City of Democrats

Today’s guest post is by Barb in Blackhoof.

I have fond memories of listening to TLGMS In the barn. While milking, I would sing (and sometimes dance) along to many of the songs. “City of Democrats” la, la, la. Wow. How strange that there’s actually a city of democrats. Pretty cool, huh? Hmmm.

How many times have you been singing a song for years, with lyrics that you figured were correct, only to find out that you had mistaken? For example, Dale and Mike were playing “City of Immigrants” (by Steve Earle) not city of democrats. Drat. I had already made plans to move the herd.

There are a lot of songs for which I have my own lyrics, I guess. I don’t hear so well. But it wasn’t until John Prine (at a concert in Duluth) spoke of “mondegreens” in an intro to one of his songs, that I learned there was a term for these mis-heard lyrics. John said a fan requested a song that was her favorite – “It’s a happy enchilada and you think you’re gonna drown. That’s the way that the world goes ’round.” The actual lyrics go: “It’s a half an inch of water, and you think you’re gonna drown.” This is a very common phenomenon – and not a terribly new one.

Sylvia Wright coined the term “mondegreen” in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child, young Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines “They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen.” As is customary with misheard lyrics, she didn’t realize her mistake for years. The song was not about the tragic fate of Lady Mondegreen, but rather, the continuing plight of the good earl: “They had slain the Earl of Moray/and laid him on the green.” (this paragraph from Mondegreens: A Short Guide by Gavin Edwards.)

And if you really want a good chuckle, look at the columns by Jon Carroll – an example: “Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis, pumped a lot of Tang down in New Orleans?”

And here are some of mine….. can you guess the correct words and artist?
Oh, a Tree in Motion (from my teen-age, little teeny transistor radio)
Solid Citizen (this one is way off and very embarrassing)
Salivate, Salivate, Dance to the Music (this one is pretty easy)

Have you got a favorite mondegreen?

65 thoughts on “City of Democrats”

  1. There’s one I always sing wrong. I’ve caught myself on this over and over without learning to get it right. The album is by the “Be Good Tanyas,” and the song is the first cut: “The littlest birds.” On the record, the singers apparently say, “The littlest birds sing the prettiest songs.” In my head it always comes out, “The little-ass birds sing the prettiest songs.” After all the times I’ve gotten this wrong and made a note of it, it seems pretty clear that part of me just prefers my own version.

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  2. I think Steve touched on a thread that would be fun to follow. Yes, we all have Mondegreens, and I’ve seen books published on this subject. But why do we argue our personal versions are correct or, when confronted with black & white evidence to the contrary, insist our personal version would make the song better?

    Two of my favorites are:
    – “Let Milo open the door” – Pete Townsend’s “Let my love open the door”.
    – “She stirs the ice in her glass with her LA gun finger” – John Melloncamp’s “I saw your first”. The real lyrics are “… her elegant finger.

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  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    I am again alive post weather change headache. That was a doozy–big weather change.

    One of my favorite “sorta” mondegreens came from a Perry Como song, “Catch a Little Star.” When I was 3 and 4 years old my father and I had long discussions about anything and everything when I accompanied him on his rounds as a County Agent in SW Iowa. One of these discussions regarded the nature of stars and their gaseous constitutions. Daddy told me that stars were made up of gasses on fire. Therefore, I reasoned that if you put a star in your pocket your pants would burn off. In my head that made the lyrics of that song incorrect and I chose to sing the “correct version” as I walked down the street to visit Daddy in his office one block away, hands shoved in the pockets of my blue corduroy pants.

    “CATCH A LITTLE STAR AND PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET. BURN YOUR PANTS RIGHT OFF.”

    I could not understand why people walking by would laugh. I had it right. Right?

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    1. yes you did! i have burnt my pants right off by putting stars in my pockets once or twice. cupping cigerettes at the bus stop in school. i got half way to the school one time and relized my jacket was in full flame.

      i am not coming up with anything right now but i have chuckled over the realazations when they are realized. back in the rock and roll days we would choose a song to cover and have to play it over and over to try to understand the garbled gravel voicedwords to add it to our repetoire. some of the best efforts canm out pretty funny. some times you would try to follow the sound of the words sometimes you would try to follow the logic of english as to what the heck he might be saying and the results were more interesting than the reality often times. you could call the librarian and ask on some but they didn’t have a lot of rock lyrics in the library reference material back it the old days. i will keep thinking of examples .

      fun way to start the day barb say hi to the goats for us.

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      1. The confused title from my son’s childhood is not quite a mondegreen. He said, “Play the push down song again.” He actually wanted “Why do fools fall in love?” His conclusion was that they were pushed.

