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The Hidden Meaning Behind the Lyrics of Well-known Songs Part 6

Updated on August 14, 2020

Introduction to Part 6

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.


AC/DC Highway to Hell

America Horse with No Name

(The) Animals House of the Rising Sun

Cash Johnny Hurt

Cash Johnny I Walk the Line

Creedence Clearwater Revival Have You Ever Seen the Rain

Fleetwood Mac Go Your Own Way

Foreigner I Want to Know What Love is

John Elton Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Melvin Harold (and The Blue Notes) If You Don’t Know Me by Now

Pitney Gene Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa

Highway to Hell

Composed by | Bon Scott, Angus Young, and Malcolm Young

Performed by | AC/DC

‘Highway to Hell’ is the nickname given to the Canning Highway in Perth, Western Australia. It starts in Freemantle, where Bon Scott lived, and ends at his favourite bar ‘The Raffles’ which was a well-known rock bar and a gathering place for bikers.

It was called the ‘highway to hell’ due to a sudden steep decline near the bar, which has caused numerous high-speed car and motorcycle accidents resulting in deaths and serious injuries.

Horse with No Name

Composed by | Dewey Bunnell

Performed by | America

Originally titled ‘Desert Song’ the lyrics are based on the desert scenery Dewey Bunnell saw when his father was stationed at an Air Force base in Santa Barbara County, California.

The song is a rather dreamy tale about someone’s trip through the desert where, although the landscape is unforgiving, the person finds reassurance in that environment.

Bunnell said that the ‘horse’ represents a way of entering a place of tranquillity. To him the desert seemed the perfect place to achieve this especially as at the time he was living in ‘rainy old England’.

Although Neil Young complained that the song was similar to his own ‘Heart of Gold’ Bunnell never denied that he was inspired by Young and considered him one of his greatest hero’s.

House of the Rising Sun

Composed by | Said to date back to the 18th Century there is no evidence about who wrote the song.

Performed by | The Animals

Although there is no record of who actually wrote the song, some ‘new’ lines have been credited to folk singer Georgia Turner (1921/1969) but no one can claim rights to the song and it can be recorded by anyone without having to pay royalties.

The song is a popular African-American folk song and the lyrics tell of hard times in New Orleans especially, it is speculated, referring to life inside Orleans Parish prison.


Composed by | Trent Reznor

Performed by | (1) Nine Inch Nails (2) Johnny Cash

Trent Reznor said that this song is about living your life without regrets, excuses, or making choices that have negative consequences, rather than wishing later on in your life or at the end of your life that things could have been so much better had you made different choices earlier on.

The version by Johnny Cash at the age of 71 with declining health was filmed at the now derelict ‘House of Cash’. The video was recorded in a way that was truthful and forthright about Cash’s failing health.

June Cash died three months after filming and Johnny Cash four months after his wife.

I Walk the Line

Composed by | Johnny Cash

Performed by | Johnny Cash

Cash wrote this song as a promise to avoid temptation and remain faithful to his then wife Vivian Liberto while he was touring.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain

Composed by | John Fogerty

Performed by | Creedence Clearwater Revival

John Fogerty said that the song was about the rising tension and friction in the band and his brother’s imminent departure from the band. He added that at that time they were at the height of their fame and had made more money than they could ever have dreamt of but for some reason all the band members were depressed and unhappy.

Go Your Own Way

Composed by | Lindsey Buckingham

Performed by | Fleetwood Mac

Lindsey Buckingham wrote this after his break-up with Stevie Nicks, deciding that he is better off without her and that she could go her own way.

I Want to Know What Love is

Composed by | Lou Gramm and Mick Jones

Performed by | Foreigner

Mick Jones said that the lyrics were on a personal level recounting the many relationships he had over the years that eventually failed and that he was still searching for the ‘one’ that would last forever a lifetime.

One night, when he started to write the song in his Kensington, apartment in London, he only managed the title and excitedly rushed into the bedroom of his soon-to-be wife Ann Dexter-Jones and told her that he had a name for a new song. When he told her that it was ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ she stared at him with a strange look and said ‘What do you mean? Don’t you already know what love is?’

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Composed by | Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Performed by | Elton John

Bernie Taupin’s lyrics are about someone who has achieved fame and been in the limelight but now wants to return home to their farming past and back to their roots. Taupin was raised on a farm and then found fame with Elton John so the lyrics are autobiographical.

The ‘Yellow Brick Road’ in the title is taken from the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in which the character Dorothy, and her friends, follow the yellow brick road in search of the elusive Wizard of Oz.

If You Don’t Know Me by Now

Composed by | Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff

Performed by | Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes

The composers said that the lyrics were written about their marital problems, which both found difficult to cope with and personally heartbreaking. They felt that their wives did not know or understand them and never would.

Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa

Composed by | Burt Bacharach and Hal David

Performed by | Gene Pitney

The lyrics suggest that a man is travelling to the city of Tulsa to meet his current ‘lover’. Only one day away he stops on his journey, meets someone else, and immediately falls in love with her.

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


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