Introduction to Part 10
Usually it is simple to interpret the lyrics of some great songs. Most have no profound meaning and just happen to have an appealing chorus, memorable riff, or easy to learn rhyming verses. However, many familiar songs with distinctive music have hidden meanings, which you may not be aware of, or over the years have misinterpreted. How many songs have you listened to and thought, “What is that song actually about?” Known the meaning of classic or popular song can give it a new sense of understanding and therefore a deeper appreciation. With the following interpretations, the aim is to give the reader a better insight into the true intentions of the artist(s) who wrote and recorded the song.
Bowie, David The Man Who Sold the World
Coldplay The Scientist
Drifters (The) Under the Boardwalk
Europe The Final Countdown
Iron Maiden The Number of the Beast
Joel, Billy We Didn’t Start the Fire
Oasis The Importance of Being Idle
Queen The Show Must Go On
Simon and Garfunkel The Sound of Silence
Queen | We Are the Champions
The Final Countdown
Composed by | Joey Tempest
Performed by | Europe
Joey Tempest said that the lyrics are dreamlike and predict that one day we will all have to leave earth because we have used up all its natural resources. He added that his fascination for space and space travel began after he had listened to the first single he bought ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie and that ‘The Final Countdown was inspired by this song.
The Importance of Being Idle
Composed by | Noel Gallagher
Performed by | Oasis
Noel Gallagher said that this song was inspired by his amazement as to how lazy he can sometimes be and how impressed he is with his lack of drive and motivation. He added that doing nothing is a job so important that someone had to write a song about it.
The Man Who Sold the World
Composed by | David Bowie
Performed by | David Bowie
David Bowie said that the song was about his thoughts that he had ‘sold himself to the world’ his struggle with his identity and trying to find comfort in the way he led his life, and his mental and spiritual state.
Some of the lyrics are based on the poem ‘Antigonish’, also known as ‘the little man who wasn’t there’, written by Hugh Mearns.
The Number of the Beast
Composed by | Steve Harris
Performed by | Iron Maiden
The lyrics were inspired by the movie ‘Damien: Omen II’ which is a story about a 13 year-old antichrist, although Steve Harris said quite strongly that the song is about a dream and is definitely not about devil worship.
The song starts with a cappella quote from the Book of Revelation and the group had asked Vincent Price to read it but he wanted more money than they were willing to pay so the job was given to the actor Barry Clayton.
Composed by | Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, and Chris Martin
Performed by | Coldplay
The lyrics are about a scientist who gets so involved in his work that he neglects his girlfriend. When he realises that he has his priorities wrong he wants to ‘go back to the start’ and begin his relationship again.
Chris Martin said that this song is based on his ‘disasters with girls’ and the fact that no matter what other global troubles there are the one thing that gets you down the most is relationship problems.
The Show Must Go On
Composed by | Brian May
Performed by | Queen
The lyrics were written by Brian May while Freddie Mercury was dying from AIDS. They are about the need to carry on and make the most out of your life while you can still enjoy it. May was overwhelmed by Mercury’s incredible courage and strength and wrote this song about his continuing positive attitude while managing his worsening condition.
The Sound of Silence
Composed by | Paul Simon
Performed by | Simon and Garfunkel
This song was originally called ‘The Sounds of Silence’ and is about the extreme capitalism and consumerism that is suffocating society and the fact that people no longer pay attention to anything or anyone and accept without question the thoughts and opinions given by mass media.
Garfunkel said that the meaning of the song was about the inability of people to communicate with each other especially emotionally.
Under the Boardwalk
Composed by | Arthur Resnick and Kenny Young
Performed by | The Drifters
This song is about a man planning a private encounter with his girlfriend ‘out of the sun’ and ‘out of sight’ of everyone around, by meeting under a boardwalk in the seaside town of Coney Island, New York.
A boardwalk is an elevated footpath, causeway, or walkway built using wooden planks over wet, marshy, or unstable land.
We Are the Champions
Composed by | Freddie Mercury
Performed by | Queen
This song is about overcoming adversity and emerging triumphant at the end.
Freddie Mercury said that when he wrote the song he was thinking about football and producing a participation song that the group’s loyal fans could latch onto. He added that ‘Of course, I’ve given it more theatrical subtlety than an ordinary football chant’ and also that ‘it could be seen as my version of ‘I Did it My Way’, in other words we’ve made it, but it certainly wasn’t easy’.
We Didn’t Start the Fire
Composed by | Billy Joel
Performed by | Billy Joel
Billy Joel said that the lyrics came about following a conversation with a 21-year old who said to him that it was a terrible time to be 21. Joel, who had just turned forty, agreed adding that he remembered when he was 21 and that was an awful time, when there was Vietnam War, drugs problems, and civil rights problems. The 21-year old replied ‘yeah it’s different for you. You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties’.
Joel said that we told him that they had the Korean War and the Suez Canal Crisis in the fifties and those and other headlines eventually went on to form the framework of the song.
Commenting in 1993, Joel said that the song was ‘really not much of a song’. He added that ‘If you take the melody by itself, terrible. Like a dentists drill’.
The song’s commentary suggest that we shouldn’t blame Joel’s generation for the mess the world is in as they had tried to deal with what they had inherited from previous generations.
Resources and Comment
Apart from an individual artist or group, radio stations, newspapers, and magazines own websites, there are also many specialised websites that offer explanations as to the background and meaning of songs and their lyrics.
If you have a favourite song that you would like to know the meaning of the lyrics please let me know.
© 2020 Brian OldWolf
Brian OldWolf (author) from Troon on August 22, 2020:
Sorry to hear that Liz...
Liz Westwood from UK on August 21, 2020:
' The Final Countdown' is a favourite at New Year's Eve parties. I recall it playing in the car as I queued to get into a hospital car park. The ventilator was being switched off and I was heading to visit my father for the last time. It seemed an appropriate song at the time!