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8 Pop Culture Misconceptions That Became True

Mike Floorwalker

With so many media outlets vying for our attention, it’s easy to be misinformed about pop culture. Bogus stories can spread like viruses, and by the time the information is shown to be false, your poor brain has already processed it otherwise. Sometimes to the point where, in the words of the late, great Michael Jackson, “the lie becomes the truth, hey hey.”

But in this culture, an odd phenomenon has surfaced: the lie really does become the truth. Sometimes, misconceptions can get so big, they outgrow their own falsehood, like these.

8 Misheard Lyrics

Eurythmics

“Mondegreens” are misheard song lyrics. The term is derived from the 17th-century ballad The Bonny Earl O’Moray: “Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands/Oh, where have ye been?/They have slain the Earl O’Moray/And Lady Mondegreen”. Wait, who the heck is she? Well, actually, the line is “and laid him on the green.”

The most famous mondegreen has got to be Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix: “Scuse me while I kiss the sky” is commonly being heard as “kiss this guy.” This one became so well-known so quickly that Jimi began singing it this way when performing live, usually pointing at his bassist or some other dude on the stage as he did so (once, it was Otis Redding).

Several other performers have been known to sing mondegreen versions during performances. For example, so many fans thought the song Don’t Bring Me Down was about a guy named “Bruce” (when really, they’re singing the German word “Gruss”) that singer Jeff Lynne eventually just started singing it that way. He even recorded a new solo version for the gaming company EA Sports with the revised lyric.

One mondegreen even made it into a Super Bowl halftime performance. When John Fogerty performed a medley including the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic Bad Moon Rising (with the lyric “there’s a bad moon on the rise”), he sang it the way so many have heard it over the years: as directions to the “bathroom—it’s on the right.”

7 The Beatles Were Druggies

sgt-pepper

There was a time that everyone assumed the Beatles were on drugs—and they were wrong. Though they were known to pop uppers during the long Hamburg sets in the early ’60s (as were pretty much all bands), the Fab Four had never touched weed or LSD at the time I Want To Hold Your Hand was released. Yet the lyric “I can’t hide” was heard widely as “I get high”, and at a time when pop music was being blamed for all sorts of social ills, the misconception took hold pretty easily. (Incidentally, how many of you still thought the line was “I get high”?)

This mondegreen was actually self-fulfilling: Bob Dylan certainly heard it the incorrect way, and when the band corrected him upon their introduction, he promptly turned the misconception true by getting them high for the first time. Within three years, McCartney was writing songs about his intense desire to score grass and publicly extolling the virtues of acid.

This encounter has become part of rock folklore, and even though it sounds for all the world like an urban legend, it actually happened: everyone involved has agreed on that. Fortunate, too—before, the Beatles were just a really tight pop outfit. After, they became the greatest rock band ever (not that Bob or marijuana want any credit).

6 Hip-Hop Is A Musical Genre

Hip Hop

Aficionados know that hip-hop is a diverse culture, encompassing emceeing, deejaying, graffiti, and breakdancing or “b-boying.” The music of hip-hop culture is called “rap.” Remember? Rap music? That’s what everyone called it when it first hit the mainstream, because that’s what it’s called. Referring to rap as “hip-hop music” is like referring to EDM (electronic dance music) as “rave music,” and, up until around 20 years ago, was about as correct.

The blame for this one falls squarely on radio stations. Rap music was seen as highly confrontational by its very nature when it hit the national scene: there were no sub-genres at that time, it was all just rap. Radio stations needed a way to distinguish the Fresh Prince from Public Enemy, and since rappers referred to their culture as hip-hop, they jumped on the term. Soon, consumers and critics began using the term to describe rap music—and fans of rap began correcting them, a pastime of which they would soon grow very tired.

For better or worse, the term stuck. As rap splintered into a dozen or so sub-genres in the late ’90s, hip-hop became the catch-all term for whatever they were playing on the radio. And, as all of those sub-genres have largely homogenized again, it’s now just a catch-all term for everything involving rapping—even underground artists have started referring to their music as hip-hop. Radio stations aren’t exactly bastions of free creative expression, but passive-aggressively telling a musical genre what to call itself seems particularly egregious. And while we’re talking about oft-maligned musical genres . . .

