The Girl With Colitis Goes By
We’ve all got them, those lyrics corrupted somewhere between our ears and our brain cells, that insist on being heard even when some kind soul has put us right. Probably the most famous is the Jimi Hendrix line, ‘ ‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy,’ which was of course the widely heard version of ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.’ No-one thought it was unlikely, seeing as it was Jimi. That corruption became so famous that it’s now the name of a website devoted to what are technically known as mondegreens. In a 1954 Harper’s Magazine article, Sylvia Wright wrote about her childhood mishearing of lines from the Scottish ballad The Bonnie Earl O’Moray: ‘They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray/And laid him on the green’ became ‘And Lady Mondegreen.’ The name caught on.
Various academics have offered explanations of the process, most of which basically say: We don’t hear it properly, so our brain gives us something to put in the slot that sort of makes sense. Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To My Lovely gave me one of my longest lasting; I was convinced he sang ‘Look into my eyes, my éclair,’ on the grounds that this was obviously a Gallic term of endearment, along the lines of ‘ma petite chouchou,’ or something similar. I was a bit disappointed to find out it was ‘Marie Claire’. For years I thought The Temptations’ Get Ready provided a bit of jive-talking sauciness with ‘I’m gonna try to make love wichoo’, only to discover, quite recently, that it’s the far more conventional ‘I’m gonna try to make you love me too.’ And virtually everybody I know replayed the line ‘Uptown, funk you up,’ several times, just to make sure Bruno was actually saying ‘funk’.
Often our substitutions are far more exciting than the original, such as the man who insisted Shocking Blue were claiming, ‘I’m your penis’, rather than the generally accepted ‘Venus’, even when it was pointed out to him that his version would never have made it on to the radio. What a mumpsimus. Apparently that’s what you call someone who insists on the wrong version, even when they’re told the right one. Yes, I know we use the term politician, but mumpsimus has a certain ring to it.
One of my favourite Peter Kay routines is where he deliberately misinterprets lyrics, mouthing the alternatives over the track. It’s brilliant. For me, now, Celine Dion will forever be groaning that she knows that the hot dogs go on, and Sister Sledge may be celebrating We Are Family, but they’re not stating anything for the record: they’ve stapled the vicar. If you’ve never seen this, check it out on You Tube. It will brighten your day.
You’d think that mondegreens would be a dying art, now that we can Google the lyrics to everything, but the great thing is we often don’t even realise we’re doing it. The teenage me would never have thought to Google songs by Sarstedt or The Temptations, even if I’d been able to, although I might have wondered if I was on the wrong track if I’d heard Dionne Warwick’s version of I Say A Little Prayer as ‘I run for the busty/While writing I finger, lusty’, as one entry on ‘Kiss This Guy’ has it. Let’s face it, in the sixties, ‘Get hung up, feed the ducks with a bun’ were the perfectly correct lyrics to Itchycoo Park, itself crying out to be a mondegreen. Watching as the girl with colitis goes by was no stranger than coming across the one with kaleidoscope eyes. And this poor old guy is still having a hard time; having been kissed by Jimi all those years ago, lots of people now maintain that Adele has well and truly let him fall.
Happy corrupted listening.