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12 of the Most Confusing Song Lyrics Ever Written

When it comes to writing lyrics, some songwriters aren’t quite as poetic or as eloquent as others. At one end of the spectrum, we have renowned, articulate lyricists such as Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Leonard Cohen. At the other, there are bands who are quite content singing, “Mmmbop, ba duba dop ba, du bop, ba duba dop ba, du bop, ba duba dop ba du.”

That’s not to say all great songwriters always reach Shakespearean heights with their words. After all, John Lennon, an unquestionably great lyricist, also wrote the entirely nonsensical “I Am the Walrus” — albeit as a deliberately incoherent response to learning that students in literature classes were being made to study the meaning of Beatles lyrics.

Many factors can account for the strange and incomprehensible lyrics we’ve heard over the years: Improvisation, drug usage, the desire to remain an enigma, just plain silliness, etc. Here are 12 of the most confusing song lyrics from the past few decades, including those written by bands of the swinging ’60s, more recent acts such as Oasis and the Killers, and everything in between.

All the sweet green icing flowing down / Someone left the cake out in the rain / I don't think that I can take it / 'Cause it took so long to bake it / And I'll never have that recipe again, oh no.
“MacArthur Park,” Richard Harris, 1968

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Long before he portrayed Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, Richard Harris sang a true oddity of a song written by acclaimed songwriter Jimmy Webb. The cake-in-the-rain scenario, while undeniably strange, is actually based on Webb’s memory of witnessing an ex-lover’s  wedding cake melting during a rainy outdoor ceremony in the park.

Can you surry, can you picnic, whoa? / Can you surry, can you picnic? / Come on, come on and surry down to a stoned soul picnic / Surry down to a stoned soul picnic / There'll be lots of time and wine.
“Stoned Soul Picnic,” Laura Nyro, 1968

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The confusion surrounding Nyro’s song (later covered by the 5th Dimension) revolves around the seemingly made-up word “surry.” Over the years, listeners have interpreted it to mean “slurry” or “surrey” or to simply be a contraction of “let’s hurry.” When questioned, Nyro herself has been quoted as saying, “Oh, it’s just a nice word.”

You told your mama I'd get you home / But you didn't say that I got no car / I saw a lion, he was standin' alone / With a tadpole in a jar.
“Dancing Days,” Led Zeppelin, 1973

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Look online and you’ll find all kinds of inventive fan-made explanations for this one, ranging from the tadpole representing youth to symbolizing sexual activity — and that’s before the lion even gets involved.

Gitchi gitchi ya ya da da / Gitchi gitchi ya ya here / Mocha chocolata, ya ya / Creole Lady Marmalade.
“Lady Marmalade,” Labelle, 1974

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Lead singer Patti LaBelle has openly admitted to having no idea what the racy French lyrics in “Lady Marmalade” meant when she recorded the song, which was written by Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe. And, like the rest of us, the songstress certainly had no clue what the whole “gitchi gitchi” thing was supposed to mean.

Tam bo li de say de moi ya / Yeah, Jambo, Jambo / Way to parti, o we goin' / Oh, jambali / Tam bo li de say de moi ya / Yeah, Jambo, Jambo / Oh, yes / We're gonna have a party, yeah, uh.
“All Night Long (All Night),” Lionel Richie, 1983

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When Lionel Richie was looking for real African phrases to include in this classic track, he soon realized incorporating them was more complicated than he’d first imagined — so he just made them up.

The reflex is a lonely child, who's waiting by the park / The reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark / And watching over lucky clover, isn't that bizarre?
“The Reflex,” Duran Duran, 1983

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Bizarre, indeed. Theories abound as to what the “reflex” here is supposed to represent, ranging from gambling addiction to self-pleasure.

There's a girl that's been on my mind / All the time, Sus-Sussudio, oh, oh / Now, she don't even know my name / But I think she likes me just the same, Sus-Sussudio, oh, oh.
“Sussudio,” Phil Collins, 1985

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This classic single came about while Phil Collins was playing around with a drum track. He began singing along with the beat using the nonsense word “sussudio.” It fit so well that Collins, unable to come up with anything he liked better, kept it in the song.

The other night I drifted nice, continental drift divide / Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein / Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce, and Lester Bangs / Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom / You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck / Right? Right.
“It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” R.E.M., 1987

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The stream-of-consciousness lyrics to this R.E.M. hit were partially inspired by a dream lead singer Michael Stipe had in which he was the only person at a birthday party whose initials weren’t L.B. The rest of the lyrics came from “stuff [he’d] seen when [he] was flipping TV channels.”

In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey / Butane in my veins, and I'm out to cut the junkie / With the plastic eyeballs, spray paint the vegetables / Dog food stalls with the beefcake pantyhose.
“Loser,” Beck, 1993

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Let’s face it: No one knows what most of the lyrics to “Loser” actually mean — but that didn’t stop it from becoming the “slacker” anthem of a generation.

Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh / Totally emotionless except for her heart / Mud flowed up into lump's pajamas / She totally confused all the passing piranhas.
“Lump,” The Presidents of the United States of America, 1995

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Lead singer and bassist Chris Ballew’s explanation of the meaning of “Lump” admittedly doesn’t make much more sense than the lyrics themselves: “Everyone would always say, ‘What is 'Lump' about?’ I'm like, ‘Just listen to the lyrics. That's what it's about.’ It's literally about this vision, a fancy flight of imagination.”

Slowly walking down the hall / Faster than a cannonball / Where were you while we were gettin' high?
“Champagne Supernova,” Oasis, 1995

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Oasis’ 1995 hit somehow makes less sense the more you listen to it, something Noel Gallagher freely admits. “What … is all that about?” he’s been quoted as saying. “I should know, ’cause I wrote it, and I haven’t got a clue.”

My sign is vital / My hands are cold / And I'm on my knees / Looking for the answer / Are we human / Or are we dancer?
“Human,” The Killers, 2008

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When Brandon Flowers decided to use the singular “dancer” rather than the plural “dancers” in this line, he surely had no idea the tidal wave of confusion such a miniscule action would cause. But he’s continued to steadfastly defend his decision, saying somewhat defiantly, “I guess it bothers people that it’s not grammatically correct, but I think I’m allowed to do whatever I want.”

Featured image credit: Lester Cohen/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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