‘I guess that’s just the way the story goes’: a tale of misheard lyrics, body fluids and a boy called Stiffy, with help from Harry Nilsson.
What are the greatest misheard lyrics of all time? Here’s a few (answers at the bottom of the post.)
- The ants are my friends/They’re blowing in the wind
- Standing on your mama’s corpse, you told me we would last forever
- You’ve been outright offensive for so long now
- Is this the real life/Or is this just Battersea?
- Cod in a landslide/No escape from reality
- Spare him his life for his pork sausages
- The algebra has a devil for a sidekick eeee…
- Eeee-wheeeh! It’s me, I’m a tree, I’m a wombat
- ‘Scuse me, while I kiss this guy
- Rocket man: burning up his shoes with aerosol
- Shimu the mysterious whale
- Sue Lawley! Sue Lawley!
|Elton: Burning up his shoes with aerosol||Jimi: Burning up his guitar with aerosol|
I guess everyone has sung misheard lyrics. I guess everyone has once in a while sung them at the top of their voice in the bath. I guess I shall never have that pleasure again, thanks to the number one misheard lyric of all time. Yes, that’s right: the first line of Without You, as sung by Harry Nilsson. This song was number 1 in the UK charts for five weeks in 1972.
You’d be in the shower at school then suddenly someone would let rip with, ‘I can’t LIIIIIIIIIIIVE if living is without youUUUU!’ I can’t LIIIIIIIIIVE! I can’t GIVE anymOOOOOOOOOOre!!!!’ that was yelled so loudly that you couldn’t possibly mishear those words. However, it seemed that only the thundering crescendo was of any importance to the singer, while the first line was always mumbled and drowned out by the shower.
I was at home having a bath and I thought I’d give Harry’s song a go. It was a few seconds after I crooned the immortal first lines, ‘No I can’t forget the s*men on your face as you were leaving/ But I guess that’s just the way the story goes’ when there was an almighty bang on the door. I assumed it was my mum yelling at me for not putting my dirty clothes in the laundry basket. Not this time.
“What’ that you’re singing?” (There was a note of incredulity in her voice.)
So I sang it again and explained, “It’s a song by Harry Nilsson. It’s number one. Everyone in school is singing it in the showers. Especially ‘Stiffy’ McKinnon. (Honestly, that was his nickname. I was only young.) You can hear it on Top of the Pops tonight if you like.”
“Get downstairs this minute” was all my mum said, (there was a note of malevolence in her voice). 10 minutes later we were watching Top of the Pops in the front room. I was in my dressing gown and slippers, drying my hair by the fire, and really confused. What had I done wrong? What had Harry sung wrong? What trouble had Stiffy got me into? Sure enough, towards the end of the Top 30 countdown, Jimmy Saville announced the number one song. “What’s a nice clean-living family man like that doing introducing filth like that song?” my mum asked the TV set (there was a note of irony in her voice). ‘Filth’? ‘Filth?’ The words rang in my ears. Filth on Top of the Pops? And there it was, loud and clear. ‘No I can’t forget the s*men on your face as you were leaving’.
“See?” I tried to explain. “That’s what he sings.” (There was a note of trepidation, and another one of recognition of my impending doom, in my voice). Needless to say, I had no idea what s*men was. We studied flowers and worms and single-celled organisms in biology.
“Right! I’ve had enough of that school of yours. I don’t know why we waste money sending you there!” (There was a note of despair, and a hint triumph, in her voice.)
Those words meant only one thing: when I got back to school the Brother Principal would have received a very angry letter from my mother, with threats to withdraw me from the school (and presumably demanding a refund).
Sure enough, on the first day back at school I was summoned to see the Brother Principal in his office. He was a very tall man with a very threatening demeanour (I’m not exactly sure what that means, so think Snape from Harry Potter and you will be visualising just the right amount of threat and demeanour.)
“Sit down Jones”, he began. He looked weary. I tried to look suitably demeaned. “I’ve had another letter from your mother.”
“I’m sorry Brother,” I muttered into my lap.
“Sorry boy? Sorry? What are you sorry about?” (There was a note of heavy sarcasm laced with malice in his voice.)
“Singing in the bath, Brother. Singing Without You by Harry Nilsson. I promise I won’t do it again. But what’s s*men? Why is it bad to get it on someone’s face?”
Brother Principal’s face was a picture. A bit like that awful thing by Frances Bacon.
That awful thing by Francis Bacon
Then he pulled himself together. “And who is this ‘Stiffy’ your mother is complaining about? And why has he got that nickname?”
“Oh, I can explain that,” I offered. I thought being ‘helpful’ might get the interview back under control. “It’s about his mother and when he was in the showers.”
Brother Principal’s face was another picture. This time a bit like that awful thing by Frances Bacon that’s supposed to be Lucien Freud.
That awful thing by Frances Bacon that’s supposed to be Lucien Freud.
His eyebrows shot up a mile. “His mother in the showers, you say?” (There was a note of… oh you can supply a decent word to describe his voice.)
“Yes, you see his mother is German. His name is Stephen, or Stevie for short, and one day we heard her call him ‘Stiffy’. And then on the day after he was finishing having a shower and he couldn’t get the door open and so he shouted, ‘Can somebody help? It’s swollen! It’s gone all stiff!’ You see, Brother, he was talking about the shower door. So obviously he was called ‘Stiffy’ after that.”
I’ve no idea what Brother Principal wrote back to my parents. But I do know that I wasn’t removed from the school and she didn’t get a refund. But I guess that’s just the way the story goes…
Peter Kay: ‘Just let me staple the vicar.’ What’s all that about?
1. Bob Dylan: Blowin’ in the Wind; 2.Bryan Adams: Summer of 69; 3. The Eagles: Desperado; 4, 5, 6 & 7: Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody; 8. Kate Bush: Wuthering Heights; 9. Jimi Hendrix: Purple Haze; 10. Elton John: Rocket Man; 11. U2: Mysterious Ways; 12. The Police: So Lonely
Sign up for the newsletter by clicking here!