10 Songs With Hidden Meanings

1. What’s The Frequency Kenneth? By REM

The song’s title refers to an incident in New York City in 1986, when two then-unknown assailants attacked journalist Dan Rather while repeating “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Rather’s bizarre account was disbelieved for years while the phrase became a pop culture reference. In 1995 REM performed the song with Dan Rather during a sound check prior to a performance at Madison Square Garden, which was shown on the Late Show with David Letterman the next night.

Rather’s attacker, William Tager, killed NBC stagehand Campbell Montgomery outside the Today Show studio in 1994 and was finally caught in 1997. Tager believed the television networks were beaming signals into his brain.

Tell-tale lyrics:

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I’d pegged you an idiot’s dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider’s screen
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines

2. Closing Time by Semisonic

For years, most people believed the song was about the last call of the night – but band members revealed in 2014 that the story told in the lyrics is about the birth of a child.

Tell-tale lyrics:

Closing time
Time for you to go out go out into the world.
Closing time
Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer.
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home
Closing time
Time for you to go back to the places you will be from.
Closing time
This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or you sisters come. So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits
I hope you have found a Friend.
Closing time

3. Polly by Nirvana

Nirvana bass player KristNovoselic revealed on VH1’s Classic Albums documentary that Curt Cobain wrote Polly after reading a newspaper article about the abduction, rape and torture of a 14-year old girl by Gerald Arthur Friend. Friend had picked up near the Tacoma Dome in his car after she had attended a rock concert. She managed to escape when he stopped for gas; she got out of the vehicle and made a scene, attracting attention from surrounding people. The song was originally titled “Hitchhiker” but changed to “Polly” sometime in 1989.

Tell tale lyrics

Polly wants a cracker
Maybe she would like some food
She asks me to untie her
A chase would be nice for a few

4. Ana by the Pixies

The lyrics to this song are an acrostic poem:
She’s my fave
Undressing in the sun
Return to sea – bye
Forgetting everyone
Eleven high
Ride a wave

5. Detroit Rock City by Kiss

The song references a real-life incident – though it didn’t take place in Detroit. Paul Stanley said he had the basic riff of the song, the ‘get up, get down’ part, “but I didn’t know what the song was about except it was about Detroit. And then I remembered on the previous tour, I think it was in Charlotte, somebody had gotten hit by a car and killed outside the arena. I remember thinking how weird it is that people’s lives end so quickly. People can be on their way to something that’s really a party and a celebration of being alive and die in the process of doing it. So that became the basis for the lyric.”

On the Destroyer album, the song segues into the sound of a car crash.

6. Layla by Eric Clapton

Pattie Boyd was a British model married to George Harrison and Eric Clapton was a close friend of Harrison. Clapton was also butt-over-handlebars in love with Pattie. She finally fell in love with him too and divorced Harrison in 1977 and married Clapton in 1979 during a concert stop in Tucson, Arizona. Harrison was so cool he actually attended the wedding reception with the other Beatles.

The title of the song was inspired by the story of Layla and Majnun. Nizami’s tale was about a moon princess who was married off by her father to a man she didn’t love, resulting in Majnun going mad.

Clapton and Boyd divorced in 1988.

7. Angel by Sarah McLachlan

This beautiful ballad, routinely heard in late night SPCA advertisements and after national crises such as 9/11, is actually about heroin. McLachlan wrote the song after the heroin overdose death of Smashing Pumpkins’ keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin. McLachlan said that she identified with the feelings that might lead someone to use heroin: “I’ve been in that place where you’ve messed up and you’re so lost that you don’t know who you are anymore, and you’re miserable—and here’s this escape route. I’ve never done heroin, but I’ve done plenty of other things to escape.” She said that the song is about “trying not to take responsibility for other people’s problems and trying to love yourself at the same time”.

Tell tale lyrics

In the arms of the angel
Fly away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room
And the endlessness that you fear
You are pulled from the wreckage
Of your silent reverie
You’re in the arms of the angel
May you find some comfort here

8. I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats

“I Don’t Like Mondays,” was inspired by a school shooting on Jan. 29, 1979. That morning, sixteen year old Brenda Spencer opened fire from inside her house at students outside Grover Cleveland Elementary School across the street. Two adults were killed; eight kids were wounded. As the SWAT team descended, Spencer locked herself in her house and instigated a stand-off that lasted seven hours before she surrendered. During the stand-off, a reporter from the San Diego Tribute spoke to her on the phone. She said, “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day. I have to go now. I shot a pig, I think, and I want to shoot more. I’m having too much fun.”

Bob Geldof read about the news later that day and write the song in one sitting.

Spencer pled guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to 25 years to life. She’s been denied parole four times and is up for parole again in 2019.

Tell tale lyrics

The silicon chip inside her head
Gets switched to overload
And nobody’s gonna go to school today
She’s going to make them stay at home

9. Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind

Semi- Charmed Life is cheerful pop song about crystal meth addition. “It’s a dirty, filthy song about snorting speed and getting blow jobs,” lead singer Stephan Jenkins said. “The music that I wrote for it is not intended to be bright and shiny for bright and shiny’s sake. It’s intended to be what the seductiveness of speed is like, represented in music.” The title, Jenkins said, “refers to a life that’s all propped up. You know, the beautiful people who lead bright and shiny lives that on the inside are all fucked up.”

Tell tale lyrics

She’s got her own motivation
She comes round and she goes down on me
And I make her smile
It’s like a drug for you
Do ever what you want to do

10. Slide by Goo Goo Dolls

In a 2002 performance on VH1 Storytellers, lead singer John Rzezniksaid the song is about a teenage girl in a strict Catholic environment who has become pregnant. She and her boyfriend are debating as to the possibility of abortion or marriage.

Tell tale lyrics

Don’t you love the life you killed?
The priest is on the phone
Your father hit the wall
Your ma disowned you

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