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      2. they say “backatcha” tim.
        thanks – i’m off to meet with the Goat Ladies for lunch at Green Pastures Dairy outside of Atkinson (Cynthia! so near yet so far). they make cows’ milk cheeses, but we go there anyway 🙂
        have a fun day, All

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  4. My problem is that as soon as I realize I’ve messed it up, I forget what I used to think. At the end of the “All in the Family” theme song, Edith sings “Boy, our old LaSalle ran great.” I remember when I suddenly realized those were the words but for the life of me, I can’t remember anymore what I thought they were before that!

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    1. That was one of my mondegreens…but my words made no sense since in my head I heard something like, “BRO LaSalleran, great” (thinking in my head that this was some sort of street address or building – the BRO LaSalleran).

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  5. “Forever in blue jeans” by Neil Diamond always got morphed into ‘Reverend Bluejeans’.

    LIke many, I’m still discovering mondegreens of songs from the 60s and 70s that I’ve heard a million times (possibly literally in the case of The Beatles or Beach Boys). Looking at lyric sheets can truly be an eye-opener with some songs.

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  6. Its a coffee snorting morning. I, to, have misunderstood lyrics in goofy ways, but I ‘m not recalling anything right now either. On our recent trip to Pine Ridge I made my debut with the gospel group singing “Dear Lazarus”, a song recorded by Mike Ferris and the Cumberland Saints, and we had a hard time finding the lyrics on line, and they weren’t in the liner notes, so we tried to decipher them from the recording itself. I think we just about went deaf trying to figure out what he was singing in that thick Tennessee accent because it was easier to figure out when it was real loud. We ended up guessing and making up our own lyrics for much of it. Funny story, Bib.

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  7. Maybe someone can tell me if this is a mondegreen or not. I got all the words right; I just misconstrued context.

    In the 1950s right in the middle of hysteria about polio, I watched a little trailer between two cowboy movies. This featured some pathetic waif in an iron lung who was being serenaded by Frank Sinatra, as I recall. The song was “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

    And I was so mad I almost bolted from the theater. “What a cheap shot nasty song THAT is,” I thought. “That poor kid will never walk alone in a damn iron lung, but he hardly needs Frank Bigshot Sinatra rubbing his nose in that fact!”

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  8. Just thought of another one: there was a kiddie song about moonbeams and sunbeams we used to sing, but I thought it was “moon beans and sun beans.”

    I’ll be stuck on this all day.

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  9. Fun post, Barb. I’m betting as the day goes on, there’ll be quite a few more chuckles.

    I’m going to take a stab at guessing that Oh, a Tree in Motion was your take on Johnny Tillotson’s Poetry in Motion. The other two have me stumped for now, although I think something’ percolating in the back of my mind with regard to one of them. Who knows if that percolating will translate into something or not, time will tell.

    I confess to a lot of Mondegrens, both in Danish and English, but of course, nothing comes to mind right now. I have to quick dash to the Farmers’ Market before I head to the Y. Back later.

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  10. There was a song whose lyrics were “Come on babe, follow me, I’m the pied piper,” and my friend and I both thought it was: “come on babe, follow me, bona fide flier.” but the one that still makes me laugh was when my son as a little boy riding in the car would sing along with the old Ricky Nelson?or Everly Brothers? song “Fools Rush in Where Wise Men Never Go.” He would sing “Fools rush in where white men never go. Cuz white men never fall in love so how are they to know . . . “

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  11. BiB, I can identify the third one from your quiz – “celebrate” by Three Dog Night. Don’t have a guess for “Solid Citizen” though.

    In the song “Urge For Going”, I always heard “See the geese in shiverin’ flight, flapping and racing on before the snow,” and only recently realized it was supposed to be “chevron”…although I still like to think they may be shiverin’ too.

    There’s a web site called kissthisguy.com, taking its title from the misheard Jimi Hendrix lyric (“‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”). That’s a pretty good mondegreen.

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      1. yes, now what sense does that make? “i’ll remain something, something as i am: solid citizen. solid citizen. i guess i thought he wouldn’t go off and pillage and rape just because Melinda and Sue cheated on him???

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      2. That makes me think of the Warren Zevon song, “Model Citizen” – “In the cool of the evening, when the sun goes down, my wife’s playing canasta with everyone in town” – never knew quite what to make of that. Is canasta a euphemism or something? Or do model citizens usually play canasta?

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  12. Sunday school song when I was little, “Praise him… all ye little children, God is love…”
    I came home singing “got his glove…”

    Great post, Barb, we’ll be laughing all day. Will hopefully add more later – it’s moving in day for my mom.

