What you think you heard them sing

What you think you heard them sing


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2015

Tim Page has started a compulsive thread on his Facebook page, calling in song lines that you totally misheard.

Tim heard, ‘You’re like a maggot. I’m like a piece of meat.’ The real lyric is ‘You’re like a magnet. I’m like a piece of steel….’ (Not sure which is preferable.)

I well remember a pop refrain that ran, ‘And I did what I did for Maria.’ My teenaged self and several friends thought the singer was describing an anterior sexual activity.

It appears there is a technical name for these things: a Mondegreen.

It is drawn from a Scottish ballad:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen (recte: And laid him on the green).


So how about the opera and concert lines that we constantly mishear, or hear misquoted?

opera singers pasta graziella sciutti


Pasta Diva.

When I am laid in her.

Come for tea, my people.

Send us your favourites. Here’s an Orfful one to get you started.


  • Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    Backstage after a concert, I once told a local critic the name of a Philly Pops encore: “Send in the clowns.” The next day the review ended: and Peter Nero offered “Said to the clouds” as an encore. I guess my pronunciation was faulty. The real shock was that he didn’t recognize it!

    • Nick says:

      At the end of a Jose Carreras recital in Asia almost 20 years ago, amongst the “Bravos” a member of the audience was shouting “Bis! Bis!”

      The reviewer in one of the local papers told readers that a member of the audience was so moved by the performance he was shouting “Peace! Peace!”

  • sixtus says:

    Climb every woman (for Chaka Khan’s I’m every woman). In a noisy dance club, it’s easy to make this mistake. I speak from experience.

  • bratschegirl says:

    These occurrences have been popularly called Mondegreens here in the US since the term was coined in 1954. See explanation here:

    My favorite line from that Carmina version is “Statuary on his knees,” the 3rd line of O Fortuna.

  • Max Grimm says:

    I grew up with the “Abendlied” or “Der Mond ist aufgegangen” (Song of evening or The moon has risen) by Matthias Claudius, with the melody composed by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz. The last line of the first strophe has been known to make listeners wonder about what exactly was said (unfortunately in it’s English translation, it loses the potential to be misheard).


    • norman lebrecht says:

      At Christmas, we heard ‘When shepherds washed their socks by night…’

      • Max Grimm says:

        Funny and thankfully lacking any racially charged mistakes.
        The Abendlied’s first strophe ends with “Und aus den Wiesen steiget/ Der weiße Nebel wunderbar.” (And from the meadows climbs/ A wondrous white mist.). It is said that some instead heard “Und aus der Isar steiget/ Der weiße Ne*er Wumbaba” (And out of the Isar climbs/ The white ne*ro Wumbaba).

      • Jim says:

        You heard that because that’s exactly what we sang as young people

  • william osborne says:

    A hilarious rendition of Orff’s O Fortuna misheard:


    Reminds me of a quick lesson in how to speak Irish — read the following words fast:


  • AZ Cowboy says:

    A elderly violinist I play with was shocked to learn that next year our orchestra will be playing “I Love the Dead”. She was shocked that we would play music by local musician Alice Cooper. No, no I corrected her – we’re playing “Isle of the Dead” by Rachmaninoff.

  • Derek Castle says:

    Kindle Edition : £11.95 Hardcore : £14.88 (just misread)

  • Pedantic says:

    Years ago, my daughter came home from infants school and sang the following line in a well known Christmas carol:

    “Mary, my, that’s bitter perfume…”

  • Michael Wilkinson says:

    Back in the 1960’s, there was a pop sone where the original line was, I think, ‘She’s a must to avoid’. I heard it always as “She’s a muscular boy.’

  • John Cheek says:

    There is always Beckmesser’s hilarious mangling of the prize song. Geht schnell die Luft etc.

  • CDH says:

    For years when I was a kid I thought “Bei Mir Bistu Shein” was “My dear Mister Shane.” Couldn’t figure how it was nobody else seemed to know the song!

  • PGynt says:

    Not a particularly musical one but as a child I got God’s name wrong when I declamed “Our Father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name…”

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    When as a child, my Mother sang “God Bless The Prince Of Wales” she sang “and let the prairies echo”. Knowing that there were wild horses in mid Wales she assumed they lived on prairies there too. Only when Charles was made Prince of Wales did she start laughing when she realised that it should be “and let the prayers re-echo”.

  • Colin Reed says:

    Whilst at the University of Birmingham, I occasionally wrote music for the Chaplaincy and subsequently the university’s chamber choir. One piece was a setting of the George Herbert poem “Life”. It contains the line “Farewell deare flowers. Sweetl’y your time ye spent, fit while ye lived for smell or ornament, and after death for cures!” It was whilst conducting the second performance of this (of which I still have the recording) that I suddenly realised what that last phrase sounded like!

  • Colin Reed says:

    I have a student who sings in an Irish band. He’s trying a song called “The Town I Loved so Well.” It has the line “There was music there in the Derry air”. Talking about anterior activities…

  • Mikey says:

    I sang with a large semi-professional chorus for years, and the year we did the Verdi Requiem the entire baritone section would always jokingly sing “extremente majestatis”… until we accidentally did it during the first dress rehearsal with orchestra.