By Megan Robb
My fascination with radio edits continues, but this time I’d like to mention the best editing method of all: substitute lyrics. I’m not talking about “Forget You”. I mean ridiculous revisions; ones that can change the entire meaning of songs. It’s been going on since the beginning of recorded music. This is a timeline of some of my favorites. Get ready for a long read, because I’ve given this one a lot of thought.
1. Tony Bennett (1953): “These Foolish Things”
There are countless versions of this song. It was written in 1936, and by 1953, “These Foolish Things” had hit the top music charts five times. Every one of the vocal versions included the following lyrics: “Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow/Wild strawberries only 7 francs a kilo/And still my heart has wings/These foolish things/Remind me of you”
Yet in 1953, this verse suddenly became very, very dirty. Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow? If a man sings this is, it hints that a woman had been in his bed! And worst of all, he liked it! The sudden moral concern was probably due to a new thing called rock and roll. That smut could give a any God-fearing American instant ear herpes.
So for the good of the people, the lyric “Gardenia perfume lingering on a pillow” was changed to “A seaplane rising from an ocean billow.” It’s still a rather Freudian image, but at least it was more subtle.
Only Tony Bennett ever recorded the edited song. Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra both sang a version that not only didn’t involve gardenias or seaplanes, but had some entirely different verses. They also didn’t mention strawberries costing 7 francs a kilo, because that’s a rip-off.
2. Frank Sinatra (1954): “I Get A Kick Out Of You” This is another song that has been covered by almost every person with vocal cords. The first time it was rewritten was in 1936 for the movie Anything Goes. Back then, the content in movies had stricter regulations than music lyrics.
The original had a bit of a “Just Say No” quality: “Some get a kick from cocaine/I’m sure that if I took even one sniff/That would bore me terrifically too/Yet I get a kick out of you” Hear that, kids? Coke is boring. Love, on the hand, now that’s a hell of drug.
It gets worse. Another published version of the song replaced “Some get a kick from cocaine” with “Some like a bop-type refrain.” But this was in 1972. No one objected to cocaine by then.
3. The Them (1966): “Gloria”
This is one of the more extreme examples. The horribly named band The Them came up with a nice little song about a gal who’s always up for a booty call:
“Comes a-walking down my street/When she comes to my house/She knocks upon my door And then she comes into my room/Yeah, and she makes me feel all right”
Thirteen years after “These Foolish Things” it still wasn’t cool for a man to have a lady friend in his room. A Chicago radio station commissioned a local band, Shadows of Knight, to rerecord the song with new lyrics: “Comes a-walking down my street/Once came to my house/Knocks upon my door/And then she called out my name/For having me feel all right”.
Okay, so in this one, Gloria only came over once. In fact, she may not have gone in the house. However, she does call out her gentleman friend’s name either to or because she made him feel “all right”. Not only is this confusing, but it depending on how you interpret it, it’s not all different from the original. And that was glaringly obvious to the major stations that had made the Them version a hit the year before. They gave the new one very little airplay, but among smaller stations that had not played the previous and indecent version, the Shadows of Knight did well enough to be among the Top 10 singles of year.
Their follow-up single, a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Oh Yeah”, was a hit, too. Their original songs, not so much.
4. Wang Yuong (1996): “Samsara”
The US of A isn’t the only country to censor music. In China, record labels are run by the government, so everything is suspect. All lyrics are written on the album’s jacket over there, so the labels only change the written lyrics. They replace the objectionable words with ones that sound similar, but often the new words don’t fit in the song. Wang Yuong’s song “Samsara” had the phrase “wo jiu cao ni made” (f*** your mother) replaced by “wo jiu qu ni ma?” (shall I marry you soon?) It’s important not to get those phrases mixed up when proposing to your Chinese girlfriend.
5. Eminem (1999): “My Name Is”
Sometimes the replacement of offensive lyrics gets out of hand. If a whole song has to be rewritten, it usually misrepresents the artist. That’s what happened to Eminem’s debut single. The radio/TV-friendly version of “My Name Is” gave the impression that Eminem was a novelty act. He was seemed like another playfully rude, pop-culture obsessed kid. It didn’t help that white rappers in the U.S. are mainly used for laughs.
Take this verse about the brutal destruction of innocence:
“Well since age 12/I’ve felt like I’m someone else ’Cause I hung my original self/From the top bunk with a belt” In the clean version, it loses its meaning: “Well since age 12/I’ve felt like a caged elf/Who stayed in one space/Chasing his tail”
We won’t pursue the question of whether elves have tails or not. But a lot of people didn’t know the real Eminem until the controversy over “97 Bonnie and Clyde” got media attention. It almost compromised Mr. Mathers’ work, although it didn’t keep him from selling millions of records.
6. D12 (2003): “Purple Pills”/”Purple Hills”
The first single from Eminem’s pet project D12 took the situation with “My Name Is” five steps further. There are so many differences between “Purple Pills” and its clean counterpart “Purple Hills”, it’s surprising that they even bothered to make the first one. Here’s the original:
“I think I did too much/This substance equals cups/Red pills, blue pills, and green big pills/Mescaline pleasant.”
Now let’s see the clean version:
“I think I did too much I think I got the runs Rolaids, Pepto, and Tums Watch out HERE IT COMES!”
It’s hard to say which one’s more offensive. Of course, overdosing on drugs is the more heinous act, but there is a long and rich history of drug-themed songs. There’s a reason there aren’t too many songs about diarrhea, and that’s because it’s just a foul mental image.
7. Enrique Iglesias (2011): “Tonight (I’m Loving You)”
Over the years, Enrique Iglesias went from singing syrupy love songs in Spanish to syrupy love songs to English. Then he suddenly switched to dance music that’s more sticky than sweet. “I Like It” was the unofficial theme to Jersey Shore‘s second season and the lyrics and sound fit accordingly. No problem. I do have a problem with his follow-up, “Tonight”. The clean version obviously uses “loving” to replace a less lovely-sounding verb. This naturally changes the meaning of the song, as the two acts don’t necessarily go together. Nothing says lovin’ like:
“From the window to the wall/Gotta give you my all/When I get you on the springs/Imma make you fall”.
The best part, though, is the line: “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude.”
Now we have two songs. One’s about a guy who’s so much of a gentleman that he asks to pardon any offense he may bring when he declares his sudden romantic interest in you. The other is about a potential date rapist who doesn’t need to ask if you want to engage in sexual activity with him. You’re already doing it as far as he’s concerned. But it’s okay, because Enrique Iglesias (or as I like to call him, Henry Churches) he also tells you he doesn’t mean to be rude by doing so.
Every kind of music is the devil’s music once it’s captured. I’m convinced that Satan lives in recording devices precisely for this purpose. It just depends on the listener to find him.
Contributing writer Megan Robb is a writer, consultant and editor living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles can be found at divot.com, wordhusterink.com, and cracked.com, as well as her personal website, megan-robb-writer.webs.com