Friday Pick Six Modern Rock Songs With Commonly Misinterpreted Messages

Friday, July 29, 2011

I was throwing around an assortment of different ideas for a Pick Six, but settled on this after being reminded of the terribleness that is Miley Cyrus singing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I will not link that clip here, because it is too awful to share and I do not wish to pollute the ears and minds of our readership (you're welcome). I guess if you REALLY want to hear it you can YouTube it... at your own discretion of course.

Clearly, this is not the first song where people just completely miss the point and misinterpret the message, nor will it be the last time. For this week's pick six, I thought I would clarify to the many Miley Cyruses of the world (who I doubt read this blog, meaning I'm preaching to the choir here, but regardless) six songs from the past decade and what those songs are actually about. And believe you me, for most of these songs, I have a personal experience of having to explain the song to someone singing along to it, so these really are misinterpreted songs. With that in mind, here's the list:

1: 21 Guns, by Green Day. Okay, I HAD to mention this one first, because it is a song where you'd think the point of the song is so obvious that you can see it miles away, but apparently that is not the case. I blame Transformers for this, really, when the song is used in the background during gratuitous shots of Megan Fox's ass. For whatever reason, many people, mostly young people (younger than me), will sing along to this song and many other Green Day songs completely oblivious to the message. Apparently they can't put two and two together.

2: Caves, by Jack's Mannequin. Caves was the closing song on the album The Glass Passenger, which was an album written while the lead singer/songwriter of the band, Andy McMahon, was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. This choice is really for the entire album, and though Andy McMahon does a good job skirting the issue, this song is literally about the elephant in the room, so to speak, and about his cancer. Still, most people must just tune out because everyone I've explained this to who has listened to the album is shocked to find out it's about cancer.

3: Holiday in Spain, by Counting Crows. He's talking about taking a holiday in Spain and leaving his worries behind, how is that bad? Well, I'll even admit I didn't entirely get this song either until I learned the lyrics and how to sing it. This song isn't really about taking a vacation, it's about running away from life, and drowning it out in drinking and escapism. You'd think the melancholy tone would have revealed that earlier, but it didn't. Needless to say, for songwriter Adam Duritz, the "holiday is Spain" is not a good thing.

4: How to Save a Life, by The Fray. The title should make the point of this seem obvious enough, but no. From what I can tell, this has become a kind of "bad day" song, even though at its core this is a very sad and personal song. As songwriter Isaac Slade explains, he wrote this song when he was volunteering at a mentoring camp for troubled teens: "One of the youngsters I was paired up with was a musician. Here I was, a protected suburbanite, and he was just 17 and had all these problems. And no one could write a manual on how to save him." In the end, there was nothing he could do for him. The song is about how helpless one feels when confronted with someone who needs help that they can't give.

5: Heaven, by Angels & Airwaves. This song sounds pretty upbeat and romantic, but you have to keep in mind that it is the closing song of a concept album about... something. It's pretty confusing, but it's about a war, but like a war on another planet in the future, and a soldier falls in love with a woman from the other side and stuff happens. Anyway, this song, Heaven, is about the apocalypse. Quite literally the world is destroyed, and only they survive. Maybe. That's not really clear either. They may just face the end together. It is still the most romantic song about the apocalypse I've ever heard, though.

6: Sing, by My Chemical Romance. I've had this conversation a lot now, and it's not that Glee is wrong about using the song, at least it's not like Transformers and 21 Guns, but ultimately the song Sing isn't about rejection, it's an anti-corporate song. Hell, watch the music video, it's the most blatant art vs. industry message in the history of art vs. industry messages. The LEAST they could have done is cut out that part that starts "Cleaned-up corporation progress, dying in the process...", but apparently, probably thanks to Glee, Sing is their most successful song ever, so I shouldn't complain about a band I like getting good exposure.

Some of these songs are obscure, but there are videos for 2/3rds of the songs after the jump!

Green Day, 21 Guns - Music Video

Jack's Mannequin, Caves - Live Acoustic

The Fray, How to Save a Life - Music Video

My Chemical Romance, Sing - Music Video


  1. Great List El Kaiser. Some other songs falling in this category, but not from the last decade; Most famously, The Police's "Every Breath She Takes" which is not a love song. If your love is all about "I'll be watching you" in a very stalkerish way, then maybe you need to re-think your relationship.

    Also, from Tears For Fears "The Seeds Of Love" the song "Famous Last Words" which comes off as this very romantic song, like Angels & Airwaves "Heaven" is about the end of the world via nuclear holocaust. The line "I will melt in your arms" takes on an entirely different meaning in that context.

  2. 1) There was music behind Megan Fox's ass?

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  4. My first year at IU I took a literary criticism class that had a profound effect on my thinking. One of the essays we read stuck with me: Wimsatt & Beardsley's Intentional Fallacy.

    Their idea was simple: when looking critically at a poem your interpretation should be based on what is contained in the poem, period.

    Now, I do not believe that they were suggesting we divorce the poem from it's context - WAR without the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

    I'll keep looking for the text.

    Little Red Corvette is not about a car & 99 Red Balloons is not an upbeat cheery summer tune.


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