Wednesday, June 21, 2006


When I was about three years old I liked to listen to the music from "Guys and Dolls" on our scratchy old record player.

For some reason--perhaps because I was fond of animals--I particularly loved the lyrics of "Fugue for Tinhorns," which I'd often warble semi-tunefully for a small audience of my parents' friends (yes, I know, shameless self-aggrandizer).

Do you know the song? It offers advice for betting on horse races. Here's a little sampler:

I got the horse right here
The name is Paul Revere
And here's a guy that says that the weather's clear
Can do, can do, this guy says the horse can do
If he says the horse can do, can do, can do.

What did I understand about the words? Not very much, although I did know that they had something to do with horses and racing, and that "Paul Revere" and the other names in the song (I especially liked "Valentine") referred to the animals.

But much of the meaning of the song was unintelligible to me. The many parts I didn't comprehend ("I've got the feed box noise"??) I memorized in a sort of phonetic, syllable-by-syllable rote way, trying to give them meaning as I went along, or ignoring meaning when I couldn't divine any.

"Feed box noise," for instance, was just that--a lot of noise, full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing. I couldn't make it into any words at all, so it remained something like "fee pox voize" in my mind.

But other parts seemed to include recognizable words, although those words didn't always make a whole lot of sense. There was this: "It's from a handicapper that's real sincere," which I turned into "It's from a handy capper that's real sincere." A handy capper: someone good with his hands who made caps, or who wore caps--whatever.

And in my mind there it stayed--as "handy capper."

I hardly ever thought of those song lyrics again, until one day well into middle adulthood, when for some reason the song came up. I was discussing the lyrics with a friend, and I started to say, "One thing I don't understand; what's a 'handy capper'?" But as those words were about to come out of my mouth, they suddenly coalesced into a single word, one I actually knew and connected to horse racing--"handicapper"--and I burst out laughing at my own stupidity.

What I'd done was to create something known as a "mondegreen," and by no means one of the most amusing ones around. But the internet comes to the rescue; here's a site with some wonderful mondegreens. Especially fine, I think, are the following:

All my luggage, I will send to you.
(Actual lyric: All my loving, I will send to you--Beatles)

Baby come back, you can play Monopoly.
Actual lyric: Baby come back, you can blame it all on me.
(Player "Baby Come Back")

Come shave my heart.
Actual lyric:Unchain my heart.
(Ray Charles)

Donuts make my brown eyes blue.
Actual lyric:Don't it make my brown eyes blue.
(Crystal Gale)

Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul.
Actual lyric:Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul.
(Dobie Gray "Drift Away")
(I think I may have succumbed to this one myself.)

Hold me closer, Tony Danza
Count the head lice on the highway.
Actual lyric: Hold me closer, tiny dancer.
(Elton John "Tiny Dancer")

Just brush my teeth before you leave me, baby.
Actual lyric:Just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby.
(Juice Newton "Angel of the Morning")

Last night I dreamt of some bagels.
Actual lyric:Last night I dreamt of San Pedro.

he's got a chicken to ride.
Actual lyric:She's got a ticket to ride.

She's got electric boobs, a mohair too.
Actual lyric:She's got electric boots, a mohair suit.
(Elton John "Benny and the Jets")

Sugar fried honey butt.
Actual lyric:Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.
(Four Tops "Can't Help Myself")

Got any of your own?


At 5:03 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Cappy said...

This is great! I've been waiting years for information like this! Now if there was only a web site dedicated to "Great Hebrew School Song Parodies of the '50's and '60's"! Who can ever remember classics like "Visit the USSR in your Armored Car"?

At 6:04 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger stumbley said...

from Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man":

I heard: "...part time thing, pray for rain"
actual lyric: "...part time thing, paper ring" (you know, the cigar label kind)

from the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night":

I heard: "...but why I love to come home, 'cause when I get you alone..."

actual lyric: "...but why on earth should I moan, 'cause when I get you alone..."

At 6:10 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Senescent Wasp said...

After I get my heart shaved by the girl with the electric boobs, I'm gonna have me some of that sugar fried honey butt.

Priceless, Neo, thanks. Going to look for a Christopher Cross song from the 80's that had had a line about Ali Bhutto, the late president of Pakistan. I could never figure out how he got in the song.

At 7:03 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Not a song but I thought for year and years people were saying “Oh my bag” – when they were actually saying “Oh my bad”.

At 7:10 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger rickl said...

The most famous one of all, as far as I know:

"There's a bathroom on the right"

--Creedence Clearwater Revival's "There's a bad moon on the rise".

At 7:26 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Jamie Irons said...


