Nothing creates a mood or a feeling better than music. It’s no wonder feel-good songs are so popular. So it’s unsettling how many supposedly light-hearted hits hide darker subject matter in their lyrics. These are 14 of the most shocking.
Hey Ya – Outcast
One of the most upbeat hits of the 00’s. Until you hear what the song is actually about, of course.
“If what they say is “Nothing lasts forever” / Then what makes…love the exception? … Oh why / Are we so in denial / When we know we’re not happy here? / Y’all don’t want to hear me, you just want to dance”
It reflects on the breakdown of a relationship while also acknowledging that people aren’t going to care about the song’s deeper meaning. When it comes down to it, all they really want is an infectious tune they can dance to.
Born in the U.S.A. – Bruce Springsteen
The anthem every politician uses to assure us that they are, in fact, American. But when The Boss sang of his home country, it was one tinged with distain, not pride.
“You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much / Till you spend half your life just covering up.”
The song was a scathing indictment of a nation that praises its veterans even as it turned their backs on them.
- Rob Chapman
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – The Beatles
Appearing on 1970’s Abbey Road, this song sound like a pleasant nursery rhyme. In fact, it tells the story of a young serial killer.
“Bang, bang, Maxwell’s silver hammer / Came down upon her head / Bang, bang, Maxwell’s silver hammer / Made sure that she was dead.”
A playful tune mixed with morbid lyrics makes for a very weird listen.
- Mental Floss
At Least It Was Here – The 88’s
Or as most people know it, the theme song from Community. While the show balanced carefree shenanigans with heavy subject matter, The 88’s leans more heavily on the latter.
“We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year”
A feel-good song, as long as you don’t look too closely at it.
MMMBop – Hanson
You know the sounds but can you remember any of the actual lyrics? Don’t worry, here’s a sample:
“You have so many relationships in this life / Only one or two will last. / You go through all the pain and strife / Then you turn your back and they’re gone so fast.”
Naturally, when everyone thinks of MMMBop, they think of existential angst. Heady stuff for a trio of kids.
99 Luftballons – Nena
German band Nena translated this hit song into an English version you’re probably more familiar with, However, some of the original lyrics were changed too. Here are lyrics translated from German version of the song:
“99 years of war / left no room for victors. / … Today I’m making my rounds / see the world lying in ruins…”
Red balloons being released into the sky. Mistaken as an act of aggression by the military, it sets off a series of events that leads to a global apocalypse. Well that’s…not what I was expecting.
- Night Flight
Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
One of those songs that people assume isn’t really about anything at all. But it’s on this list so you know the drill.
“Workin’ so hard like a soldier / Can’t afford a thing on TV / Deep in my heart, I abhor ya / Can’t get food for the kid”
Poverty, resentment and the struggles of the working were firmly on Grant’s mind here. Not that many paid attention.
Semi-Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind
There was no escaping this song in the 90’s. It was just one of those songs that synced up with its time perfectly, creating a mood that everyone felt they could relate to.
“I was taking sips of it through my nose / Smiling in the pictures you would take / Doing crystal meth, will lift you up until you break”
Hmm, I don’t think as many people can relate to that.
- Toronto Star
Macarena – Los Del Rio
Translating 99 Luftballons into English revealed some darker secrets. But I mean how bad could Macarena be?
“Macarena has a boyfriend who’s called / who’s called the last name Vitorino / and while he was taking his oath as a conscript / she was giving it to two friends
The entire song is encourages a woman to cheat on her boyfriend who’s off serving in the military. Aaay Macarena!
- People – BFMTV
Cecilia –Simon & Garfunkel
Most songs named after woman are love songs. Cecilia is a little more complicated.
“Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia / Up in my bedroom / I got up to wash my face / When I come back to bed / Someone’s taken my place.”
Cecilia isn’t just unfaithful but unfaithful at an alarming speed. I mean, how is that even possible?
Every Breath You Take – The Police
Often seen as a romantic, “you’re always on my mind” kind of song. But let’s take its lyrics from a more literal standpoint.
“I’ll be watching you / Oh can’t you see / You belong to me”
Sting later said that when he wrote the lyrics, love wasn’t on his mind. “I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.” That sounds about right.
Foster the People – Pumped Up Kicks
The lyrics take into the mind of a troubled, isolated kid.
“All the other kids with the pumped up kicks / You’d better run, better run, out run my gun”
Frontman Mark Foster said he wanted the song to be a “f- you” to hipsters but also one hipsters that would dance to. And in that, he’s succeeded.
- All Things Go
Slide – Goo Goo Dolls
If you’ve heard one song about lovers planning on running away together, you’ve heard them all right? Not necessarily, as Slide’s paints a bleaker picture than you’d expect.
“Don’t you love the life you killed? / The priest is on the phone / Your father hit the wall / Your ma disowned you”
Yeah, running sounds good actually.
Hook – Blues Traveler
Unlike others on this list, Blues Traveler weren’t singing about murder, war or infidelity. Instead, they sang about the all-powerful “hook”.
“It doesn’t matter what I say / So long as I sing with inflection / That makes you feel I’ll convey / Some inner truth or vast reflection / But I’ve said nothing so far… / Because the hook brings you back / I ain’t tellin’ you no lie / The hook brings you back / On that you can rely”
A cynical but honset dissection of song-writing and how easy it is for musicians to “say something” in their music even they’re being insincere. As long as the tune is catchy, the rest doesn’t really matter.
- Joseph Large
Girl – Beck
Fun, sunny and hiding a dark side. Take a closer look at what Beck is really after here.
“I saw her, yeah I saw her with her hands tied back… / And I know I’m gonna make her die
Take her where her soul belongs”
If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that a surprising amount of songs are about killers.