internet. You couldn't look up lyrics. You just sang out and hoped that you would not embarrass yourself. In the song, It Won't Be Long, I always sang—
Every day we'll be happy I know
Now I know that you won't beat me no more
—and no one corrected me. (The actual line, of course, is, "Now I know that you won't leave me no more.")

Misheard lyrics are known as "mondegreens"—a word coined by someone who misheard the lyric "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen." I learned about mondegreens about the same time I learned that the actual lyrics to She Loves You are—
You know it's up to you
I think it's only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her
I always thought it was "The rightful thing to do / Apologize to her." It didn't seem right (or "rightful"), but it sort of made sense, and again, no one corrected me. Then, a few years ago, I heard Loretta singing the correct lyrics: "Pride can hurt you too." Boy, did I feel like a fool.

Loretta is pretty good at understanding hard-to-understand lyrics, but she doesn't always get it right, either. I always thought the lyrics to I Want to Hold Your Hand were—
And when I touch you I feel happy inside.
It's such a feeling that my love
I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide.
This time, it turns out I was right. Loretta thought that last line was "I get hives, I get hives, I get hives."

No comments:

Post a Comment