We sing to top songs in the car, listen to them at work, and dance to them at parties. But, behind every top song, there’s a story and meaning maybe we didn’t hear initially. Sometimes it’s masked by the sound of the song. For instance, an upbeat tune may have a darker meaning hidden in the lyrics. Of course, other times, the stories behind these songs are funny and insightful, making things much clearer. Be ready, because many of these true stories behind the songs might radically change how you listen to them. Here are 25 Insane Stories Behind Top Songs!
Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pools
When released in 2012, “Swimming Pools” by Kendrick Lamar became an instant party anthem. But, ironically, the song lyrics are about how alcohol and peer pressure ruined Lamar’s life.
Aerosmith - Dude Looks Like A Lady
When Aerosmith hung out with the guys from Motley Crue, they rolled their eyes at how every sentence they said started with “Dude.” Even more, at one point, they saw what looked like a girl with bleach blonde hair, but when that person turned around, it was Vince Neil from Motley Crue. This turned into the riff, “Dude looks like a lady.”
Journey - Don't Stop Believin'
This classic and overplayed rock ballad from 1981 has a little bit of a factual error in it. South Detroit doesn’t exist. When written, Steve Perry tried North Detroit, East Detroit, West Detroit, but for him, South Detroit sounded the best, so he went with it. Later, he found out “South Detroit” is really just Canada.
Gwen Stefani - Hollaback Girl
This pop song and instant dance track sensation was written as a direct response to Courtney Love dissing Stefani, calling her a cheerleader. We’d say Stefani wins for best comeback.
Van Halen - Jump
This upbeat and peppy song is pretty dark when you know what inspired the lyrics. David Lee Roth came up with the line “Go ahead and jump” after seeing a news broadcast of a guy standing on top of Arco Tower, threatening to commit suicide.
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
The common belief is that this song is about drugs, but Roger Waters, the writer, insists it isn’t. It’s actually about what it felt like when he was sick as a kid, disconnected from reality and sometimes entering delirium.
Woody Guthrie - This Land Is Your Land
Though sometimes considered a second American national anthem, this song originally was a protest song Guthrie recorded in 1944 in response to how much “God Bless America” was played during The Great Depression. The controversial lyrics, however, were either never recorded or later removed due to fear of McCarthyism.
Third Eye Blind - Semi-Charmed Life
With catchy riffs and plenty of a “Doo-Doo-Doos,” this poppy song is actually about falling apart and someone dealing with drug addiction. Stephan Jenkins wanted the riffs to feel shiny and bright like the feeling of being on speed.
Noël Regeny and Gloria Shayne Baker - Do You Hear What I Hear?
Many believe this Christmas classic was written a long time ago. It was actually written by Noël Regeny and Gloria Shayne Baker in 1962 during the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis. They were in the recording studio listening to the radio and were afraid they were about to be obliterated by nuclear missiles. So, they wrote it about the Nativity Story during the Cold War.
Fastball - The Way
This chart-topping 1998 single was interpreted about eternal youth and a road trip that never ends. However, in a dark twist, it was actually inspired by a news story of an elderly couple that left for a festival in Texas and disappeared. When the band decided to record the song, they read in the newspaper that the elderly couple was found dead at the bottom of a canyon in their Oldsmobile, hundreds of miles off course.
Bob Marley - I Shot The Sheriff
Some might think this song would be pretty straightforward. However, Marley’s girlfriend claims it’s actually about birth control. She said Marley thought birth control was a sin and the doctor prescribing them was the “sheriff.” These lyrics specifically bring light to this interpretation: “Sheriff John Brown always hated me/For what, I don’t know/Every time I plant a seed/He said kill it before it grow.”
Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
This upbeat song was briefly considered by the New Jersey state legislature to be their state song, but it was shot down in the Senate. It’s kind of easy to see why. Despite its peppy sound, the lyrics are much harsher: “Baby, this town rips the bones from your back. It’s a death trap. It’s a suicide rap.”
Carly Simon - You're So Vain
While it was unknown who Carly Simon spoke about when she wrote and sang, “You’re So Vain,” she eventually admitted it was about Warren Beatty.
Chicago - 25 or 6 to 4
Many believe this song is about drugs and being on LSD, but that interpretation is wrong. According to Robert Lamm, the song was written when they were recording songs late at night and is about time.
Deep Purple - Smoke On The Water
This song with the universally noticeable opening guitar riff was written after someone launched a rocket inside a casino during Frank Zappa’s concert. A fire broke out instantly, destroying the casino complex. The title “Smoke On The Water” came about when Roger Glover saw the smoke roll over Lake Geneva as the fire raged inside the casino.
BTO - Ain't Seen Nothing Yet
This song was written by Randy Bachman; during one of the recording sessions, he recorded a joke track stammering all the words, like “You ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet.” He did it purposefully because his brother Gary Bachman had a horrible stammer at the time. He teased his brother they were going to put it on the album, though he had no intention of doing so. Then their producer Charley Fach intervened, saying it was their only potential hit song, so they used the joke track and it became BTO’s only #1 song.
Beastie Boys - Fight For Your Right To Party
Everyone thinks this song is about partying. In reality, the Beastie Boys were parodying all the songs at the time singing about partying. Adam Yauch was making fun of them but admitted irony is often missed by people. He goes on to say, “The only thing that upsets me is that we might have reinforced certain values of some people in our audience when our own values were actually totally different.”
Sixpence None The Richer - There She Goes
This popular song was actually covered by Sixpence None The Richer and was originally written and sung by The La’s. While it appears to be about a girl always getting away, in reality, it’s about the fleeting feeling after someone takes heroin and the addiction that follows.
Paul McCartney - Hey Jude
This famous and beloved ballad was written during a tumultuous time for McCartney when the Beatles weren’t getting along and he and his girlfriend were splitting up. However, he wrote it as a way to comfort and cheer up John Lennon’s five-year-old son, Jules, as his parents were getting divorced. Originally, the title was “Hey Jules” but he changed it later. Awkwardly, John Lennon thought the song was about him as a blessing for his relationship with Yoko Ono.
The Drifters - Save The Last Dance For Me
The writer of this popular ballad was Doc Pomus. He wrote it after watching his bride dance with everyone else at their wedding. Doc Pomus was unable to dance because he had polio.
John Mellencamp - Pink Houses
Many people think this song is about the American Dream. In reality, Mellencamp says it’s about how the American Dream has led to poverty and wasn’t working anymore.
Hanson - MMMBop
This catchy, one-hit-wonder was all the rage in 1996 that most considered a mindless ballad. However, Hanson stated it originally had a somber tone to meet its intended meaning but was changed to a pop song later. It’s actually about the futility of life and how the things you think are important are going to be gone.
Lady Gaga - Pokerface
This hit song isn’t about poker or being coy. It was inspired by Lady Gaga keeping her bisexuality hidden from her heterosexual male lover.
Three Dog Night - One
After trying to call someone and getting a busy signal, Harry Nilsson wrote this song. The opening riff imitates the “boop, boop, boop” sound you hear during a busy signal. He stayed on the line to use it as inspiration for the song.
Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
While driving his Rolls-Royce down the highway, Jackson wrote this song. He became so enamored by his songwriting and the song that he didn’t notice his car had caught on fire. A motorcyclist warned him about it and saved his life in the process.