London’s The Telegraph newspaper has compiled a list of what it calls “10 songs that nobody understands.”

Topping the list is the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” with lyrics that are described as being about “hell,” “the beast” and “steely knives” … “The band themselves insisted it was about the decadence of the music industry as well as the dependency it fosters in musicians: ‘You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.'”

2) “In the Air Tonight” – Phil Collins

“Phil Collins claims the song was inspired by going through a divorce, but the lyrics themselves were mainly improvised in a studio take. ‘This is one song out of all the songs probably that I’ve ever written that I really don’t know what it’s about,’ said Collins.”

3) “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

“The title for this 1991 grunge classic came to Kurt Cobain when his friend Kathleen Hanna spray-painted ‘Kurt smells like Teen Spirit’ on his wall. Teen Spirit was the name of the deodorant that Hanna’s band-mate Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill used… The lyrics themselves are ambiguous and at some points indecipherable. Some radio stations even refused to play the song because they couldn’t understand it. Weird Al Yankovic parodied the song with marbles in his mouth. Some see it as a song inciting teen revolution or, oppositely, characterizing teen apathy. Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl later said Cobain threw the lyrics together in five minutes.”

4) “Every Breath You Take” – The Police


“Long believed to be a love song about protecting someone, Sting actually wrote this song about being possessive and obsessive about his ex-wife.”

5) “Puff the Magic Dragon” – Peter, Paul and Mary

“Nobody could blame people of the Sixties for reading marijuana into the title, but is was in fact about a fairytale dragon who made friends with a child, with no intended subtext.”

6) “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – The Beatles

“John Lennon insisted that this was about a picture his son Julian painted featuring his classmate Lucy in the sky surrounded by diamonds. The BBC eventually banned it, because its initials spelled out LSD…”

7) “I Am the Walrus” – The Beatles


“Similar to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ people were convinced ‘I Am the Walrus,’ with its surreal lyrics, was another drug-induced number. John Lennon in fact intended it to be deliberately misleading, playing on listeners’ desires to read into his songs, and specifically to read a psychedelic dimension into them.”

8) “Mr Tambourine Man” – Bob Dylan

“This is believed to be about drugs due to its psychedelic lyrics, with the Tambourine Man of its title being a dealer, similar to ‘the man’ Lou Reed waits for in The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting for the Man.’ Dylan actually wrote it about Bruce Langhorne, a musician friend who inspired and regularly played with him.”

9) “Perfect Day” – Lou Reed

“While lots of artists had their innocuous lyrics taken for drug references, Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ was taken for an innocuous ballad. Like many of Lou Reed’s songs, it’s about heroin.”

10) “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen


“This song has Islamic, satanist and astrologist theories surrounding its meaning. ‘Bismillah’ means ‘in the name of Allah’ in the Qu’ran. Some believe the song is about Freddie Mercury coming to terms with his sexual identity. Others even go so far as to say that Mercury had a premonition of his own death from AIDS almost a decade before the first case was diagnosed. As well as elsewhere claiming its lyrics to be nonsense, Mercury himself said of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’: ‘It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.’ Guitarist Brian May says none of the remaining Queen members would reveal it out of respect for Mercury’s memory.”