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    1. Good one.

      O-T: Back from Farmers’ Market, got the soup pot on. Bought all the ingredients for a huge pot of Borscht – including dill and sour cream. Yummmmm. Off to the Y for some Silver Sneakers action.

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  13. Back to the 1950s. I remember hearing about the teacher who assigned the kids to do a drawing of a Christmas carol. And this one kid turns in a lovely manger scene, with sheep and shepherds and some wise guys. And then off to the side was this fat guy. The teacher sighed, as several earlier drawings had already mixed Santa and other commercial Christmas elements with old carols. “So, tell me about this guy in the carol. Who is this?”

    “That’s Round John Virgin.”

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  14. Oh crud! I just put my daughter’s Ipod through the washing machine. Any suggestions. She won’t be hearing or mishearing any lyrics for a while.

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      1. Just remembered this song about the Titanic including the chorus

        It was sad when that great ship went down,
        Husbands and wives and little children lost their lives,

        I thought the little children lost their knives….it was a bad crash you know!

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    1. are you the woman who put her husband’s credit cards thru the wash last week? i’d say it’s time to resign from laundry – and they’ll take over just to avoid those laundered items.
      might even be a fei da.

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      1. I am she. The problem is multifaceted. My daughter does her own laundry. My daughter never hangs up her jacket and leaves it any old place in the main area of the house. The ipod was in the jacket. I wash in cold water and don’t sort by color. I am in a hurry. If it is lying around in public space in the house, I may grab it and throw it in the wash without checking to see who it belongs to. Husband never clears out his pockets before putting things in the dirty clothes basket. I never check pockets when I throw things in the washer. It was bound to happen sometime.

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  15. Like many already, I know I have had many personal Mondegreens over the years…but can’t come up with any now when it might be fun to remember them, some of them not even in English. When I was a kid my grandfather directed a Norwegian male chorus, and my mom as the accompanist. I went to many concerts, Christmas parties, and rehearsals where most of the singing was in Norwegian. There were, of course, a handful of songs in their standard repertoire (“Nidelven” being one of them) and to this day I only know the “words” by how I heard them phonetically. Sure I can guess that “Hilde Norge” is right…but who knows what I’m actually singing when I sing along to “Nidelven” or any of a number of Christmas carols…

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  16. You can get the words right and still be wrong if you don’t know how to punctuate! I had a problem with “Home on the Range” for much of my life. To my mind, the line went: Where “Never’ is heard (a discouraging word) and the skies are not cloudy all day. I saw the West as a sort of Monty Python cartoon with hundreds of cowboys saying, “Never!” And I couldn’t figure why that was a Good Thing.

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  17. I’ve extremely fond of Paul Simon’s Graceland. the final track is All Around the World, and I believe that is where you can hear him sing : “well the sun gets weary and the sun gets hot, Elvis is a watermelon”.

    I’m sure there is some deep philosophy there, and I’m still working on the deeper meaning.

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  18. I always thought the line in “Bad Moon Rising” was “There’s a bathroom on the right.” It wasn’t until quite recently that I found out it is “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

    I’m laughing very hard at all these Mondegreens, Even if I don’t know the song being referenced, they are pretty darn funny!

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  19. Ah, Barb, my dear!!!!

    I have one for you–for many, many years, i thought the christmas song about reindeer began, “Up on the rooftop reindeer paws, out jumps good old Santa Claus…”

    saw the lyrics when i was in my teens or early twenties, and was chagrined…because i had never questioned “my” lyrics, even though i knew reindeer have hooves…

    making it all the sweeter, though, was to tell my sister about my realization at holiday time, and her hand flew up to her mouth, and she said, “Me, too!!!!!”

    i never felt closer to her 🙂

    Kay in Edina

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  20. All, I’ve been out of the loop for a long time – horribly overburdened at work this summer – but I pulled this up a few minutes ago and have been laughing ever since. Thank you all for some much-needed hilarity at the end of a very long week!

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  21. The best songs to get wrong are reggae. A LONG time ago as my mother, stepfather, brother and brother’s girlfriend were driving me to college we were listening to a reggae tape (told you it was a long time ago!) The song we had the most fun with had the chorus:

    Sittin’ on a throne of gold

    But with the reggae accent and beat, it sounded like sittin on a trone a goal. We spent the better part of two hours coming up with alternatives. The ones I remember to this day include:

    Sittin on a toilet bowl
    Sittin on a soccer goal
    Eatin a tootsie roll

    Good times!

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