(CNN) — At this very moment, there’s a couple out there realizing that “their” song, the 2005 hit ballad “You’re Beautiful,” has nothing to do with a loving, body-positive relationship and everything to do with a stalker who’s stoned out of his mind.
Easy topics to confuse, we know.
But UK artist James Blunt has set the record straight.
“‘You’re Beautiful’ is not this soft romantic fg song,” Blunt told The Huffington Post in March. “It’s about a guy who’s high as a f**g kite on drugs in the subway stalking someone else’s girlfriend when that guy is there in front of him, and he should be locked up or put in prison for being some kind of perv.”
People who say, “Ah, he’s so romantic. I want ‘You’re Beautiful’ as my wedding song’ … These people are fd up,” Blunt continued.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge Blunt’s fans. Some of the most famous songs in American pop culture, including ones that appear in CNN’s new series “Soundtracks: Songs that Defined History,” are often misunderstood. Here are 10 of them:
“Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen
People usually think this song is about: Being uber patriotic.
But it’s really about: Casting a critical and mournful eye on America and its involvement in war.
Listen to the opening chords of this Springsteen rock classic and you can’t help but have visions of patriotic fist-bumping on the Fourth of July.
Despite its driving drumbeat and seemingly pro-American title, the lyrics of this ’80s hit don’t blindly celebrate the country. Far from it, “Born in the U.S.A.” takes a harsh look at the US as a “military-industrial-complex … and the way in which we treat those who have risked their lives in battle,” as The Daily Beast pointed out in 2014 while noting how often politicians often miss this message.
“Imagine,” John Lennon
People usually think this is about: A gentle musing on peace and global unity.
But it’s really about: Radical, revolutionary ideas on how to achieve that peace.
“Imagine’s” melody may be sweet, but its message is not. Lennon, who released this song in 1971, said “Imagine” is “virtually the Communist Manifesto, even though I am not particularly a communist and I do not belong to any movement.” Lennon wanted to see a world in which the divisions of country and religion didn’t exist, a thought that some have viewed as dangerous.
But you wouldn’t know that his lyrics were controversial by the reception of the song. “Now I understand what you have to do,” Lennon said after “Imagine” became one of the most popular tracks in the US. “Put your political message across with a little honey.”
“Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind
People usually think this is about: The desire to rise above the pitfalls of life.
But it’s really about: Drug addiction.
Third Eye Blind’s late ’90s radio takeover may be to blame for listeners who missed the very clear references to drug use in this upbeat track.
Frontman Stephan Jenkins told Billboard in 1997 that “Semi-Charmed Life’s” seemingly optimistic and sunny sound is intentional but apparently also deceptive for some of its fans. “It’s a dirty, filthy song about snorting speed and getting blow jobs” and meant to evoke the “bright, shiny feeling you get on speed,” Jenkins said. “It really is funny that people play it on the radio.”
“American Pie,” Don McLean
People usually think this is about: Having some sort of whiskey-fueled karaoke night with friends. (In other words, they have no idea.)
But it’s really about: The end of an era.
Artist Don McLean has said the tragic 1959 plane crash that killed rock star Buddy Holly inspired him to write the enduring 1971 release “American Pie,” but “the day the music died” is just one element of the song.
“The lyrics had to do with the state of society at the time,” McLean said in an early interview, according to the Guardian.
In 2015, McLean put all 16 pages of “American Pie’s” lyrical manuscript up for auction at Christie’s, which commented that “There is something about this song that captures the era of that period and there is a kind of innocence to it, a loss of innocence in America.”
It’s a statement McLean has agreed with, according to the Guardian: “American Pie speaks to the loss that we feel” the UK paper reports. “That’s why that song has found the niche that it has.”
“Closing Time,” Semisonic
People usually think this is about: What’ll come next after last call at the bar.
But it’s really about: Childbirth
In the category of “most misunderstood songs,” this one is a classic unto itself. But Semisonic’s Dan Wilson says that he understands why so many people miss the message of the 1998 hit; at first, he, too ,thought it was going to be a song about closing up shop.
