We are all familiar with this phenomenon. You’re listening to a song you’ve heard many times, and you think you know the lyrics, but you don’t really. And often our mistaken lyrics radically change the meaning of the song.
For example, I remember hearing the song Blinded by the Light when I was growing up. It seemed to be on the radio all the time. For years, I thought the lyric was “wrecked up like a douche, you know the roller in the night.” I had no idea what that meant. Something to do with women in floppy hats on TV selling Massengill products I figured. Now I know that the lyric is “racked up like a deuce, you know the roller in the night.” So, apparently it’s about gambling, not about feminine products at all.
Or consider this cryptic line from Jimi Hendrix’s hit: “‘Scuze me, while I kiss this guy.” Hey, it was the 70s. Live and let live.
And there are some songs out there that just defy decryption: parts of Shout by the Isley Brothers and Fame by David Bowie come to mind. I’m sure you can now find lyrics of these on line, but I defy anyone to figure it out without them. I also think these are songs that are just partly made up as they go along.
Which brings us to hymns. The hymns are actually written out, right in front of you. So, how is it that people get the lyrics wrong? There are a few varieties of botched hymn lyrics:
- Changed hymns. I can think of two specific examples that are sometimes sung incorrectly because they have been changed from their original words:
- 86 How Great Thou Art. Any convert to the church will tell you that the original lyrics are “the works thy hands have made” (changed in our hymn book to “worlds thy hands have made” presumably for theological reasons) and “I hear the mighty thunder” (changed in our hymn book to “I hear the rolling thunder” presumably for poetic reasons).
- 85 How Firm a Foundation. The lyric used to be “You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled,” but was changed in the 1985 hymn book to “Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled.”
- Intentionally “funny” lyrics. When I was a kid, we used to amuse ourselves by adding the phrase “in the bathtub” to the ends of the titles of hymns. But there are also hymns that kids like to change to be funny. There are two I can think of off the top of my head:
- 30 Come, Come Ye Saints. Instead of “no toil nor labor fear,” kids have been known to sing “no toilet paper here,” a more fitting lyric for the pioneer trek perhaps.
- 144 Secret Prayer. In Spanish, missionaries like to change the lyric “con el cielo comunion” (meaning communion with Heaven) to “con el suelo comunion” (meaning communion with the floor).
- Mistakes. Some hymns are mistakenly sung incorrectly, at times changing the meaning of the lyric.
- 5 High on the Mountain Top (verse 2): “For God remembers still / His promise made of old / That he on Zion’s hill / Truth’s standards would unfold.” Correction: “Truth’s standard would unfold.” He’s unfolding a flag, people, not a list of behavioral rules. This seems like a telling mistake.
- 239 Choose the Right (verse 3): “Choose the right / in all labors you’re pursuing / Let God in Heaven be your goal.” Correction: “Let God and Heaven be your goal.” Not as really significant a mistake, but it shifts the focus from the worship of deity to one’s own exaltation when sung correctly.
- 76 God of Our Fathers, We Come Unto Thee. The chorus says “Never! Never! Never from thee let us stray! Ever! Ever! Ever to thee will we pray!” However, I’ve heard all the Never / Ever stuff sometimes get tongue-tied and come out backwards, changing the meaning pretty radically.
So, what other deviations have you heard at church when people are singing the hymns? Any Primary songs that have been modified by unwitting congregants? Discuss.