9 Biggest Urban Legends About Classic Rock Songs –
There was a time (before the internet… and social media… and articles exactly like this one) when rock and roll had its own mythology. Rock stars were legends and, as legends, there was nothing they could do that didn’t come with some sort of grandiose backstory. Fans want to believe that their favorite songs have not just a deep meaning, but the deepest meaning. It’s not enough to relate to a song on their own terms, or to understand that not all songs have a concrete meaning.
No, dammit, the words had to have risen from a personal tragedy or include controversial metaphors. this is where we get the treasure trove of urban legends surrounding iconic songs that just never seem to die. Ever. And it can be a real bummer to find out that the song you’d previously thought depicted something truly dramatic is actually pretty routine, lyrically speaking. So allow us to provide you with a whole list of debunking bummers.
9. Tom Petty’s American Girl Is About A Real Life Suicide
The Myth: The standout track from Tom Petty’s debut album, “American Girl” has been forever tied to the suicide of a University of Florida student who jumped to her death from the balcony of her dorm room. This story originated from the Florida campus, with a tour guide supposedly retelling the grisly story and capping it off by suggesting Petty wrote a song about it. Enforcers of the myth cite the reference to Highway 441, which runs past the university.
The Reality: The lyrics can certainly be interpreted as a girl who’s fed up with the world making the decision to end it all. (Although the music and vocalizations seems a bit too peppy for something so morbid.) But Petty has repeatedly denied that “American Girl” has anything to do with Florida or suicide.
He doesn’t remember his specific mindset when he was writing the tune, but says he wrote it while living in Encino, California (which astute readers will note is definitely not near Florida), listening to the cars go by outside of his apartment. He mentions Highway 441 because it made him feel nostalgic. The students at University of Florida refuse to let this one die, though.
8. You Can Hear A Model Being Murdered In Love Rollercoaster
The Myth: Funk band Ohio Players are perhaps best known for their 1976 hit, “Love Rollercoaster,” a tune about the ups-and-downs of romantic relationships. But according to legend, there’s much more to this simple song. Specifically, in the middle of an instrumental portion, you can hear the distinct sound of a woman being straight-up murdered.
There are dozens of versions of how and why this might have found its way into the recording, but the most exciting (and thus most persistent) story claims the model from the Honey album cover, which “Love Rollercoaster” appears on, was stabbed to death by the band’s member in the control room following a dispute.
The Reality: Dear God, no! That “scream” emanated from Billy Beck’s keyboard. It’s just a damn sound effect, people! Why does everything always have to have a sinister undertone?
7. Most Foo Fighters Songs Are About Kurt Cobain
The Myth: According to lingering myths, about half of the Foo Fighters’ discography makes reference to Dave Grohl’s former bandmate, Kurt Cobain. The two most commonly associated with the Nirvana frontman are “My Hero” and “Everlong,” both from the band’s breakout album, The Colour and the Shape.
“My Hero,” in particular, has a title that just screams “I owe my career to Kurt!” And “Everlong” is supposedly about Cobain’s frequent battles with drug addiction. Other Foo songs, including “The Last Song”, “M.I.A”, and “In Your Honor” are mostly linked to him because their titles sound vaguely commemorative.
The Reality: “My Hero” is about all of Grohl’s childhood heroes, while “Everlong” is a love song written for his new girlfriend following the divorce from his ex-wife. As for all those other songs? Nope, nope, aaaaaaand definitely no. (If anyone should be associated with “In Your Honor,” it’s former presidential hopeful John Kerry, who the band dedicated this song to while helping him campaign in 2004.)
There is, however, one song that’s actually about Kurt Cobain. “Friend of a Friend,” written after Grohl first joined Nirvana but released on the Foo’s 2005 acoustic album, and details his first impressions of his new bandmates. Speaking of Nirvana…
6. Heart-Shaped Box Is About Courtney Love’s Vagina
The Myth: Sometimes the people attached to the myth do nothing but fuel the fire behind the ridiculous urban legends. That’s the case with Kurt Cobain’s former wife, Courtney Love, who, as recently as 2012, responded to Lana Del Ray’s live cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” by taking to Twitter to remind her that the song was written about Love’s own vagina.
“you do know the song is about my Vagina right? throw down your umbilical noose so i can climb right back umm”
She went on to claim that she contributed some of those lyrics herself, finishing her weird rant by asking Del Ray to “think about my vagina” the next time she sang it.
The Reality: “Heart-Shaped Box” was definitely not intended as a sexy song. Unless you find the idea of children with cancer to be erotic. (In which case, promptly stop reading this and turn yourself into authorities. Thank you.) Because according to Cobain, he wrote the track after watching a television report about “little kids with cancer,” and proclaiming it to be “sadder than anything I can think of.” There may be a few vague allusions to his relationship with Courtney in there as well (mentioning Pisces and Cancer, their astrological signs), but the central theme is certainly not predicated on Love’s snatch.
5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band Reveals Paul McCartney’s Death
The Myth: In 1969, the world was aflutter at the “very real possibility” that Paul McCartney had died three years earlier, when he stormed out of a recording session for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, in anger, crashed his car. He’d been quietly replaced with a look-alike so the band could keep going without losing any diehard Paul fans.
