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Say Say . . . Say What?

September 19, 2011

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  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)

    Ah, yes, thank you. Sweet validation at last.

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. 

25 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 8:07 am

    I like how the Oakridge guy’s mustache has slightly more handlebar than Oates.

    It’s that extra 1/2 inch of hair growing south that makes the distinction between country and rock star, baby!

    (But I think both those guys modeled their look after Lionel Ritchie.)

    • September 20, 2011 3:17 pm

      So does that mustache pattern distinction relate somehow to the “party in the back, business in the front” rule of mullets? Oh, wait, you wouldn’t know anything about mullets, would you? ;)

  2. Melanie permalink
    September 20, 2011 4:59 pm

    Some of my proudest moments were when someone pointed out to me that I had the lyrics all wrong to these winners:

    I was fully convinced that “last night I dreamt of some bagel” in La Isla Bonita was Madonna desperately wishing she was a good little Jewish girl. You know, like me.

    I assumed Steve Miller had a wonderfully multicultural group of friends, seeing as he asked so nicely that his buddies “Digo, Jed and Alilah, don’t carry me too far away.” sadly, it never occurred to me to ask why the song was called JET AIRLINER.

    • September 20, 2011 6:44 pm

      Those are great ones! Love them! I still don’t know what La Isla Bonita says. I thought it started with “last night I dreamt of some Pedro” which can’t be right, can it? “Some Pedro”? Like “some guy I met.” I love the multicultural Steve Miller song – I like your version better I think.

      PS I dream of bagels sometimes too. Maybe I’m desperately wishing to be a good Jewish girl? This is all very illuminating for me.

  3. Davis permalink
    September 21, 2011 9:00 am

    You now have a following in Columbus, OH among a few on the staff at Ohio State U and elsewhere in the area. We’re visiting my daughter’s family here, and last night we all howled at your misguided lyrics piece. Kelly posted it on her FB and friends here have been picking it up.

    • September 21, 2011 7:40 pm

      Wow, a following in Columbus, OH — I’ll take it! Definitely a step-up from my current following, two-thirds of which reside at my parents’ home.

  4. September 22, 2011 8:38 pm

    Much like The Hoff, I claim a fan following in Germany.

    • September 23, 2011 2:23 pm

      The Hoff has a fan following everywhere – are you kidding me? The man is right up there with Chuck Norris. You are in good company.

  5. October 2, 2011 7:02 pm

    If I had just saved that lycra jump suit, I’d put it on right now and dance along with the Hustle dancers! Yeah baby! Off to the disco in Hull, MA… stylin’. I could add some songs to this list! I once saw a book of misinterpreted songs, still wish I’d bought it.

    • October 2, 2011 8:13 pm

      Did that lycra jumpsuit also include the I Dream of Jeannie bellbottom hybrid pants? If so, those might be worth something today.

  6. October 19, 2011 6:03 am

    Absolutely hysterical post. I was reading it on my little iTouch on the couch last night and laughed so hard I was crying, so much so that my kids were a little worried. Oh how I wish I could hear Mr. Roboto on the radio! We were obsessed with that video on MTV.

    “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” (I still laugh when I read that line!)

    My mom used to play the Oak Ridge Boys until my ears bled (didn’t take long usually) My fave song, “Giddy up! Ba-um-boppa-ba-um-boppa mow mow!” What the hell were those guys smokin’? And I am convinced that was, in fact, John Oates’s evil twin.

    I had so many lyrics wrong as a kid. I used to think The Who were singing, “Won’t get food again! Oh no! Won’t get food again!” those poor guys, starving to death…someone please throw them a Twinkie for the love of God.

    • October 19, 2011 8:08 pm

      What I loved about the Oak Ridge Boys is that the deep-voiced guy was the one with no facial hair who looked like he was just picked up at a sushi bar by three burly bikers on their way to Sturgis. Does not make sense to me that he is the bass of the four.

      I wish I could say I saw Mr. Roboto on MTV but, much to my chagrin, we did not get that channel until 1986.

      The Who not getting fed. It’s just so tragic to think about.

  7. skynyrdgyrl81 permalink
    January 22, 2012 9:47 pm

    I used to think Springsteen’s “10th Avenue Freezout” was “Dead Devil in the Freezer”.

    • January 22, 2012 9:59 pm

      That’s a great one! I never even had a guess of what that song said — mostly I heard just wah-wah-wah.

  8. February 18, 2012 1:53 pm

    One of these days, I’m gonna have read ALL of your posts. I laughed so hard I think I just got my ab workout. I’m clicking the “random post.” That’s a very fun thing to do I’m finding.

    • February 18, 2012 2:06 pm

      Random post? What in the world. You must tell me about this feature.

      Thanks for reading these old posts. I think my writing style has changed (evolved?) in the past few months. . . so I find myself wanting to come back and pick at this post and others, make it better, take out a few of the many, many junky images I felt the need to insert. Oh, well. I’ll just claim I wrote them when I was drunk a la Darla from She’s A Maineiac (yo, whassup, Darla).

      • February 18, 2012 2:17 pm

        Your writing style is perfect, then and now. Don’t monkey-paw! LOL Your blog is filled with so many little treats, I come back for a new fix as often as I can. Random Post: Roll your mouse over the blogger’s icon (top left along the black banner). There it is. Duh. And I’M the newbie.

        (Hey, Darla. I didn’t realize you two were drinking buddies. Invite me out next time. I’ll dump the kids on Dad…a few in us, I’m sure we could dig up some real dirt. Not my kind, either.)

  9. June 13, 2012 1:21 pm

    I’m like this too! I misunderstand song lyrics all the time! In fact I’ve done a whole blog post on some super funny messed up song lyrics!

  10. June 15, 2012 10:40 am

    I went for years not realizing the REM song “Man on the Moon” was about Andy Kaufman and wrestling.

    In fact, I was dumbfounded when my ex-husband told me that. I said, “No way! How would you know that?”

    He glibly said, “Well, the second line IS ‘Andy Kaufman in the wrestling matching.’ and if that doesn’t prove it, the chorus says, ‘Hey Andy did you hear about this one? Tell me, are you locked in the punch? Hey, Andy are you goofing on Elvis?'”

    • June 17, 2012 8:08 pm

      I think that song was a big question mark to most people until the music video came out. And I still didn’t even know what the hell was going on since I was never old enough to follow his late ’70s female wrestling stint.

  11. September 4, 2012 10:02 pm

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  12. January 18, 2013 7:46 pm

    I’m pretty sure that lyric is, “Wrapped up like a douche another mother in the night.”


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