You tapped your feet, hummed along gently and at times swung your hips to those songs you thought you knew all along. But they’ve always had more to them than met the eye. Are these simply crazy fan theories? Or did the songwriters really think it all through? Here are 5 fascinating interpretations about songs you thought you knew all along.

There’s a Light that Never Goes Out (The Smiths)

This classic by The Smiths seems at first like a heartfelt declaration of love, but it seems to be laced with considerable servings of melancholy. When Morrissey opens with the words, “Take me out, tonight” – it seems like a simple invitation to go out somewhere with the one he loves. But it can be interpreted as a death wish, too – to take somebody out, i.e. to kill them. One might argue against this theory, because the very next line is “where there’s music and there’s people and they’re young and alive”. However, the chorus echoes the theme of death – “If a double decker bus, crashes into us – to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” Also, a strong sense of seclusion from society permeates through the lines “…please don’t drop me home, because it’s not my home – it’s their home and I’m welcome no more”. So what is the ultimate desire of this love-struck recluse? To dissolve into love and vanish into nothingness? Or simply to go to a party and forget about the woes of life? It’s for you to decide.

Daydreaming (Radiohead)

In one of his TED Talks, when talking about the complexity of human emotions, Sir Ken Robinson had said “I mean, you may have a dog. And your dog may get depressed. You know, but it doesn’t listen to Radiohead, does it?”

Radiohead songs are often ambigous enough to have a whole book filled with different interpretations. Daydreaming is, however, commonly believed to be an ode to lead singer Thom Yorke’s 23-year relationship with his former wife, which ended in divorce just before A Moon Shaped Pool was released. What’s interesting is that, this latest album was released 23 years after their debut Pablo Honey (1993). According to some reports, Thom Yorke walks through 23 doors in the music video for Daydreaming (we weren’t counting, though!). Another intriguing fact is that the song ends with Thom’s voice heard mumbling gibberish sounds, but if you reverse that segment, he keeps repeating the phrase “half of my life”. Half of Thom’s life, him being 47 years at the time of the album’s release, would have been 23 years and 6 months to be precise. Honestly, now that you think about it, how is this track not called 23?

Goodbye Horses (Q Lazzarus)

The calming yet spooky melody that lent an extra-sinister aura to The Silence of the Lambs is essentially a conversation that doesn’t quite connect with the long outro at first glance. There is an obvious reference to the transient nature of life in the line “All things pass, into the night” followed by the narrator’s disbelief “oh no sir, I must say you’re wrong”. But one can’t help but wonder – where did these horses come from out of nowhere in the outro? And why were they important enough to become the song title? Well, as it turns out, it is a reference to Hindu philosophy where five horses pull the chariot of Krishna and Arjuna (read more about this fascinating depiction here). These five horses represent the five senses. In a nutshell, the entire song is a conversation between a realist and a dreamer. The dreamer is unable to accept the transience of life and gradually experiences a complete withdrawal from reality, represented by the five senses.

The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)

“Wha – This is not originally by Nirvana?”

This song’s title was inspired by the novella The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A Heinlein. The central plot in the Heinlein’s work is that of a man who tries to raise funds for the first ever trip to moon. In Bowie’s lyrics, we find the protagonist speaking to a “ghost” – who is supposed to have “died alone, a long long time ago”. As the song progresses, Bowie seems increasingly to be talking to himself, as “I never lost control” turns into “We never lost control”. But who is the man who sold world? Does it refer to Bowie himself – who has sold his music all over the world, and in the process seems to have lost an essential part of himself? Or is it a man, like Heinlein’s protagonist, who literally sold the world? In the latter case, that would be selling the dream of a material world, that of fame, money and lust. Yet even as he sold this material world, the protagonist seems to have lost the essence of himself.

Losing My Religion (R.E.M)

This seems as obvious as it gets- the man’s losing faith in faith, right? Actually, as Stipe himself says, “losing my religion” is an idiom for “losing my mind”. And what’s making him lose his mind? That seems to be a simple love affair. Starting with the protagonist telling himself that “life is bigger” than the object of his love, him going to great lengths to win her affection (“the lengths that I will go to”), his concern that he has revealed his obsession (“oh no, I’ve said too much”) before realizing – “I haven’t said enough”. So Michael Stipe swining his arms back and forth in their iconic music video is nothing more than an expression of love! Are you surprised, or let down?

by Chowderchai