When we hear that Pharrell Williams co-wrote 43 percent of the songs played on the radio in 2004, or that Dr. Luke wrote virtually every hit song in 2014, we’re barely even surprised. If anything, we’re just glad that every credits box doesn’t say “LyricsBot2000” yet. And besides, it makes no difference who wrote the song as long as it’s good, right? Actually, in some cases, it makes all the difference. Here are seven famous songs that take on a whole new meaning when you find out who wrote them — with implications that range from the fascinating to the terrifying.
#7. Joan Jett’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me” Was Written By A Convicted Child Molester
Joan Jett scored a major hit in 1980 with “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” a sexy glam rock song that perfectly fit her “I’ll punch you during sex (but you’ll like it)” persona.
It’s now considered a classic, so much so that HP used it for their TouchSmart (get it?) commercials, and Glee featured it in a scene set in a high school sex education class …
… which was probably the songwriter’s dream come true. You see, “Do You Wanna Touch Me” wasn’t originally by Jett — it was by Gary Glitter. You might know him as one of the leading figures of the glam era. Or as the writer of that hockey chant song.
Or from his many, many statutory rape cases.
The man is currently in jail for abusing three kids during the time he wrote “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” and that wasn’t even a first for Glitter. He was jailed in Vietnam as well, for molesting two more girls under 13 — which should surprise nobody who’s actually paid attention to the song. It opens with:
We’ve been here too long
Tryin’ to get along
Pretending that you’re oh so shy
I’m a natural man
Doin’ all I can
My temperature is runnin’ high
My, my, my, whiskey and rye
Don’t it make you feel so fine?
Every growing boy
Needs a little joy
Even with her murder-eyes, she’s still the least-threatening choice to sing those words.
Yes, in the great tradition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me” is a ballad about liquoring up girls and having your way with them. HP pulled the song from their ads when they found out Glitter could have gotten $140,000 in royalties, and as for Glee? They apparently agreed it was inappropriate for a show about teenagers, because they eventually replaced it in the U.K. … with “Afternoon Delight.”
#6. Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” Was Written By Two Dudes Making Fun Of Crazy Women
Carrie Underwood’s 2006 hit is about the time she had a hunch her boyfriend might be cheating, and so, like a totally sane person, she destroyed his car before confirming those suspicions.
Men’s rights activists have jumped on it, Bill Burr delivered a 10-minute monologue ripping on Carrie Underwood as everything wrong with women today, and feminists just sort of inched away and said, “She’s not with us.”
Now, it might shock you to learn that an American Idol winner doesn’t always write her own material, but it turns out that Underwood had nothing to do with the lyrics of this song. Nope, here are the writers after picking up a Grammy:
Only one got the memo about proper Grammy attire, but we’re not sure which.
Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins have written for artists like Tim McGraw, Jimmy Buffett, and Boyzone. That’s right, the song that Burr called an “anthem for psychotic C-words” wasn’t written by an angry woman plotting her revenge on a guy who drives a pick-up truck — it was written by two guys who probably drive pick-up trucks. It wasn’t even intended for Underwood — the boys wrote it because they wanted to do an “edgy” song where a girl “gets pissed.” It’s not a women’s anthem, and it’s not based on anything resembling real events. It’s just two guys’ erroneous impression of how women think.
In their mind, what women want is to void your warranty because one time
they dreamed you kissed their sister.
Kear and Tompkins don’t exactly respect the woman in the song, either. Kear has called her “kind of a psychopath” — which is OK, because they didn’t intend the tune to be serious. They were going for something “humorous” and “lighthearted,” like a present-day “Did I Shave My Legs For This?” But Underwood played it completely straight, and thus was born the anthem for vengeance-minded women everywhere.
Even the Carrie covered in pig’s blood was all, “Girl, you need to chill.”
#5. Miley Cyrus’ Career-Changing Single “We Can’t Stop” Was Written For Rihanna
“We Can’t Stop” was the moment Miley Cyrus didn’t just kill her family-friendly image, she molested it in a dumpster behind an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese’s first. The 2013 song features lines like:
Trying to get a line in the bathroom
We all so turnt up here
We like to party
Dancing with Molly
It sends a pretty clear and simple message: I’m the girl who does drugs and has sex with people now. All of the drugs, and all of the people.
