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The Hidden Meaning Behind the Lyrics of Well-known Songs Part 7

Updated on August 21, 2020

Introduction to Part 7

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.


Beatles (The) A Day in the Life

Bon Jovi Livin’ On a Prayer

Boston More Than a Feeling

MacColl, Kirsty Miss Otis Regrets

Manic Street Preachers A Design for Life

Moody Blues (The) Nights in White Satin

Police (The) Message in a Bottle

A Day in the Life

Composed by | John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Performed by | The Beatles

John Lennon based the start of the song on two stories that he had read in the Daily Mail and Daily Express (newspapers). Firstly, in 1966 Guinness heir Tara Browne dying in a car crash and secondly in 1967 a survey in Blackburn that reported there were 4,000 holes in their roads that required repairing in, and the material needed to achieve this could fill the Albert Hall.

The mention of a film is considered to be a reference to the movie ‘How I Won the War’ in which Lennon had a supporting role playing the character ‘Gripweed’.

A Design for Life

Composed by | James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore, and Nicky Wire

Performed by | Manic Street Preachers

Nicky Wire said that the song was originally a two-page poem. One page was called ‘A Pure Motive’ and the other ‘A Design For Life’. The song’s inspiration came from his perception that the middle-classes were trying to capture working-class culture. The themes of class conflict and working class identity are also mentioned in the lyrics.

The opening line ‘Libraries gave us power’ came from a plaque above the entrance to the former Pillgwenlly Library in New port.

Livin’ On a Prayer

Composed by | Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi, and Richie Sambora

Performed by | Bon Jovi

Desmond Child said that the characters ‘Tommy’ and ‘Gina’ were based on a real life situation from the 1970’s when he was with his girlfriend Maria Vidal, who was a waitress in a diner, and he was working as a taxi driver in New York. The customers at the diner called Maria Vidal ‘Gina’ because she reminded them of the actress Gina Lollobrigida.

He added that the song originally started with the names Johnny and Gina but he said that he didn’t want a ‘Johnny’ as that was his own original name so it was changed to ‘Tommy’.

Message in a Bottle

Composed by | Sting (Gordon Sumner)

Performed by | The Police

Sting said that the song is about a guy stranded on a remote island who one day finds a bottle and puts a message in it and places it in the sea in the hope that someone will find it and come and save him. He then wakes up one morning and is amazed to see many bottles with messages lying on the shore showing that there are many people just like him.

The lyrics are a metaphoric cry for help when you are lonely and then realising you are not the only one in that situation.

Miss Otis Regrets

Composed by | Cole Porter

Performed by | (1) Bette Midler (2) Kirsty MacColl

Written in 1934 the lyrics tell a story of a society woman who murders her cheating lover and is then lynched.

Cole Porter allegedly said that he wrote the lyrics following a visit to a restaurant where he boasted that he could write a song on any subject, and was then challenged to write one about whatever the next topic that he overheard being discussed. Shortly afterwards a waiter approached the table next to Cole Porter and said to a diner waiting for someone to join them ‘Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today’.

Truman Capote (author) said in an interview in 1975 that Cole Porter had told him that he had used the punchline ‘Miss Otis’ in the 1950’s. Once opening the door to remove a pretentious man from his house and as he left handing him a cheque saying ‘Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today. Now get out!

More Than a Feeling

Composed by | Tom Scholz

Performed by | Boston

It took five years for Tom Scholz to finish this song. He said that the main inspiration came from a 1966 song ‘Walk Away Renee’ by the group The Left Banke.

Boston’s website says that the song is about the power an old song can have in life.

Tom Scholz said that the ‘Marianne’ in the song was not his girlfriend but his much older cousin. He added that the lyrics are about somebody losing someone that was important to them and music taking them back to when they were together.

Nights in White Satin

Composed by | Justin Hayward

Performed by | The Moody Blues

Justin Hayward said that the inspiration for the song came from seeing some white satin bedsheets, given to him by an ex girlfriend, that he had put in his suitcase to take to a bed-sit he shared with Graeme Edge. Adding that they were very romantic looking but completely impractical.

Hayward said that the song is autobiographical and is about a series of random thoughts during what was a very emotional time as he had just finished a long-term relationship and started another.

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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