Jose, can you see, by the dawn’s early light?

February 19th, 2006

I have happy memories of a small backpacking hostel in Indonesia, where, in the evening, the owner and some friends sat around strumming guitars.

I joined in, in my amateurish way. We played variations on the greatest hits of Eric Clapton – the variations coming from the fact that they, without much knowledge of English, often misheard the original lyrics and were very keen to check with me that they were getting them right. They knew the basic sounds, and I remember one guy earnestly singing, “Snog, snog, snogging on the seventh floor”, where I think Clapton had intended to convey the concept of knocking on heaven’s door.

But I’ve been guilty of some of these, too. I remember being puzzled, in my youth, by the Toto song ‘Africa’ which stated that “there’s nothing that a hundred men on Mars could ever do”. (It’s actually ‘a hundred men or more’.) And, at a rather earlier age, my somewhat parochial horizons could be deduced from my belief that the Abba lyrics, “I was sick and tired of everything / When I called you last night, Francesco” actually referred to somebody calling ‘last night, from Tesco’ (a big supermarket chain here in the UK). Rose thought it was nice that Paul Simon could report that “Rene and Georgia agreed with their dog after the war”.

Anyway, I discovered today that such mis-hearings have a name. They’re called Mondegreens. Rose found a nice section on this page entitled “The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in the wind” which explains the name, and, of course, there are quite a few on Wikipedia.

But, go on – add your own favourites in the comments. The original ones are the best…

Posted on Sunday, February 19th, 2006 at 11:48 am and filed under General.

One Response to “Jose, can you see, by the dawn’s early light?”

  1. Jim Says:

    This reminds me of when I was about four years old, when Rod Stewart had a big hit with ‘Sailing’. I have early memories of watching Top of the Pops and seeing some sort of aircraft carrier-type footage accompanying the song.

    I had always thought from those very first moments that when you get to the slightly-more-emotional-middle-bit-of-the-song that he was singing “Can you hear me, can you hear me, sugar tart time, far away?”, and as a four year old this made perfect sense. I mean, if he was going home, he’d like some sugary tart, surely?

    It wasn’t until I was 21 and listening to the song on FM radio on headphones on a long coach journey that I worked out that he was singing “Can you hear me, can you hear me, through the dark night, far away?”.

    The Abba/Tesco one was pretty popular in the playground back in the day, but I seem to have been the only one to have misheard Rod. :S

  2. Tony Says:

    I listened to Joni Mitchell singing about some miserable old guy called ‘the old Pierre”, starving and neglected somewhere in the world, for months before I realised what it was really about.

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