Well, here in the Bay Area we have the advantage of the San Francisco columnist Jon Carroll's longstanding obsession with the mondegreen. (Mr. Carroll is a good writer and a very nice fellow but, unhappily, politically very far to the left.)

Here is one of his columns on the subject, this one written, believe it or not, just nine days after 9/11:

Jon Carroll on Mondegreens

Jamie Irons

At 7:42 PM, June 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was four or five, I thought that the chorus in Part II of Handel's Messiah was: "Great was the Company of the Peaches".

At 8:13 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Mom said...

Another one from the Messiah -- my friend Lauren back in college was absolutely delighted by the part where the chorus sings, "Oh, we like sheep! Oh, we like sheep! Oh, we like sheep! Oh, we like sheep!" Eventually the chorus got around to the second half of the sentence -- " . . . have gone astray" -- but Lauren missed that part and thought it was just a happy song about sheep.

It's much more fun that way.

At 10:24 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Kurt said...

honestly, my mind isn't always in the gutter, but when i was in high school, i couldn't believe irene cara sang "take your pants off, and make it happen" in the song "flashdance." she didn't, of course, the actual lyric was "take your passion and make it happen."

word verification: furryzb

At 11:59 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger confusedforeigner said...

It's a long way to the shop,
If you want a sausage roll.

At 12:42 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger camojack said...

"Give me the Beach Boys and free my soul."

Yeah, back in the 70's I was corrected for that particular misapprehension.

In the 80's, I heard someone mis-sing the title line from the Rolling Stones' "Beast of burden":
I never seen your face so purty.
(A Southe'n boy with whom I was in the Army)

At 4:01 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

I thought the fact that the term "mondegreen" is itself a result of a mondegreen to be rather amusing.

At 6:54 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger sarah said...

When I was a teenager I always liked the song with the refrain:

Sentimental Gentlemen...

A few years ago I learned it is actually Sentimental Gentle One

Possible they are speaking about a female. Who knew?

At 7:03 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger Sissy Willis said...

Tuck used to

pledge allegiance to the flag

of the United States of America

and to the republic

for Richard Stans . . .

At 7:07 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger goesh said...

"Round John Virgin" from Silent Night was one of mine. Being raised a Catholic and back in the days of the Latin Tridentine Mass, we had lots of fun creating mondegreens. I can't remember the Latin, but the mondegreen for one phrase went, "where did you put the incense pot? I put it away because it got too hot"
Dominus Vobiscum = Dominoes n' biscuits was another one I recall.

At 8:10 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger SteveR said...

"...Great Hebrew School Song Parodies of the '50s and '60s..."!

Cappy, you have liberated me from thinking that I was the only nut who did this. Boy this dredges up a lot of data from old brain cells that I thought had fizzled out a long time ago:

Wouldn't it be nice to be Bar-Mitzvah
Saying your haftorah in the shul,
And wouldn't it be nice to have an Aliyah
Everyone would think that you're so cool!

Shul, shul, go to shul,
I GO TO SHUL woooo-ooooo
I go to shul....
... I got a black-knitted kipa and it can't be beat
and it always makes a hit with all the shickses we meet...

Help me Rabbi, help, help me Rabbi!...

We start Shabbos day-ay-ay
On... the night before!

Listen, do you want to say a Bracha?...

Left a good shul in the city,
Davnin' at the Temple every day and night...

Cohens on the left of me,
Levis on the right,
Here I am
Back in the Temple with you...

Hey Jew, it's up to you,
Do a Mitzvah, make the world better,
Remember, Hashem has work to be done,
Tikkun Olam will make it better.

Neo, as for mondegreen, some classics I can think of off the top of my head...

'Scuze me, while I kiss this guy!
(actual lyric: 'Scuze me, while I kiss the sky - Jimmy Hendrix)

and the all-time favorite....

Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche into the middle of the night
(actual lyric: Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce another runner in the night - Manfred Mann)

At 8:41 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger Steven said...

I thought the Rascals were singing "You and me and Lesley" in the song "Groovin'," and wondered who this Lesley was. Actual lyric is "You and me endlessly."

At 8:58 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger goesh said...

- and speaking of Latin, a big fat mea culpa for going off subject, but hey Senescent, you didn't happen to carry a Swedish K in a certain SE Asian country some years ago, did you? You remind me of those, ah, 'lads' that came and went at will. I guess it's the way you can slap Limeys and Frogs around that makes me ask....
Curious in Quanq Tri

At 10:00 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger Senescent Wasp said...

Your right. Off topic for a fun thread.

Short answer. Yep, briefly, very early, cross trained in the days when that was still possible.

Now back to the fun.

At 11:51 AM, June 22, 2006, Blogger nyomythus said...

Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche into the middle of the night

No way! That's not the real lyric? I don't like that song now :\


At 12:13 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger mikeski said...

Heard: "Whoa-oh, tryin' to grow!"

Actual: "Whoa-oh, China Grove!"

(Doobie Brothers)

At 12:39 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger SippicanCottage said...

A girl with colitis goes by...

At 1:10 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger fred said...

My wife's "mondegreen" was from the Star-Spangled Banner: Oh say can you see by the donzerlylight ... . Some years ago, in his word column, William Safire admitted to the same confusion.

It reminds me of the lyrics aimed at creating such confusion: Marzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey, a kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?

It took me years to learn the translation.

At 1:49 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger goesh said...

Parsley sagerows Mary and time from parsley sage rosemary and thyme (Simon & Garfunkel)

At 4:21 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger vanderleun said...

Then there all the evergreens. Lyrics heard by all but heard more deeply by a few:

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have
Kicked you around some
Who knows, maybe you were kidnapped,
Tied-up, taken away, and held for ransom

Honey, it dont really matter to me
Baby, everybodys had to fight to be free
You see, you dont have to live like a refugee
No, you dont have to live like a refugee
Baby, you dont have to live like a refugee

At 5:01 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger sarah said...

I can't believe no one has added it yet:

Gladly the Cross-eyed Bear

At 5:16 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger Cappy said...

Great Hebrew School Bus Song Parodies

In response to almost no demand, here's as many lyrics as I can recall, through fogged memory:

(To The Dinah Shore Show Chevy Theme)
See the USSR
In your armored car,
Kruschev is asking you to call,
Bring your tommy gun,
we'll have lots of fun,
shooting West Berliners on the run

(To the tune of Whistle While you Work)
Whistle while you work,
Nixon is a jerk,
pack you sack
and vote for Jack
and whistle while you work.

Whistle while you work,
Kennedy is a jerk,
pack your riches,
vote for Richard,
whistle while you work.

(To the tune of Dovid, Melch Yisrael)
[With NO apologies to trolls!]
Dovid, melech ginger ale,
Chai, chai, pizza pie,

At 9:08 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger Foobarista said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:46 AM, June 23, 2006, Blogger Dymphna said...


I love mondegreens! I wrote about this during the very early hours of Katrina's decision to have her way with Mississippi and Lousiana...

Kansas City, Mondegreens, Litanies and Katrina
The origins of the word 'mondegreens'--

This term was coined when an author was referring to hearing "upon the green" as "mondegreen". Malachi McCourt, brother of Frank who wrote Angela's Ashes, titled his autobiography "A Monk's Swimmin'" which is how the little Irish boys heard the line from the Ave Maria/Hail Mary "blessed are thou amongst women...

My favorite deliberate mondegreen remains "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy/Kids'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?" That one makes kids roll on the floor when you write out the words for them...I like to make kids RTFL -- keeps 'em where you can see 'em...

I'm glad to see Senescent Wasp on the comments. I was afraid he'd been taken out by some old jealous husband who'd tracked him down despite his abilities as a chameleon.

Happy Summer Solstice Weekend, it's back to dwindling light. Darn...

At 9:48 AM, June 23, 2006, Blogger Pax Federatica said...

"There's a bathroom on the right"

John Fogerty has been known to intentionally sneak this version of the lyric into live performances. One example is on his Premonition live album. When the chorus is sung twice at the end of the song, Fogerty sings the "bathroom" lyric the first time, then the correct lyric the second time.

Actually there are entire Web sites devoted to this sort of thing. and (which also mocks real lyrics) are two sites you might want to check out.

At 10:22 AM, June 23, 2006, Blogger Diane Wilson said...

I never have been able to listen to song lyrics and make sense of them, so I long ago stopped trying. I get plenty of these out of listening to radio (or to podcasts, now). I called them "dysaudia" for lack of knowledge about "mondegreens."

For instance, I was pleased to hear that the economy was improving, since orders for gerbil goods were up in the last month.

And I would swear that the DJ on a classical station once announced the Haydn Traffic Concerto.

At 4:49 PM, June 23, 2006, Blogger Scott said...

I can't BELIEVE no one has posted the all time fave:

I'm in the mood for love
Simply because you're near me.

Funnybutt when you're near me
I'm in the mood for love.

At 2:35 AM, June 28, 2006, Blogger Grumpy Old Man said...

I like "My Goat Knows My Bowling Score" for "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." From the Tony Shalhoub character on that sitcom about the Nantucket airline.

And "seeking out the poor reporters, where the ragged people go" from "The Boxer" (seeking out the poorer quarters . . )


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