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The Hidden Meaning Behind the Lyrics of Well-known Songs Part 9

Updated on August 21, 2020

Introduction to Part 9

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.


Berlin | Take My Breath Away

Clapton, Eric Tears in Heaven

Cooper, AliceSchool’s Out

Deep Purple | Smoke on the Water

Diamond, Neil Sweet Caroline

Dire Straits Sultans of Swing

Eurythmics (The) Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O’ Mine

Kinks (The) Sunny Afternoon

School’s Out

Composed by | Michael Bruce and Alice Cooper

Performed by | Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper said that the title of the song was inspired by a warning often said by one character to another, who had done something stupid, in Bowery Boys movies, ‘School is out’ which meant ‘to wise up’.

The Bowery Boys were a gang of young and tough individuals who were always running into trouble in New York. Between 1946 and 1958, there were 48 movies made about their exploits.

Cooper added that when he completed School’s Out he realised he had done a national anthem. He had become the Francis Scott Key (writer of the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner) of the last day of school.

Smoke on the Water

Composed by | Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, and Ian Paice

Performed by | Deep Purple

Ian Gillan said that the inspiration for this song came after someone fired two flares from a gun towards the wooden roof of the Montreux Casino during a Frank Zappa concert, while the members of Deep Purple sat in the audience. The flares quickly set the building alight and everyone was evacuated.

Relocating to a nearby restaurant the band watched the fire until it began to be brought under control and then noticed that a layer of smoke had started to spread over Lake Geneva. From that spectacle Bass player Roger Glover had the idea for the title for a song ‘Smoke on the Water’ and Ian Gillan went on to write the lyrics about the event they had witnessed.

Sultans of Swing

Composed by | Mark Knopfler

Performed by | Dire Straits

Mark Knopfler said that he got the inspiration for this song when he was in Ipswich one night and it started to rain so he went into a bar where what he said was ‘a mediocre band’ were playing to an audience of four or five drunks who were totally oblivious to their surroundings. The band ended their set with the lead singer saying ‘Goodnight and Thank you, we are the Sultans of Swing’. This made Knopfler laugh as he thought ‘Sultans’ they were definitely not, just some tired little blokes in pullovers.

Sunny Afternoon

Composed by | Ray Davies

Performed by | The Kinks

Ray Davies said that he wrote this song when he was going through a difficult time with tensions in the group, lawsuits, an unrealistic workload, and a management who left him feeling miserable.

He was trying to interpret how he felt by creating a ‘dusty’ aristocrat who had inherited money, rather than earned it himself, and had now fallen on hard times after the taxman took everything including his yacht. Worried that listeners might sympathise with the character he turned him into a villain who fought with his girlfriend.

Sweet Caroline

Composed by | Neil Diamond

Performed by | Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond originally said that he wrote this song about his second wife, whom he married in 1969, Marcia Murphy, a TV production assistant. Needing a three-syllable name to fit the melody, he realised that ‘Sweet Marcia’ didn’t work so he used the name Caroline instead.

In 2007, Diamond then said after performing the song at Caroline Kennedy’s 50th birthday party that the song was about her.

Sweet Child O’ Mine

Composed by | Steven Adler, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose, Slash (Saul Hudson), and Izzy Stradlin,

Performed by | Guns N’ Roses

Axl Rose said that the song recalls one glimmer of light in his difficult childhood, the sight of a bright blue sky that he wished he could disappear into because it was so beautiful.

The lyrics came from a poem he was working on for his girlfriend, and soon to be wife, Erin Everly, the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Composed by | Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart

Performed by | The Eurythmics

Annie Lennox said that the song is about the search for fulfilment, the meaning of our existence, and the ‘Sweet Dreams’ that motivate everyone.

She said that it was written by her and Dave Stewart when she was feeling miserable following a heated fight in which she thought that their partnership was over.

Take My Breath Away

Composed by | Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock

Performed by | Berlin

The song was written specifically for the movie ‘Top Gun’. Tom Whitlock said that the inspiration for the lyrics came from a phrase that had been running through his mind for sometime in terms of doing or seeing something so striking that you can’t breathe.

Tears in Heaven

Composed by | Eric Clapton and Will Jennings

Performed by | Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton wrote this song during a six month break from music following the death on 20th March 1991 of his four-year old son Conor who fell out of a 53rd floor window while living at his mother’s (Lory Del Santo) apartment in New York.

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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