Say Say . . . Say What?
This weekend as I was driving to Target, that old 1983 Styx song Mr. Roboto came on the radio. Which never happens. What I mean is, that blast-from-the-past relic from my childhood practically never comes on the radio. Walking on Sunshine – yes. Jesse’s Girl – every half hour. But Mr. Roboto, I was convinced, got nabbed by the feds and was hidden away in the CIA’s top secret basement vault. In the exact same vault that contains the legitimate lyrics to Louie Louie.
Sadly, it was not quite the same Mr. Roboto song I recall hearing back in 1983. Because, despite that my friend Katie and I would actually lie flat on our backs in the middle of the Skate Island skating rink to better listen to the “Roy the Robot” story unfold, I was (no surprise) way off in my original interpretation.
So sitting in the Target parking lot (because of course I had to sit in my car until the song was over) I realized:
- The robot is not a robot at all, but a man disguised as a robot. Wow. It’s like I was blind and now I see.
- His name is “Kilroy” and not “Roy.”
- The song ends with, “I’m Kilroy. Kilroy.” Not, “Let’s kill Roy! Kill Roy!”
As a seven year old, I’d even acted out that last bit, shaking my fist and shouting, “Kill Roy!” like I was an angry villager storming the robot compound with a pitchfork in hand.
I already knew that some of Mr. Roboto is in Japanese, but I’ve since discovered there are plenty of parts not in Japanese that at the time pretty much sounded liked Japanese.
In fact, I’d say most songs when I was a kid might as well have been in Japanese. Because I apparently did not understand much of anything in the songs I was hearing. Why is that such a kid thing?
I liken it to Charlie Brown’s teachers.
Wah-wah-wah. Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret! Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. Let’s kill, Roy! Kill Roy! Wah-wah-wah.
So, in honor of Roy, here are some of my favorite misinterpreted songs.
1.) Stay the Night. I believed Chicago’s 1984 song was about a friend preventing another from driving drunk. Good for them. For that, I raised my glass of Tang to the band for their commitment to shining light on an important issue. Which ended up being the issue of whether or not to shack up.
2.) Like A Virgin. I thought this Madonna song (my very favorite song in 3rd grade – nice) was about a prostitute. Initially, I did not spend one moment considering what it was about. (Meanwhile, I was singing it out loud to myself in Vacation Bible School.) But then I saw the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. Hmmm . . .
3.) Eyes Without a Face. This Billy Idol song sounded to me like some sort of Cockney grammar. “I’s without a face.” As in, “I don’t have a face.” Creepy. Although, not much more creepy than “Eyes without a face.”
4.) Bobby Sue. Boy, I was way off on this song by The Oak Ridge Boys. My version went, “I want to ma-ma-ma-marry you, Ba-ba-ba-ba-barbecue.” In my defense, you can see by this photo that these guys are no doubt fiercely passionate about their barbecue. No siree, I would not want to get in their way while they’re grilling up some red meat. (And, no, that guy second from the right is not John Oates. Because I checked . . . and then I checked again because I didn’t believe those sources.)
5.) Blinded by the Light. In my version, the song included a line, “Wrapped up like a douche that had eroded in the night.” (As a kid I would’ve added, “P.S. What’s a ‘douche’?”) I’m glad I’m not alone here. There are Facebook pages, even t-shirts devoted to this lyrical enigma. I bet money there’s even a website. Probably www.doesthatsongreallysaydouche.com. If not, you better register that domain name right now before I do.
6.) You Sexy Thing. Better known as “I Believe in Miracles!” My husband and his sister used to sing along to their own version. Which was, “I believe in Milk-O!” Truly. I’m not kidding. Milk-O. Which sounds like some sort of powdered drink mix for kids. And if it were Nestle Quik, I can tell you it is spot on that kids would be bowing down to worship Milk-O. That stuff could’ve easily been my religion. Interestingly, the song was recorded by the group Hot Chocolate. So you can see where some confusion may have arisen.
(Exciting! My husband does not know the band’s name was Hot Chocolate and I’m only now revealing it to him here.)
7.) Never Tear Us Apart. My childhood friend Geri, who was famous for her chronic misinterpretations of song lyrics, thought this INXS song’s line, “Two worlds collided. And they can never tear us apart.” was instead “Two birds collided. And they can never tear them apart.” Which is as revolting as it is tragic.
8.) Heaven. She also thought this Warrant song’s line, “When I come home late at night and you’re in bed asleep . . .” was instead, “When I come home late at night and you’re in bed with Steve . . .” Which detracted just a wee bit from it being a love ballad.
There were also many songs that I didn’t even attempt to fake it on and instead sang as phonetics. Something like, “Ah-meh-mah-da-ba . . Burning down the house!” Oh, yes, I always came in strong for the refrain. Because often that would be the only part I knew.
Such was the case with these favorite songs. Chorus and then wah-wah-wah in between.
- Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran)
- Footloose (Kenny Loggins)
- Boys of Summer (Don Henley)
- Uptown Girl (Billy Joel)
- Queen of Hearts (Juice Newton)
- Say Say Say (Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney)
- Back on the Chain Gang (Pretenders)
I couldn’t even make out the chorus in these. Pretty much wah-wah-wah Charlie Brown’s teacher all the way throughout.
- Karma Chameleon (Culture Club)
- The Tide is High (Blondie)
- I Melt with You (Modern English)
- She Bop (Cyndi Lauper)
- One Night in Bangkok (Murray Head)
Then there’s The Hustle! I used to let loose and completely jam out to this song . . . while out shopping for corduroy culottes with my mom. I’m not kidding, it was played at the top of every hour on every department store’s Muzak station circa 1981. There was a science behind it that actually determined playing that song would increase sales of corduroy culottes.
Now there was a perfect song for kids. Longest song ever. But easy-peasy lyrics. You’ve got your simple beginning, “Ahhhhhhhhh. Do it!” Then a bit of music. Then, “Do the Hustle!” Instrumental melody. “Do the Hustle!” Repeat. And again. And a few more times. There you go! No confusion. No possible way to flub those lyrics. No “Roy” or “robot” or “Kill Roy the robot” in the entire thing. (Although, certainly there’s a way to incorporate a pitchfork-wielding dance move in here, I would hope?)
Since you already have The Hustle stuck in your head now and will for the next four days, I’m closing with this song and dance montage. You’re in for a treat. Keep your eyes peeled for the rare I Dream of Jeannie bellbottom-hybrid-pants. First time I’ve spotted those rarities.