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Though the meaning behind song lyrics can be hard to grasp – and, if you’re having trouble, checking out the words on a screen can be a good way to get your head around them – the thought behind song titles can be just as cryptic, leaving listeners puzzled over what exactly a “Bohemian Rhapsody” is.
We had a look through the lyricfinder.org archives to find 5 songs with titles that appear nowhere in the lyrics, in a bid to hopefully reveal the origins of some of the best-loved tracks in history.
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
A rousing anthem to the 90s grungiest teens, this song boasts some pretty unintelligible words but none of them reference adolescent odours. Instead, this rock anthem got its title when one of Kurt Cobain’s friends, Bikini Kill vocalist Kathleen Hanna, spray-painted “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a wall. Cobain was unaware that Teen Spirit was actually an underarm deodorant worn by his then girlfriend.
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
There’s no trace of the title in Queen’s 1975 opera-rock masterpiece and “Scaramouch, Scaramouch, can you do the Fandango?” didn’t ever stick as its name. The abstract phrase is said to have been chosen to evoke the rhapsodic nature of the song and reflect the bohemian musician’s lifestyle. Or it just sounded cool.
MGMT – Kids
There is no great level of smoke and mirrors going on with this track from the Connecticut duo MGMT, which ended up being a runaway hit, but just a vocabulary choice. “Kids” is supposedly a song to teach children empathy and moderation, yet addresses its audience with a far more formal vocabulary. How dignified.
Rihanna – James Joint
Well, it’s an interlude that seems to largely be about “smoking weed”, if the lyrics are to be believed, but the James referenced in the title is unrelated to marijuana. In fact, the song is named for one of Rihanna’s recurrent co-writers James Fauntleroy – who also helped pen “Te Amo” and “Wait Your Turn” – as well as the green herb.
Coldplay – Viva la Vida
“Viva la Vida” is a Spanish phrase that means “long live life”, and neither it nor its English translation appear in the lyrics to Coldplay’s 2008 hit. The song takes it name from a painting by famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, which Chris Martin admires thanks to its bold spirit and resilience of the artist.