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Top 5 80’s Popular Song Meanings Misinterpreted

There are a number of songs whose meanings you may be completely missing because you either fail to listen to the lyrics closely or you simply ignore the artist’s intent or the song’s origins and take the lyrics at face value. The actual meaning of these popular songs just may shock you. The following five 80’s songs that you’ve been listening to and loved for years, while believing them to be sweet and innocent, are actually about the complete opposite. For example, “Born in the USA” has to be a patriotic song, right? Wrong! Hopefully, finding out the truth about these popular song meanings doesn’t completely shatter your world, but it will definitely make you think twice the next time you hear them.

5. “White Wedding” by Billy Idol

white wedding

Played at the wedding of Eddie Van Halen to Valerie Bertinelli, this song is believed by many to be the world’s perfect love match. Unfortunately, even one of the world’s greatest guitarists really hadn’t listened to the lyrics before he lined it up for his wedding. If he had, he would have quickly realized how inappropriate this song was for a romantic wedding. Whatever, their marriage is over now, and it is a great song.

Check out the lyrics:

“Hey little sister what have you done?
Hey little sister who’s the only one?
Hey little sister who’s your superman?
Hey little sister who’s the one you want?
Hey little sister shot gun!”

From looking at the lyrics and the video, it appears that the speaker in the song is watching someone he cares about who is being forced into a marriage after he’s been gone away. During the song, “Shotgun!” is cried out three times, eluding to the possibility that it’s a shotgun wedding, which is the complete opposite of a white wedding. In addition, there are other dark lyrics that make the song pretty inappropriate for weddings or similar romantic affairs.

4. “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits

money for nothing

A song involving Sting, this song is probably best known for the cyclic chanting of “I want my MTV.” Many believe the song is an anthem for the MTV generation. In fact, “I want my MTV” became a tagline and slogan for people who grew up believing in the MTV phenomenon and music videos.

However, the song is actually a criticism of the 1980’s music scene, particularly glam metal, which was experiencing its heyday. According to bassist Nikki Sixx, the song is actually about his band, Motley Crue. Sung from the perspective of a blue collar worker, the song has lyrics that dismiss and discredit musicians, as well as their abilities with phrases such as “how their music ain’t working.” The singer details their ability to “get money for nothing, and their chicks for free.” By the end of the song, he decides he should probably learn to play the guitar.

3. “Like a Virgin” by Madonna

like a virgin

“Like a Virgin” isn’t about a vulnerable girl. It’s not about a girl at all, according to lyricist Billy Steinberg. During an interview with the LA Times, he stated that he hadn’t intended for the song to be sung by a woman and that the song detailed his own experiences of going through the “emotional ringer” in the past. Like a virgin, it detailed how he felt unhurt and new the next time he fell in love, just as if he’d never been hurt before.

Check out the lyrics:

“I was beat, incomplete
I’d been had, I was sad and blue
But you made me feel
Yeah, you made me feel
Shiny and new.”

Steinberg states “I was saying…that I may not really be a virgin, but I’ve been battered emotionally and romantically like many people. But, I’m starting a new relationship and it feels so good. It’s healing all the wounds and making me feel like I’ve never done this before, because it’s more profound and deeper than anything I’ve ever felt.”

2. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police

every breath you take

Yes, this song has a tender tune that makes it sound like just another love song you could snuggle up to. However, when you examine the lyrics, it quickly becomes evident that there is something far more sinister lurking beneath the surface.

Check out the lyrics:

“Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,
I’ll be watching you.
[…]
Oh, can’t you see,
You belong to be.
How my poor heart aches
With every step you take.”

You probably just realized that this song has nothing to do with the simple joys of being in love with someone, but is sung from the perspective of a possessive lover. From the lyrics, he appears to be a stalker who needs to control every aspect of his (or her) lover’s actions, down to the air they breathe. Even Sting, the songwriter, states, “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song.”

1. “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen

born in the usa

Most people believe that The Boss is a force to be reckoned with, especially after listening to this pro America anthem. The lyrics tell the story of your typical working class American man who gets in a tad bit of trouble at home and decides to head off to fight in the Vietnam War. After returning home, he’s essentially shunned by his community and unable to find a job, pretty much like what happened to many veterans in real life. Springsteen did such a good job of masking the song’s lyrics and message that Ronald Reagan’s staff made every effort to use the song as part of his re-election campaign (which shows how well they did their research), but The Boss declined, albeit politely. Why? He didn’t support Reagan at all.

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