5 Heavy Metal Bands Worship The Devil

Lordi

Because of its aggressive sound, provocative imagery, and band names like “Black Sabbath” (for crying out loud), there was a strong misconception throughout the late ’60s and all of the ’70s that hard rock and heavy metal bands were depraved devil worshipers. They were accused of things like selling their souls to gain their fame, hiding backwards messages in their music, and using vaguely dark lyrics to praise ol’ Sparky and brainwash listeners. Speculation in print and schoolyards focused less on whether the rumors were true, and more on just how many goats and virgins had to be ritually slaughtered to make an average metal record.

The lyrics to Black Sabbath’s War Pigs (which actually condemn war, evil, and Satan) and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven (which . . . you tell us?) were cited as evidence—not to mention the famous urban legend that the name of the band KISS was an anagram for “Knights In Satan’s Service.” All of this was, of course, nonsense: most of the lyrics thought to be “satanic” were either political or just esoteric, and the notion that bands like KISS were trying to turn people to the dark side seems laughable now.

But, as the metal genre evolved into about a billion specific sub-genres, several of these groups (most notably Black Metal) have embraced satanic dogma, giving some truth to an old, stubborn, and completely false perception of metal in general. And really, band names like “Angel Corpse” and “Blasphemy” don’t leave much room for misinterpretation. Whereas Ozzy and Zeppelin were kind of just messing with listeners’ heads, these guys really mean the whole praising evil thing; no misunderstanding that. Part of the old misconception had extra legs, like . . .

4 Artists Hide Backward Messages In Their Music

Record Label

Most people are familiar with the sound made by reversed speech thanks to popular music. It cannot be argued that many musical artists have, for years and years, endeavored to hide strange messages and odd phrases in their songs by recording them forward, reversing them, and mixing them into the track. What’s interesting is the main reason for these backward snippets: sarcasm. That is to say, the backward messages are making fun of you for looking for them, because most of the first cases of alleged backmasking were pure coincidence.

The Beatles (again) were the first to use reversed musical and spoken phrases, in several tracks on their 1966 masterpiece Revolver. The first reversed phrase appeared in the song Rain, and it was just a paraphrasing of the song’s simple lyrics about sunshine and rain. It wasn’t until 1969 when the rumors about secret, ominous messages in the group’s recordings—specifically, messages suggesting that Paul was dead, began to gain serious traction, and this opened the floodgates for the phenomenon known as phonetic reversal.

This means, simply, that listeners were hearing whatever they were looking for. A true backmask is fairly evident, even when played backward at an inconsistent speed; it sounds like wobbly, but regular, speech. Also, of course, it sounds like backward speech when played forward. It seems obvious to state that to speak a logical, coherent phrase that sounds like another, completely different, equally coherent phrase when played backward is totally impossible. This did not stop people from suggesting that the lyrics to Stairway To Heaven praised Satan when reversed, and that the phrase “another one bites the dust” spoken backward produces “it’s fun to smoke marijuana,” even if it seems like a moment’s thought should have revealed the notion as ridiculous.

The response by artists, obviously, was to insert actual backmasked messages sarcastically mocking the entire concept of backmasking. Although sometimes done for artistic or aesthetic (and decidedly non-evil) purposes, sarcasm accounts for the lion’s share of confirmed backmasks. As early as 1979 (before the aforementioned “satanic backmasking” moral panic of the ’80s), Pink Floyd slipped this tidbit into “Empty Spaces” from The Wall: “Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message. Please send your answer to Old Pink, care of the Funny Farm, Chalfont.” By the time the panic was in full swing, even Weird Al Yankovic couldn’t withhold comment: backmasked messages on Weird Al records include “Wow, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands” and “Satan eats Cheez Whiz”. The misconception has long since become true, though, for less dark and more hilarious purposes.

3 The Monkees Played Their Own Instruments

Monkees

When the NBC television series The Monkees debuted in 1966, viewers could be forgiven for thinking that the Monkees were songwriters. After all, they ended every episode with a live performance—and why would they play their songs if they hadn’t written them?

