Paul Fitzpatrick: London, June 2021
When I moved to London in 84, I worked beside a guy who had just made the same move but from Manchester rather than Glasgow. We hit it off straight away, moved to a different company together and then after a few years we decided that we wanted to start up our own business, which we did in 1990.
This meant that for nigh-on 20 years I probably spent more time with Laurence than I did with my own wife and young family.
We were constantly travelling, going to see customers all over the UK, Factories in Hong Kong, Cape Town and Morocco. Fabric Suppliers in Italy & France and trade fairs in Europe and the US.
We were different people, but we got on really well, he was a graduate that spoke 3 languages, whilst I was still trying to master English; he loved rugby, I loved football; he drank real ale and red wine, I drank lager & lime.
Still Buddies 37 years on
The one thing we always bonded on apart from work was music, we were a similar age and had grown up listening to the same radio stations and buying the same albums, but Laurence had a unique talent that was even more impressive to me than speaking 3 languages…. he knew the lyrics to any 70s song (and most 60’s songs) that came on the radio!
In the late 80s we worked for a Chinese company and spent a lot of time in Hong Kong just as Karaoke was starting to break through, and before it hit the UK.
We used to travel out to HK to meet customers who were visiting our factory… buyers from UK retailers like Top Shop, River Island and Next, and in the evening we’d take them to one of the first Karaoke Bars to open in Kowloon called The Bali Lounge.
Whilst I’d be scrambling to read the words on the monitor to ‘You’re So Vain’ or ‘New Kid in Town’, Laurence would be face-on to the crowd belting out the song without glancing once at the lyrics.
I asked him once if when he was younger he used to study and memorise lyrics from album sleeves or from those pop mags that were around in the 70s, like Disco 45, but he didn’t need to, he just heard songs on the radio and the lyrics stayed with him.
I would test him with obscure songs, and he rarely failed, it didn’t matter if he liked the song or not, if he’d heard it a couple of times the lyrics always stuck.
I thought about his unique talent the other day as I was listening to one of the songs from our 70s playlist and remembered that I’d been singing the wrong lyrics for nigh on 40 years to a song I love.
The song was Tumbling Dice by The Rolling Stones it was released in 1971 and up until a few years ago I always thought Jagger was singing ‘Tommy the tumblin’ dice’.
I now know of course that it should be…. ‘Call me the tumblin’ dice’.
I love that song and had belted out “Tommy the tumblin dice” at Stones gigs, any die-hard Stones fans within earshot at Glastonbury in 2013 must have cringed.
For nearly half a century I thought the song was about a gambler called Tommy, when in fact it’s a ditty penned by Jagger (riffs by Richards) about love, money and loose women… using gambling metaphors.
There was no Tommy in sight!
I also didn’t realise that there’s an official term for this sort of thing.
Mondegreen: a mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning.
It made me think of other classic mondegreens…. like my friend who will go unnamed, who on hearing the track Ziggy Stardust for the umpteenth time finally cracked and asked why Bowie would be ‘Making love with his Eagle’?
When we all know that in fact he was “Making love with his ego’!
Or a girl I knew who genuinely thought Crystal Gale was singing…. ‘Donuts make my brown eyes blue’
I was always big on melodies and never that strong on lyrics when I was younger, so I’ve had a lot of catching up to do with lyrics over the years.
Some lyrics as I knew them didn’t even make sense, but I never stopped to wonder why, for instance why would Kenny Rogers have 400 children, as in….
‘You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille, with 400 children and a crop in the field’?
Of course, on closer inspection I now know that it was only ‘4 hungry children’ the bold Kenny was left with… he may have been a lothario and a favourite of Dolly’s but he wasn’t that prolific!
There are sites and forums dedicated to mis-heard lyrics now and the three mondegreens below seem to be the ones that pop up the most…
Song – Lucy in the sky with diamonds:
Lyric – ‘The girl with colitis goes by‘ (should be – The girl with kaleidoscope eyes)
Song – Bad Moon Rising:
Lyric – ‘There’s a bathroom on the right‘ (should be – There’s a bad moon on the rise)
Song – Purple Haze:
Lyric – ‘Scuse me whilst I kiss this guy‘ (should be – Scuse me whilst I kiss the sky)
Peter Kay did an excellent stand-up routine based on misheard lyrics that you can find the link for below and if you’ve ever been caught out lyrically, then please share and let us know what your mis-heard lyrics were on the comments or the Facebook page….