Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mondegreen Redux: Betty and the Jets

Based on the personal emails I’ve received as well as a rather significant increase in the number of hits on my blogspot the past couple of days, my previous entry on the mondegreen would seem to have been a popular success.

For the record, there are several websites devoted to mondegreens, so I can't claim any originality in that regard. I probably should have referred to a couple of websites in my earlier entry that collect mondegreens, at least those dedicated to misheard popular song lyrics:


There are also a couple books I’m aware of that collect mondegreens, and there are probably several more of which I’m unaware: Charles Grosvenor, Jr., Hold Me Closer Tony Danza, and Gavin Edwards, Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy.

I do hope that my previous blog entry hasn’t left readers with the impression that my view of mondegreens is that they are simply another form of widespread or popular "error," that is, that I was trying to diminish their (unwitting) achievement. Rather, I was trying to illustrate how mondegreens can be highly creative (the writing of an entirely new song, as it were), but also, in psychoanalytic terms, how the mondegreen has the potential for activating meaning(s) that were repressed or unacknowledged in the original set of lyrics. Moreover, there is at least one popular song lyric that was sung differently than in the form it is widely known in print. According to, The Beatles’ "Ticket to Ride" is known in its "incorrect" form. Listeners who have claimed to hear

She’s got a ticket to Rye [as in the town in East Sussex] and she don't care

are not, in fact, hearing “incorrectly”—that’s the way The Beatles sang it. As sung, the song lyric is not

She’s got a ticket to ride and she don't care

According to

The Beatles cut the record, it was confusing to U.S. audiences, the record execs changed the title and lyrics. The song was never re-recorded. Listen carefully--you hear no ‘d’ sound in the word. Thus, Rye isn’t a misheard lyric. This is according to Casey Kasem.

How many bands in the history of rock have covered "Ticket to Ride," never knowing that they were singing the lyric incorrectly? Of course, it doesn't really matter. Referring in my previous entry to Dave Marsh’s book Louie Louie, I was trying to reiterate a point made throughout his book that the lesson many early rock and rollers learned from the controversy over the lyrics to “Louie Louie” was that the best rock lyrics should be purposely enigmatic. Hence, aural ambiguity isn't an accident, but necessary for the best rock lyrics to resonate, to be provocative. More abstractly put, rock lyricists exploit the susceptibility of messages to be deformed when received by the listener: they exploit the potential deformation made possible through the electronic transformation of messages. Although there is a widespread rumor (perhaps true) that the lead singer for Iron Butterfly was so heavily intoxicated that the words, "In the garden of eden," emerged in slurred form as, "In-a-gadda-da-vida," my own view is that the band's decision to leave them in their garbled version was absolutely brilliant, and no doubt contributed in no small way to the success of the song. How mysterious and enticing, how provocative, how mystery-laden those nonsense syllables were to a young generation of listeners.

The aural ambiguity enabled by the homophone hence isn't merely an "accident" that occurs in the transmission of the message, but instead reveals the received nature of the message itself. Of course, it doesn’t help when, for instance, The Kingsmen recorded "Louie Louie" with the microphone hanging from the ceiling so that there was no way the lyrics could be properly heard--but this is yet another instance of the interference that is inherently part of any electronically transmitted message. How many popular songs are themselves about this interference?

I’ve Got To Get a Message to You

Telephone Line

Hanging on the Telephone



I made this list off the top of my head. Some enterprising person ought to assemble a CD compilation of such songs, to be called, what? Maybe The Girl With Colitis Goes By.

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