Are there a lot of popular songs out there that have hidden meanings? We’re talking about genuine hidden meanings here and not the kind in horror movies where a record played backward results in a message from the devil himself. These are songs where the songwriter meant something else or the listener interpreted the words as actually meaning something different.
When we think about popular songs with hidden meanings, there are lots of them to explore (while enjoying listening to them as well). From classic rock to country, numerous popular songs have been interpreted differently by different listeners. Some believe these tracks are all about deep spiritual journeys, while others think they’re simply about drug use. But in the end, the meaning of any song is up to each individual listener.
So, here are ten awesome songs with hidden meanings:
1. “American Pie” by Don McLean (1971)
This song is a complex and multi-layered work that explores the loss of innocence and the changing culture of America in the 1960s. Many people say that it’s about the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash in 1959. On the other hand, others believe that it’s actually about the decline of American culture.
2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (1975)
Being an avid Queen fan, this is one of my favorite songs. Maybe that’s because it’s a wild tale that’s been interpreted in many different ways. Some Queen fans believe it’s all about a guy who’s simply struggling with his own mortality, while others prefer to believe it’s about a rock star who’s going insane. But, either way, it really showcases the late Freddie Mercury’s amazing voice in so many ways.
On July 13, 1985, Queen performed the song for 72,000 people at Live Aid in Wembley Stadium in London. The concert raised funds for the famine disaster in Ethiopia and was broadcast worldwide via one of the biggest satellite link-ups ever and was seen by approximately 40 percent of the global population. Queen’s performance was beautifully reenacted in the 2018 film named after the song with Rami Malek giving an amazing performance as Freddie.
3. “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)
Although this is a song that’s often interpreted as a truly patriotic anthem, Springsteen himself actually stated that it’s about the struggles of so many working-class Americans. And, even though it has a patriotic chorus, it’s often thought to be a critique of the treatment of Vietnam War veterans upon returning home, highlighting the vast contrast between the American Dream and the reality being faced by way too many.
4. “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles (1966)
The meaning of this song involves all of the lonely individuals living in a world that’s often devoid of any kind of human connection. It further highlights the importance of reaching out to others and having compassion.
5. “Hotel California” by The Eagles (1976)
Here’s a song that’s just as dark and mysterious as it was wildly popular. It tells the tale of a hotel that’s said to be a portal to hell and is full of mystery and symbolism ranging from the dangers of addiction to the darker side of fame and fortune. Some Eagles fans believe that it’s all about the dark side of the music industry while others believe that it’s about a prison or a cult.
The Debate Goes On
The true hidden meaning of “Hotel California” has been debated for decades and probably will be for years to come. But, no matter what you believe, it’s quite clear that it’s one of the Eagles’ greatest songs and they’ve had a string of really great ones.
6. “Imagine” by John Lennon (1971)
This unforgettable 70s song has often been interpreted as a call for unity and world peace, however, Lennon himself stated that it’s actually about atheism. And, although the message of peace and unity may seem obvious, it can also be implying a critique of everything from organized religion to rampant materialism. But either way, it’ll always be remembered as one of the most moving and beautiful songs by the late John Lennon who left us way too soon.
7. “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan (1965)
Dylan’s iconic song “Like a Rolling Stone” is all about loss of innocence and tells the story of a young woman who falls from grace and is feeling alienation, regret, and loneliness. Rumor has it that it was about Edie Sedgwick, a young woman who was part of Andy Warhol’s scene in the 60s. She was actually quite beautiful and talented, however, she was also a young woman who struggled with mental health issues and addiction. In fact, she died of a drug overdose at only 28 years old.
The Nobel Prize
“Like a Rolling Stone” is one of those timeless classic songs that’s still continuing to ring true with many listeners to this day and Dylan is truly a legendary musician who has been a major influence for generations of up-and-coming artists. In addition, he’s a hardworking performer who has never stopped creating beautiful new music. And in 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first songwriter to ever receive that particular honor.
8. “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix (1967)
According to ExtraChill, the underlying meaning of the mysterious “Purple Haze” has been the subject of debates for generations now, with many assuming that it’s simply a song about drugs. In fact, that assumption has resulted in a special marijuana strain being named after it, and you’ve probably heard of it. And clearly, that famous line from the song, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”, is all about getting exceptionally high. Sadly, Hendrix died of a drug overdose at only 27 years old but he always claimed that the song was definitely not just about drugs. What was it about then? Well, allegedly it was all about love as well, again, according to ExtraChiii.
The 27 club
“Purple Haze” was the final song performed by Jimi Hendrix live in concert. That was on September 6th, 1970, during his last concert. It was also only 12 days prior to his death, cutting his amazing career way too short and forever placing him in the 27 Club. What’s that? It’s a club for celebs who have died at the young age of 27.
9. “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin (1971)
If you’re looking for yet another classic example of a popular 70s song with multiple meanings, this is definitely it. There are some folks who believe it’s a religious allegory about a spiritual journey. Others, however, believe that it’s all about drug use or perhaps even suicide. What do you think?
10. “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul & Mary (1963)
This popular 1960s children’s song has been rumored to be about drugs for a very long time. It was written by Peter Yarrow and based on a poem by Leonard Lipton, and revolves around the story of a young boy (Jackie Paper) and his BFF (Puff the Magic Dragon, who went on all kinds of childhood adventures together. When Jackie got older, however, he started losing interest in those childish adventures and began focusing on other things. He eventually quit spending time with Puff and the dragon became heartbroken, retreating to his cave and withdrawing from the world.
Interpreting the Lyrics
The lyrics of this song have been interpreted in so many ways, however, many people still believe that they’re metaphors for drug use with Puff being seen as a symbol for marijuana. Yarrow and Lipton have long denied that it’s about drugs, and have stated that it’s just a story about the innocence of childhood as well as intense feelings of loss. On the other hand, if you saw the movie “Meet the Parents”, you know that Robert Deniro definitely believed otherwise.
Regardless of what the meaning may be, it’ll always be a beloved song that captures the imaginations of generations of music lovers. It’s also a good reminder of the importance of friendship and the enchanting magic of childhood. The song was released on the album “Moving” and reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, finally being inducted in 1998 into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Every one of these amazing songs demonstrates the true depth and artistry that can be found in a lot of the music from the 60s to today. And, much of it offers avid listeners multiple meaningful layers for exploring and interpreting. You may have noticed that our list is in alphabetical order and that’s simply because choosing a favorite was just too difficult since they’re all so good.
You can also read:
- 10 Awesome Mother of the Groom Songs
- The 10 Best Songs about Liars
- 10 Awesome Songs about Aliens
- The 10 Best Vietnam War Songs of All-Time
- The 10 Best Joan Baez Songs of All-Time