The primary mission of classic FM rock stations back in the day was to play the same dozen or so songs over and over so that adolescent male listeners, headphones clamped over their still-forming skulls, could take in every note and every lyric and analyze the sum total accordingly. Before the Internet, the information that was gathered in this manner was disseminated among other youths, their ears ringing in harmony, in ceremonies utilizing an older sibling’s stereo, lots of potato chips, and maybe a joint stolen from the aforementioned older sibling or parent. Below, we present to you, six such classic songs and one wild card from the more recent musical world of neo-soul, so that you may listen and share their hidden meanings amongst your generation. Grab some potato chips, and enjoy.
- Here he is! Paul McCartney, one of rock’s most loveable weed smokers, performing at the White House, singing a song about weed to the president who freely admits that when he was young he (you guessed it) smoked weed! McCartney once explained that this song, which is next to last on the Beatles’ classic record Revolver (right before John Lennon’s "Tomorrow Never Knows," Lennon’s tribute to the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the LSD experience), was indeed written shortly after he’d been introduced to pot. We’ll give you a minute to catch your breath, hit that joint, or write an angry letter to our president before moving on to classic rock song number two.
- If you’ve never lived in New Orleans, the lyrics to Dr. John’s "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" from his classic 1968 album Gris Gris, lyrics like "J’suis le Grand Zombie…" may be both confusing and scary. The track’s guitarist, Coco Robicheaux, who Dr. John calls out to repeatedly throughout the song, explained in an interview that "in voodoo, they call the guilded splinters the points of a planet they appear like little guilded splinters." Dr. John who was as interested in astrology and physics as he was New Orleans voodoo, took and ran with this image, creating the song’s incantatory lyric.
- Both singer D’Angelo and the director of the video for his song "(Untitled) How Does It Feel" insist that the video, featuring a totally ripped D’Angelo writhing to the song’s groove, isn’t about sex. It’s about D’Angelo’s grandmother’s cooking. Confused? Consider for a moment that D’Angelo’s background is singing in church choirs, and that after rehearsal or a service, it was usually time for everyone to share a big meal. The director told D’Angelo to remember the smell and taste of greens, yams, and fried chicken, and to keep that in mind as he performed the song to the camera. "The veil is the nudity and sexuality," says D’Angelo in a recent interview for GQ. "But what they’re really getting is the spirit."
- "White Rabbit," composed by Jefferson Airplane singer, the awesome Grace Slick, is probably the first pop song to reference the drug experience and get played on the radio. Slick’s lyrics are inspired by images and characters found in Lewis Carroll’s trippy children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland andThrough the Looking Glass, two books she remembered vividly from her childhood. Like The Beatles’ "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," there’s nothing in "White Rabbit’s" lyrics that explicitly describe getting high, just plenty of inference and poetic metaphors.
- In 1970, Eric Clapton was enjoying a creative peak with his band Derek and the Dominos, featuring the magnificent slide guitar playing of Duane Allman, while simultaneously destroying himself with booze and heroin. During this period, Clapton composed this desperate song of unrequited love for George Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd with whom he was in love. You may not have known that the song was specifically written for a real person, let alone the wife of one of Clapton’s best friends. Clapton eventually married Boyd in 1979 after she divorced Harrison. However, they too divorced in 1989. Clapton has said his hit song "Wonderful Tonight" was actually written while he was pissed off at Boyd, which throws its lyrics into a whole new light.
- Is Queen’s power rock anthem "We Are The Champions" actually a gay anthem? Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury was gay, right? So that song MUST be "gay!" Well, hang on Beevis, Mercury has said he composed the song "for the masses" and was actually "thinking about football" when he wrote it. Throughout their career, Queen received their fair share of negative press, and the "we" in "We Are The Champions" refers to the band and their loyal fan base, music critics be damned. That said, the song certainly works as an anthem for anyone and any group for whom life has been "no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise.+
- In their concert film The Song Remains The Same, Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant tells the audience "I think this is a song of hope," and guitarist Jimmy Page begins the famous arpeggios that introduce the band’s iconic song "Stairway to Heaven." The lyrics begin with a bit of cynicism, but slowly shift to describe an almost mythological, if not spiritual journey that ends with the same "lady" from verse one revealing that everything "still turns to gold" when "all is one and one is all." A small number of religious nut jobs have warned, without a trace of irony, that if you listen to "Stairway" backward, you can clearly hear Satanic messages. But surely it was hard enough to perform and record a song this complicated without having to worry about how it would sound backward!
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