The Beatles make constant allusions to Paul’s death in their albums (because they did want people to find out?), but their “immediate” grief and not-so-subtle hints are right there in the Sgt. Pepper album. For starters, there’s a wreath in the shape of a bass guitar on the album cover, in memory of the bassist. But most convincingly, if you listen really closely, you can hear John Lennon says the words “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
The Reality: For anyone with decent eyesight and at least 50 percent of their faculties, it’s pretty obvious that Paul McCartney is alive and well. He makes regular public appearances, and even performs on awards shows. Paul did not die in 1969. The Paul Is Dead hoax was born from the rising tensions between the band members while recording The White Album and Abbey Road. The rumors were started in jest, with a student journalist for The Michigan Daily printing the headline McCartney Dead: New Evidence Brought To Light.
But some people took it very seriously. So what was Lennon actually saying in “Strawberry Fields”? Lennon claimed he was saying “cranberry sauce” (probably because he didn’t actually remember what he said), while other astute listeners claim he says “I’m very bored.” Either way…not an endorsement of Paul’s dead.
4. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds = LSD
The Myth: It’s a Beatles song about drugs. We’re not exactly breaking new ground with this myth, as pretty much any Beatles song that people don’t fully understand gets lumped into the “ode to drugs” category. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” however, has managed to stay at the top of the mythical heap, despite SO MANY PEOPLE REFUTING THE NOTION THAT IT’S A CLEVER LONGHAND FOR LSD!
The Reality: Yes, of course there are songs about drug use in the Beatles discography. For instance, “Got To Get You Into My Life” is most definitely about Paul’s desire to smoke a lot of pot. But this one isn’t. Sure, it’s a happy coincidence that the song is pretty trippy and the letters L,S, and D are found (in order, no less) in the song title. Unfortunately, the legitimate meaning isn’t nearly as scandalous. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is about a picture that Lennon’s son, Julian, drew in school.
“Julian came in one day with a picture about a school friend of his named Lucy. He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”
That’s since been confirmed by an adult Julian Lennon, by the way. So just…drop it already!
3. Phil Collins Wrote A Song About Watching Someone Drown
The Myth: We’ve all heard the infamous story behind “In The Air Tonight.” Hell, Eminem even summarized the tale in his 2000 breakout song, “Stan”:
You know the song by Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight”About that guy who coulda saved that other guy from drowningBut didn’t, then Phil saw it all, then at a show he found him?
But in fact, Em doesn’t even include the most interesting part of the myth. In the story, it was Collins’ close friend drowning right in front of him, but Phil couldn’t swim, and called out to someone on a nearby dock to save him, who just stood there watching. The Reality: None of that. Not even a little bit. The lines that spawned these various myths were from the opening verse:
If you told me you were drowningI would not lend a handI’ve seen your face before my friendBut I don’t know if you know who I amWell, I was there and I saw what you didI saw it with my own two eyes
But Collins insist he made up most of the lyrics on the spot as he was working through some chord progressions. He was going through a messy divorce at the time, and says most of the lyrics are just him venting about the circumstances that led he and his ex-wife to that point.
2. James Taylor’s Fire And Rain Is About His Girlfriend Dying In A Plane Crash
The Myth: If there’s anything we’ve learned so far, it’s that people love a tragic story behind a sad song. Enter James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” one of those classically depressing folk songs that stays in your head for days afterward because it’s just so damn heart-wrenching. And the reason it hits to hard is that Taylor wrote the song in honor of his girlfriend, “Suzanne,” who’d died in a plane crash while on her way to visit him. Supposedly, some of their mutual friends coaxed her into surprising him at one of his concerts. A couple of lines seem to justify this interpretation:
Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were goneSuzanne, the plans they made put an end to you and Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground
The Reality: The song is actually divided into three parts, with each section written about a different part of his life. The first verse actually is about death, but “Suzanne” wasn’t his girlfriend, she was merely an acquaintance whose passing he’d heard about through the grapevine. And the other line, which seems to describe a plane crash, is partly about his recuperating from depression and substance abuse, spurred on by the failure of Taylor’s previous band, The Flying Machine.
1. Judas Priest Told Fans To Kill Themselves With Back-Masking
The Myth: There was a long period of time in the 70s and 80s where parents were aching to blame their children’s wrongdoings on the music they were listening to. Particularly if that music was heavy metal, a.k.a. The Devil’s Music. And in 1985, Judas Priest took the brunt of it. After a couple of teenagers entered a suicide pact, using a 12-gauge shotgun to do the deed. Their parents opted to blame several lines in the Judas Priest album Stained Class, which according to the parents, contained back-masked messages that coaxed their boys into killing themselves.
The Reality: The case was dismissed. They played the portions of the album several times during the trial, and found no such messages embedded in the songs. None whatsoever. Lead singer Rob Halford later commented that being incorrectly positioned as the catalyst in such a tragedy tore him up inside:
We accept that some people dont like heavy metal, but we cant let them convince us that its negative and destructive. Heavy metal is a friend that gives people great pleasure and enjoyment and helps them through hard times.
Yeah. So stop spreading these damn myths, people.