The Hidden Meaning Behind the Lyrics of Well-known Songs Part 5
Introduction to Part 5
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.
Dire Straits Brothers in Arms
Gnarls Barkley Crazy
(The) Human League Don’t You Want Me
Journey Don’t Stop Believin’
(The) Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin’
Metallica Enter Sandman
No Doubt Don’t Speak
Orbison Roy Crying
Taylor James Fire and Rain
Composed by | Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, and Chris Martin
Performed by | Coldplay
The lyrics are about the limited time we have for living and therefore how we should avoid indecision and instead take advantage of every opportunity to live life to the fullest.
According to Chris Martin, the song was inspired by the band Muse.
Brothers In Arms
Composed by | Mark Knopfler
Performed by | Dire Straits
Knopfler was inspired to write this song during the Falklands war between Britain and Argentina. The lyrics tell the story of a soldier who is dying on the field of battle surrounded by his comrades who stay by his side until he passes away.
Speaking in a BBC interview Knopler said ‘it’s just stupid, it really is. We’re just foolish to take part in anybody’s war’.
The title was prompted by Knopler’s father, who said of the conflict, that the Russians and Argentineans had similar ideologies and were like ‘brothers in arms’.
Composed by | CeeLo Green, Danger Mouse (Brian Joseph Burton), Gian Piero Reverberi, and Gianfranco Reverberi
Performed by | Gnarls Barkley
The lyrics are about losing your mind and being driving into insanity.
CeeLo Green stated that the lyrics were written at the time he was going through a divorce and did not have a record deal. He considered back then that things were bleak and hopeless.
Danger Mouse said in an interview that he brought the song, which he felt was a rip-off of an Ennio Morricone (the writer of Spaghetti Western scores) song to the band. He said that he started a conversation with CeeLo about how people will not take an artist seriously unless they are insane. Adding that they then jokingly discussed ways that they could make people think they were crazy.
The songwriting credits to Gian Piero Reverberi, and Gianfranco Reverberi is due to the fact that the main melody and chord structure of ‘Crazy’ are samples from the song ‘Last Man Standing’ from the movie ‘Django, Prepare a Coffin’.
Don’t You Want Me
Composed by | Joe Callis, Phil Oakey, and Philip Adrian Wright
Performed by | The Human League
The song is about a man who meets a cocktail waitress, makes her a star but they then end up falling out.
Phil Oakey said that it was inspired by the movie ‘A Star Is Born’ and is not a love song but a song about spiteful power politics between two people.
Don’t Stop Believin’
Composed by | Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, and Neal Schon
Performed by | Journey
The idea for the song came from Jonathan Cain when he went to Sunset Boulevard in California to pursue a musical career. He was struggling to find work and he asked his father if he should give up and return to Chicago and he said ‘No, son, stay the course. We have a vision. Stick to your guns. Don’t stop believing’.
While in a hotel room in Detroit, Steve Perry said that he was unable to sleep, so sat staring out of the window. He watched people walking out of the dark and into the light from the streetlights and the term ‘streetlight people’ came to him.
Composed by | John Phillips and Michelle Phillips
Performed by | The Mamas and The Papas
Michelle Phillips said that the song originated while she was living in New York, with her husband John Phillips, during a severe winter and she was feeling homesick for her hometown in sunny California. The song is about yearning to be in another place.
The second verse was inspired following a visit to a Cathedral a few days earlier.
Composed by | Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, and Lars Ulrich
Performed by | Metallica
This song is about trying to reassure a child who will not sleep by telling them that if they do go to sleep the ‘sandman’ will make them dream. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect and scares the child into being afraid to go to sleep.
The line ‘take my hand, we’re off to Never Never Land’ is a direct reference to the story ‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie.
Composed by | Eric Stefani and Gwen Stefani
Performed by | No Doubt
The song is about the seven-year relationship Gwen Stefani had with the bassist Tony Kanal and her regret and sadness when it ended.
Composed by | Joe Melson and Roy Orbison
Performed by | Roy Orbison
Orbison said that he wrote this song following an unexpected meeting with ‘an old flame’ whom he was still in love with. He didn’t tell her about his feelings when they first met and by the later meeting it was too late. He added that he wanted to show that crying, whether by a man or a woman, was not a weakness but a fragility.
Fire and Rain
Composed by | James Taylor
Performed by | James Taylor
Taylor stated in an interview that the first verse of ‘Fire and Rain’ is about his reactions to the death of his friend Suzanne Schnerr who committed suicide. The second verse is about his continuing struggle to stop taking drugs. The third verse is about his five-month recovery at a psychiatric treatment facility in Austin Riggs, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, battling depression, and drug addiction.
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