But it wasn’t just the “It’s not your grandma’s Miley!” stuff that didn’t seem right. Lines like To my home girls here with the big butt / Shaking it like we at a strip club sound a little strange coming out of the pale-skinned daughter of a country singer.
Above: “My home girl with the big butt.”
Cyrus was criticized for using black human beings as accessories in the music video and for appropriating black culture, and she was even sent polite reminders that she is not black. All of which could have been avoided, because the song was never supposed to be hers anyway. It was written by Timothy and Theron Thomas, also known as Uptown AP and A.I., also known as Rock City, also known as Planet VI … also known as two actual black people.
Neither of whom wrote Tryin’ to get a line in the bathroom
with Hannah Montana in mind.
When they wrote it, “We Can’t Stop” was meant to go to Rihanna — but Cyrus requested it, because she wanted something that “feels black.” Oh, but she also said the song is “based on a true story of a crazy night I had,” so we guess it’s really about the time Miley was bitten by a black person and turned into a were-African-American for an evening. Which, in all fairness, would be pretty crazy.
#4. Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” Was Written For Him By An Alleged Statutory Rapist
“You Are Not Alone” came out during a weird period in Michael Jackson’s already-weird life. He was fresh off his first accusation of pedophilia, he’d started taking a monkey with him everywhere he went, and his skin color was approaching “dangerously Scottish” levels of pale. In short, he needed a PR move really bad.
And so came “You Are Not Alone” — a touching ballad whose music video encouraged us to believe it was an epic love song for his adult human wife, Lisa Marie Presley.
It was beautiful, it was a hit, and it proved that the King of Pop could still top the charts. Except, of course, Michael didn’t write it. One Robert “R.” Kelly did.
Y’know, the other R&B star who keeps getting charged with sex with minors.
Be glad we went with this and not a still from his sex tape,
or you’d end up in court too.
Now, in 1995 R. Kelly had yet to (we have to include the next word) allegedly videotape himself peeing on any underage girls, but he was working up to it. At 27, he had already married 15-year-old pop star Aaliyah in an illegal ceremony. Unlike the video tapes, Kelly didn’t even try to keep this one secret — he freaking wrote and produced an Aaliyah song creepily called “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” R. Kelly was literally standing up in front of stadiums and on TV and announcing, essentially, “Check it out, America. I’m boning this 15-year-old girl.”
Until you can pose for magazines with your teenage wife and not give a solitary fuck
about any lawyers reading, you’re not truly rich.
Kelly has since claimed that “You Are Not Alone” is about the death of his mother, but Jackson didn’t see it that way — he told Kelly that he felt like the song was about his life. So, in Jackson’s mind, this song wasn’t a letter from Kelly to his mom or from Jackson to his wife. It was a letter from R. Kelly to Michael Jackson. A quiet, reassuring whisper in his ear, telling him, “You’re not alone, Michael. I understand you.”
That, uh … that’s not a good thing.
#3. The ’60s Feminist Classic “I’m A Woman” Was Written By Two Men
The moment that singer Peggy Lee proudly belted out, “I’m a woman! W-O-M-A-N!” has been stamped in the annals of pop music, feminist, and spelling history for all time. The 1962 song has been called an anthem for the second-wave feminist “superwoman,” and the greatest “girl power” song ever. It also sold a shitload of perfume:
The song is all about Peggy Lee standing up and taking pride in who she was and what she could do … except that Lee didn’t write it. So, who is the beautiful, proud woman behind the song? Here she is!
Don’t everybody swipe right at once.
You might recognize Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as the names next to half the rock ‘n’ roll hits of the ’50s and early ’60s. They were everywhere. They didn’t write “I’m A Woman” for a rocker, though — the first person to record it was R&B singer Christine Kittrell, who claimed Leiber got his inspiration from her figure. According to Kittrell, Leiber saw her 300 pounds and the first words he could picture her singing were I can make a dress out of a feed bag — which isn’t exactly a flattering thought.
Soon after, she made a bag out of Leiber.
This story has been denied by Stoller’s son (he says the “feed bag” line was inspired by his mom), but it does fit Leiber’s character. When asked about Peggy Lee’s rendition of the song, Leiber reminisced, “I loved her. I even loved her big ass.” Apparently, Leiber suffered from a medical condition that afflicts several gifted songwriters that renders them inordinately fond of big asses.