The reality is that while most of them could play (Mickey Dolenz played Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” on guitar at his audition, only to be promptly cast as the drummer) and sing just fine, the network that hired them was not about to take a chance on the bunch of actors they’d hired to come up with hit songs. Instead, they had studio musicians play most of the music on their albums and hired songwriters to supply them with hits.

This is not terribly unique: plenty of popular bands, like Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, and Elvis (as well as countless contemporary artists) employed professional songwriters and even used session musicians on their records. But in the sixties, the public wasn’t quite as savvy about the music industry, and when the Monkees started loudly and publicly demanding that they be allowed to write their own songs and play their own instruments, there was a huge backlash from a public who had no idea that this had not always been the case.

By the time that backlash was in full swing, the band derisively referred to as the “Pre-Fab Four” (despite outselling both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1966) were actually writing all the songs and playing the instruments on their 1967 album Headquarters. The initial misconception that the Monkees were a legitimate band had come true, but today the secondary misconception (that they’re a bunch of fakers) holds strong . . . despite the fact that the Monkees have played hundreds of concerts over the last several decades.

2 Horror Films Are Incredibly Gory

Hills Have Axe

Released in 1974, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is perhaps the prototypical slasher film. It established or helped to establish several well-worn tropes of the genre—the isolated location, the masked, silent killer, the final girl—and is remembered for being brutally violent. This film, along with others such as Wes Craven’s 1977 The Hills Have Eyes and John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween, ushered in a new era of graphic violence in movies that has long since run amok—except that’s not actually the case.

Besides their lurid subject matter, all of these films have something else in common—they were released in the era before home video was widespread. As such, they were subject to what’s known as the telephone effect: detailed synopses would be passed around workplaces and schoolyards, and with each telling, the details would change a little bit, eventually becoming . . . well, exaggerated. That is to say, there is practically no blood in these films. They were shocking in their storytelling, yes, and frightening—so much so that they are remembered as being far more graphically violent than they really are.

By today’s standards, the level of violence in films like Texas Chainsaw and Halloween is downright tame (and The Hills Have Eyes is so ineptly made as to play like unintentional comedy). But all of the above-mentioned films have been remade in the last decade—into films every bit as blood-soaked and gory as their predecessors were not, perhaps the most direct and blatant example of a misconception becoming the truth.

1 The “X” Rating Is Just For Porno

MPAA

The original MPAA ratings—G, PG, R, and X—covered a pretty wide spectrum, and seemed to address all possible audiences until Steven Spielberg invented PG-13 in 1984. Before this period, kids knew that you may be able to get into an R-rated film with your cool older brother, but no way were you sneaking into the X-rated movies (those were only shown in “adult” theaters) because they were pornos. Except (get ready for it), that wasn’t necessarily true.

In fact, an X-rated film won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1969: Midnight Cowboy, the film that made Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight big Hollywood stars. At that time, it was understood that X was for “mature audiences only”—-the same purpose that NC-17 serves today. Sure, skin flicks fell under that category, but the X rating wasn’t their sole domain—except there was one small oversight that allowed this misconception to replace the truth.

For some reason, X was the only one of those original ratings that the MPAA failed to copyright. This meant that any sleazy filmmaker who cared to could and did slap the X on their films. If that didn’t seem scandalous enough, they could upgrade to “XXX” which literally means nothing. There is no such MPAA rating, and there never has been. You might as well rate your film “Triple Q.”

This quickly resulted in exactly no legitimate filmmakers releasing X-rated films, as it would be instant box office death. Pornmeisters were all too happy to lovingly claim it as their own, and no viable rating for serious adults-only films has existed since, unless you count NC-17 (Which you should not).

Somewhat ironically, the X stigma has persisted to such an extent that any adults-only rating is associated with porn, and mainstream theaters treat it accordingly. Which is why the top-grossing NC-17-rated film of all time is Showgirls, with a whopping 20 million dollars. Hey, at least the MPAA remembered to trademark it this time.

Mike Floorwalker

Mike Floorwalker's actual name is Jason, and he lives in the Boulder, Colorado area with his wife Stacey. He enjoys loud rock music, cooking and making lists.

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