“I was initially trying to write a song to end the Semisonic shows with,” Wilson admitted in 2010. “So I set out to write a new closer for the set, and I just thought, ‘Oh, closing time,’ because all the bars that I would frequent in Minneapolis … would yell out ‘closing time’ … and I guess that always stuck in my mind.”
But “part way into the writing of the song, I realized it was also about being born,” Wilson said. “My wife and I were expecting our first kid very soon after I wrote that song. I had birth on the brain, I was struck by what a funny pun it was to be bounced from the womb.”
“Time of Your Life,” Green Day
People usually think this is about: Offering someone best wishes for their future.
But it’s really about: Telling an ex-girlfriend not to let the door hit her on the way out.
Feel free to continue to play this track at high school reunions, going away parties and college graduation celebrations — as long as you know the song’s full title begins with “Good Riddance.”
Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong once explained that “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was inspired not by hope but anger. “I wrote the song about an ex-girlfriend who moved to Ecuador,” he said. “And I was really bitter at the time.”
“Slide,” the Goo Goo Dolls
People usually think this is about: Being in love.
But it’s really about: Abortion.
With lyrics like “I wanna wake up where you are” and “I’ll do anything you ever dreamed to be complete,” it’s understandable if you overlooked the references to abortion in this ’90s hit. (Exhibit A: “Don’t you love the life you killed? The priest is on the phone; your father hit the wall, your ma disowned you.”)
The Goo Goo Dolls’ lead singer, Johnny Rzeznik, explained during a “VH1 Storytellers” session in 2002 that “Slide” is “actually about these two Catholic teenage kids, and the girlfriend gets pregnant, and they’re trying to decide whether she should get an abortion, or they should get married, or what should go on. And I don’t think a lot of people got that; it’s actually kind of heavy.”
“It Was a Good Day,” Ice Cube
People usually think this is about: An epic 24 hours that took place in either November 1988 or January 1992.
But it’s really about: The dream of having a day without police harassment and gun violence.
Ice Cube is such a talented storyteller that when he rhymed about a day in which he hooked up with a girl, watched some MTV, grubbed on Fatburger and didn’t have to use his A.K., some apparently thought these were actual, sequential events.
In 2012, the Internet took these theories to the next level and tried to deduce the actual day being referenced in the 1992 single.
But as the artist himself has explained, “It Was A Good Day” is completely fictional — which makes its lyrics that much more heartbreaking. In between the commentary on girls and fast food, Ice Cube makes pointed references to what a day would be like without gun violence and police harassment. “No helicopter looking for a murder … Nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A … Saw the police and they rolled right past me, no flexin'” — in other words, “basically my interpretation of what a great day would be,” Ice Cube has said.
“Mother and Child Reunion,” Paul Simon
People usually think this is about: The intense connection between a mother and her offspring
But it’s really about: Chinese food
Paul Simon’s 1972 tune had a hook that sang of a “strange and mournful day, when the mother and child reunion is only a motion away.” Naturally, most listeners assume that the legend must be speaking on a familial relationship, one that apparently had soured since the reunion was both strange and mournful.
But in reality, Simon was singing about a chicken and egg dish at his local Chinese restaurant. According to Snopes, Simon explained his inspiration in a 1972 interview: “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown (and) there was a dish called ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, ‘Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.'”
“Bad Reputation,” Joan Jett
People usually think this is about: A general anthem for rebels.
But it’s really about: Joan Jett fighting past rejection.
When Joan Jett declared in the early ’80s that she doesn’t “give a damn about a bad reputation,” she was stating for the record that she wouldn’t let rejection stop her.
Jett originally recorded the song around 1979 as she launched her solo career following the breakdown of her band the Runaways. “A lot of ‘Bad Reputation’ came from comments that people said in the early days of ‘she’ll never make it,'” Jett explained in a 2013 Reddit AMA.
While the song was never released as a single, it became iconic anyway as the titular track from Jett’s first solo album — an album she initially had to self-release because 23 record labels turned her down.
“Inspiration comes from all sorts of places,” Jett said. “And you have to decide that it’s not worth all that mental anguish worrying about what other people think.”