So, “I’m A Woman” isn’t so much a feminist anthem as the work of a man who loved big booty. Which makes sense, because if you listen to the lyrics, it becomes clear that most of the song is just a list of domestic chores.
Independent woman on the streets, washer of socks and ironer of shirts in the sheets.
#2. The Doors’ “Alabama Song” Is From An Old Communist Opera
The Doors’ “Alabama Song” is a steaming rock opus about getting drunk and finding loose women …
But when it was originally performed, it sounded like this:
First of all: The song isn’t even about Alabama. It comes from the 1930 German opera Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny, where it was sung by a group of prostitutes. They’re not just looking for a whiskey bar to get drunk — they’re looking for customers. Of course, Jim Morrison tweaked the lyrics a bit to hide that. It’s more than just a gender swap, though. The opera’s lyrics were written by Bertolt Brecht, president of the local Karl Marx fan club. It’s incredibly pro-communist — in fact, his songwriting partners complained that he had “set The Communist Manifesto to music.”
“From each according to his own ability” clearly didn’t include cutting his own hair.
In the opera, the “whiskey bar” is really the city of Mahagonny, which symbolically represents capitalism’s perversion of the social order. That’s not just our interpretation: They literally handed out pamphlets during the show telling people that the play “draws conclusions from the irresistible decline of our existing social classes,” in case anybody in the audience wasn’t sure they were watching commie propaganda.
So, when the girls in “Alabama Song” look for the next whiskey bar, you’re not supposed to celebrate masculinity or partying. You’re supposed to soberly reflect on how the inherent faults of capitalist society facilitate the conceptualization of sexuality as a purchasable commodity and promote the celebration of excess as a cultural ideal. We’re sure Morrison totally got all of that.
He wasn’t just exposing himself; he was exposing our society.
#1. Elvis’ “Hound Dog” Was Written From The POV Of A Black Woman Fighting With A Gigolo
Elvis Presley’s iconic “Hound Dog” is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and sits near the top of the list of Rolling Stone’s all-time greatest songs. And why wouldn’t it? The song has deep lyrics that speak to our very souls, with its touching tale of a hound dog who ain’t caught a rabbit, and so we aren’t friends with it. We, uh … we actually have no idea what it’s really about:
Apparently, Elvis didn’t know what it was about either. He heard a group playing it and thought it was a “funny” song with “silly” words and just did his best to do it the same way.
Elvis demonstrating his deep understanding of symbolism.
That’s probably for the best, because the original version tells a much more fucked-up story. The song began as a blues number by Big Mama Thornton, and when she sang it, her audience knew exactly what “hound dog” meant — it was a code word for “motherfucker.” Big Mama’s version is actually about her kicking a gigolo out of her house. Except there’s another twist. Big Mama Thornton didn’t write it, either. Who did?
We told you they were everywhere.
Yep. Just like with “I’m A Woman,” Jerry Leiber got his inspiration for “Hound Dog” by looking at an overweight black woman and taking a horribly offensive guess at what her life was like. Leiber recounts that he was afraid of Thornton when he met her, and wrote the song to try to imagine what life was like for her. So “Hound Dog” is really the lament of a white guy imagining he’s a large black woman who’s sick of men taking advantage of her. On reflection, it actually seems pretty appropriate that Elvis made this one famous.
Pander all you want, Elvis, but you ain’t no friend of hers.
Deep inside us all — behind our political leanings, moral codes, and private biases — there is a cause so colossally stupid that we surprise ourselves with how much we care. Whether it’s toilet paper position, fedoras on men, or Oxford commas, we each harbor a preference so powerful that we can’t help but proselytize about it to the world. In the next live episode of the Cracked podcast, guest host Soren Bowie is joined by Cody Johnston, Michael Swaim, and comedian Annie Lederman to discuss the most trivial things we will argue about until the day we die. Get your tickets here!
For more reasons why we’re cooler than Rolling Stone, check out 4 Musicians Everyone Hates (Who Are Secretly Crazy Talented) and 5 Great Songs By Otherwise Awful Musicians.