There is often some ambiguity whenever anyone talks about the so-called real meaning of any song. You can’t always trust the artists to tell the truth about their sources of inspiration, journalists and fans all have conflicting interpretations especially regarding particularly juicy rumors. Still, after much careful consideration, we’ve come up with our official list of rock’s top 25 Songs With a Secret. These are tracks the meanings of which have inspired lots of debate.
1. “Louie Louie” – The Kingsmen: Though the song was originally written by Richard Berry, the Kingsmen’s version was a huge hit and inspired an equally huge controversy when rumors spread the virtually inaudible lyrics were super dirty. The FBI even investigated the potentially un-American nastiness of the song’s message (their theories on what they lyrics say are hysterical) but ultimately it was concluded that the song was not bound to defile an entire generation of young minds.
2. “Lola” – The Kinks: Thought to be about a beautiful woman, actually inspired by an incident in which Kinks’ manager Robert Wace spent a drunken night dancing with a transvestite he mistook for a woman.
3. “Born in the USA” – Bruce Springsteen: Misperceived as a nationalistic anthem, is really a dark portrait of post-Vietnam life.
4. “One” – U2: Depending on who you ask, this song is about everything from a young man trying to tell his father about his HIV-positive status, to buffalos, but the track is widely believed to have been inspired by Bono’s relationship with his own father.
5. “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” – Bob Dylan: With its lyrical proclamation, “everybody must get stoned” the song was embraced as a stoner’s anthem, but the song is actually about the literal throwing of stones.
6. “Please Please Me” – The Beatles: Thought to be a cute little teenage love song, is actually about oral sex.
7. “Alison” – Elvis Costello: Yeah, it’s a song about betrayal and misery directed at a member of the opposite sex, but it’s not about murder, as many have speculated.
8. “One I Love” – R.E.M.: Thought to be about the one he loves, is actually meant to be ironic.
9. “Edge of Seventeen”- Stevie Nicks: Thought to be about teen angst and or drug addiction, is actually about the deaths of John Lennon and Nicks’ uncle.
10. “Pictures of Lily” – The Who: Thought to be a sweet love song, is actually about a young boy’s obsession with a porn star.
11. “Polly” – Nirvana: Misunderstood by frat boys to glorify rape, was actually inspired by a true story in which a rape victim escaped from her captor.
12. “She Bop” – Cyndi Lauper: Thought to be a charming and innocent song about a girl dancing around, is actually about masturbation.
13. “Hey Jude” – The Beatles: Some suspect the song is about taking heroin, it was actually written by Paul McCartney for John’s son Julian.
14. “Pretzel Logic” – Steely Dan: Mistakenly thought to be about Adolf Hitler.
15. “Crystal Blue Persuasion” – Tommy James & The Shondells: The song was misunderstood to be about making crystal meth, when the actual inspiration was a description of Heaven in “The Book of Revelation.”
16. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – The Beatles: Though this song is widely assumed to be about LSD, the official statement is that the song was inspired by Julian Lennon’s drawing … which John Lennon was looking at while high on LSD. Just kidding. The song has nothing to do with drugs (officially). Seriously. Drawings. Not drugs. Got it?
17. “Harder to Breathe” – Maroon 5: Originally this song was thought to be about a troubled romance and or stalker-like-tendencies of a particularly pissed off lover, but Levine says it was inspired by record company pressure to write more singles.
18. “Pennyroyal Tea” – Nirvana: Thought to be inspired by many things, including a tea Kurt drank to ease his stomach pain, was actually inspired by an herbal remedy meant to cause an abortion.
19. “In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins: Widely thought to be about a drowning incident, is actually about divorce.
20. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”– Green Day: Misperceived as a love song, is really about a bitterness-filled breakup.
21. “Take Me Out” – Franz Ferdinand: Fans have speculated that the song is about a troubled couple who just can’t get their adolescent hearts together, it’s actually inspired by the assassination of Austria-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
22. “Some Candy Talking” – Jesus and Mary Chain: Though every other Jesus and Mary Chain song ever written seems to have a trippy theme and or feel, the band insists this song is not, as many believe, about heroin. Not. About. Drugs. Officially.
23. “Girl” – Beck: Thought to be a love song, is actually about nefarious seduction that ends in murder.
24. “Drain You” – Nirvana: Thought to be just another song about heroin, is actually about a case in which one twin baby stole the nutrients from its twin while in the womb, resulting in one stillbirth.
25. “Dier Eir von Satan” – Tool: Thought to be about something to do with Satan, the lyrics, which are all in German, actually consist entirely of a repeating recipe for hashish cookies.