You don’t have to be a Leonard Cohen of this world to write a classic song. 2 Unlimited once penned an upbeat anthem proclaiming the power of positivity with the word “no” in it 12 times in a row and it became a big fat hit. In short, lyrics are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to pop music. However, if you commit a cardinal sin with them then you can completely destroy a perfectly profitable melody.
You could have crafted a sound as brimming with perfection as ‘Hey Jude’ or something, but if Paul McCartney had changed the chorus to ‘Send Nudes’ or some other unsuitable monstrosity then it may well have killed The Beatles. Thus, it might be surprising to learn just how close some classic songs came to such a calamity.
Below, we’re looking at some iconic ditties and the lyrical tragedy that almost befell them. From a faecal version of Queen’s radio regular to a laughable Viz-like take on Black Sabbath’s action hero, these are the songs that rose from the ash heap to the history pages in the nick of time. Enjoy.
Six classic songs that were nearly ruined by their original lyrics:
‘Iron Man’ (Originally ‘Iron Bloke’) – Black Sabbath
There has always been a laddish undertone to Black Sabbath that joyously underpins the satanism that they were associated with. Nothing defines that ‘daft lads from Aston’ aspect quite like the reality that the heroic rocking ‘Iron Man’ was nearly called ‘Iron Bloke’.
This casual lyric came to the fore when Ozzy Osbourne first heard the riff and thought that it sounds just like “a big iron bloke walking about”. As such, he thought, ‘Well, why not directly transpose that into the lyrics’. However, he did soon realise that the whole thing sounded like a Vic & Bob sketch and upscaled this metal man into something a bit more formal.
‘Radio Ga Ga’ (Originally ‘Radio Caca’) – Queen
It is an oddity in human psychology that toddlers seem almost obsessed with poop, but it certainly has provided some top-quality entertainment. In fact, it even served up one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, all thanks to Roger Taylor’s rather quick-witted nipper, Felix.
The Queen drummer was working on some rather unimpressive sequencing and when Felix heard him grumbling away about the of the sh-t being offered up to the radio, he gave him a rather scatological chorus by yelling, “Radio Caca!” Obviously, it was then changed to be a bit more radio-friendly (perhaps ironically), and the rest is ancient history.
‘Star Trek Theme’ – Gene Roddenberry & Alexander Courage
Imagine tuning in to watch a new sci-fi series and being greeted by the following lyrics, which were originally penned by Gene Roddenberry: “Beyond/ The rim of the star-light/ My love/ Is wand’ring in star-flight/ I know/ He’ll find in star-clustered reaches/ Love,/ Strange love a star woman teaches.” Well, I’d wager that you’d lose all faith in the goon behind this cluster.
Composer Alexander Courage naturally chose not to use them and decided that once the theme was finished, he would never collaborate with Roddenberry ever again. He ditched the meter-less words and instead, went for a “long thing that…keeps going out into space…over a fast-moving accompaniment.”
‘I’m So Bored With the USA’ (Originally ‘I’m So Bored With You’) – The Clash
Do we really need another love song? That question was spoken but snarled during the punk revolution. However, The Clash were never averse to a typical pop structure and on this occasion, Mick Jones followed the melody he crafted towards a similarly seamless pop culture chorus.
However, Joe Strummer found a way to make the song rather more pointed. He turned it right on its head entirely and exclaimed: “Yankee dollar tall to the dictators of the world / In fact, it’s giving orders / And they can’t afford to miss a word”. You don’t get much less lovelorn than that—that’s just pure spiky politico-punk.
‘Honesty’ (Originally ‘Sodomy’) – Billy Joel
It’s wild to think about just how vastly some songs transformed. Billy Joel went from writing, “Sodomy: It’s such a lonely world,” into a song that sincerely cries out for honesty in a bid to make the world a better place. It’s akin to sitting down to write a crude comic and ending up with an essay on War & Peace.
“I think music in itself is healing,” he once said. “It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” If you change that ‘healing’ motif to recovery, then you can neatly apply that to the salvage job he achieved with ‘Honesty’.
‘Yesterday’ (Originally ‘Scrambled Eggs’ – The Beatles
Paul McCartney has rightly been considered one of the finest pop songwriters of all time. The composer’s time with The Beatles is one of legendary proportions, and when you look back at his iconic back catalogue, it’s easy to see why McCartney is still the foreword in pop music. However, the rough sketches for some of his most famous songs are within his canon, including ‘Yesterday’.
The track famously arrived at McCartney in the dead of night but was not wholly formed. A song coming to you in a dream is a pretty imposing moment in one’s career, and McCartney was determined to make sure the tune became a song. As such, the singer used any lyrics he could think of so that he could compose the melody of the track. The original title for the song, therefore, was actually ‘Scrambled Eggs.’ McCartney’s original lyrics were, “Scrambled eggs, Oh you’ve got such lovely legs, Scrambled eggs. Oh, my baby, how I love your legs.”
The actual story of how the song turned from ‘Scrambled Eggs’ to ‘Yesterday’ is pretty muddied by years and years of passing time. While at different stages Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Martin all claimed to have a hand in the title, and there have been countless suggestions that a full ‘Scrambled Eggs’ song existed somewhere in the ether of the internet, the truth is largely inconsequential.