The Hidden Meaning Behind the Lyrics of Well-known Songs Part 11
Introduction to Part 11
Usually it is simple to interpret the lyrics of some great songs. Most have no profound meaning and just happen to have an appealing chorus, memorable riff, or easy to learn rhyming verses. However, many familiar songs with distinctive music have hidden meanings, which you may not be aware of, or over the years have misinterpreted. How many songs have you listened to and thought, “What is that song actually about?” Known the meaning of classic or popular song can give it a new sense of understanding and therefore a deeper appreciation. With the following interpretations, the aim is to give the reader a better insight into the true intentions of the artist(s) who wrote and recorded the song.
Chapin, Harry W.O.L.D.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash Wooden Ships
Harrison, George While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Mitchell, Joni Woodstock
Stewart, Al Year of the Cat
U2 With or Without You
Who (The) Won’t Get Fooled Again
Yes Wonderous Stories
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Composed by | George Harrison
Performed by | The Beatles
George Harrison said he wrote this song as an exercise in randomness inspired by the Chinese book ‘I Ching’ (the book of changes). He added that while reading the book he decided that the song would be written about the first words he saw which were ‘Gently Weeps’.
I Ching is used as a book of wisdom with its readings giving simple, elegant, intuitive, and profound advice and insight into human nature.
The song is about Harrison’s dismay at the world’s unrealised potential for universal adoration and also the discordant atmosphere within The Beatles on their return from India.
With or Without You
Composed by | Bono (Paul David Hewson), Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr, and The Edge (David Howell Evans)
Performed by | U2
Bono said that the lyrics are about how exposed he feels in U2 at times. He added that it is also about his own struggle to manage his responsibilities of being married and a musician on the road. He cannot let either go and at the same time he cannot go on living the same way. He puts his dilemma in the lyric ‘I can’t live with or without you’.
Composed by | Harry Chapin
Performed by | Harry Chapin
Harry Chapin said that this song is based around the many DJ’s he met while touring and promoting his music, particularly Jim Connors who was known as the ‘morning man’ on WYSL in Buffalo.
The lyrics tell of a washed up DJ whose popularity has long since faded now working for W.O.L.D an oldies hits radio station, as he can’t get any other work. In the lyrics he covers a broken marriage, alcoholism, estrangement from his children, a mid-life crisis, his self-destructive immaturity, and losing his job to a younger, sharper DJ.
The song is built around a phone call the DJ makes to his ex wife whom he would like to get back together with now that he has another job. Among other things he explains to her that he has to present a ‘bright good morning voice’ no matter how he is feeling inside.
Composed by | Noel Gallagher
Performed by | Oasis
Noel Gallagher initially claimed that the song was about his then girlfriend, and later wife, Meg Matthews, but later, after they divorced, he said that because of the media he couldn’t say anything else at the time once she had read it in the papers. He added that the song is in fact about an imaginary friend who is going to save you from your self.
Composed by | Jon Anderson
Performed by | Yes
Jon Anderson said that the lyrics were inspired by some romantic stories he had read, and are about the joys of life, and special days that you want to remember for years afterwards.
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Composed by | Pete Townshend
Performed by | The Who
Pete Townshend said that this song was about a revolution, with the first verse being the uprising, the middle is about the overthrow of those in power, and the end disappointingly describes the new regime ending up acting just like the old one. Townshend said that in his opinion revolution was pointless as whoever takes over eventually becomes as corrupt as those they replaced.
Composed by | David Crosby, Paul Kantner, and Stephen Stills
Performed by | Crosby, Stills, and Nash
David Crosby said that the lyrics are post-apocalyptic and anti-war and were written in the cabin of his boat, The Mayan. He added that we all (Crosby, Katner, and Stills) imagined ourselves as the only survivors of a catastrophic event escaping on a wooden boat to create a new civilisation.
Composed by | Joni Mitchell
Performed by | Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell said that she wrote the song after watching the 1969 Woodstock music festival on TV in her New York hotel room. Although she was due to perform at Woodstock her manager had advised her to miss out as she was also booked to appear on a show called ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ and he felt that if she went to Woodstock she would miss her TV appearance.
She added that as she watch the performers and the crowd’s reaction she suddenly thought about how powerful and persuasive the acts were. She considered it to be like a modern miracle with a spirit of tremendous optimism.
Critics said that she captured the feelings and atmosphere of the festival better than anyone who had actually been there.
Year of the Cat
Composed by | Al Stewart and Peter Wood
Performed by | Al Stewart
Struggling to find lyrics for a piece of music Al Stewart said that his inspiration finally came from a book his girlfriend had on Vietnamese astrology that was lying open at a chapter called ‘Year of the Cat’ and he saw that as the title for a song.
He added that he was sitting thinking that it would be ridiculous to write a song about cats when the movie ‘Casablanca’ came on the television and he thought ‘I’ll use Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre and see where it goes’.
The song is about a love affair that unfolds in North Africa in 1975, which was the year of the cat in Vietnamese astrology.
Resources and Comment
Apart from an individual artist or group, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines own websites, there are also many specialised websites that offer explanations as to the background and meaning of songs and their lyrics.
If you have a favourite song that you would like to know the meaning of the lyrics please let me know.
© 2020 Brian OldWolf