Tamára Lunardo

Author & Editor



November 2012



She’s Got Electric Boobs: On Songwriting

Written by , Posted in humor, life, writing

The first song I ever wrote was about Barbie. My dad helped me pluck the notes from the piano and drop them into notation on a tan piece of construction paper. I remember neither the music nor the lyrics now– I’m sure some rummaging through the dusty boxes my mom collected of every piece of artwork I ever produced could turn up that old, faded paper, but it would hardly be worth the allergy attack. I think there was mention of her boots. (It could have been boobs.) What I do remember about the Barbie song was that it was utter shit. It was about Barbie.

My teen years didn’t fare much better in quality song production. An old journal hides lyrics to what would surely have been a Christian-country-crossover hit, which is never something to brag about. It was a sort of TaylorSwiftian, earnestly heartfelt song with an obligatory, corny hook, and, goshdarn, it was spiritchul. Thanks be to gawd I never set music to it. It would be “Christmas Shoes” all over again.

When I began college as a vocal performance major, I suddenly had to labor with a lot of theory. Music wasn’t just about singing anymore; in fact, it was rarely about singing anymore. Music was almost exclusively studying, homework, and piss-poor piano playing. And I was so busy learning about music that I never even thought of writing songs.

But I took an advanced lit class. And I wrote the hell out of some essays. And as the study of music efficiently killed my love for music itself, the study of language grew my love not only of language but even, again, of music.

So I changed majors and schools, and I learned about writing, and I listened to the kind of music that really made me want to write because that, it turns out, is where my heart is. And I think that’s how you know when you’re listening to truly good music: It makes your heart move.

And maybe that’s the key to writing good songs, too. Not to write about the meaningless, not to fuss with formulas. But to follow the movings of the heart, to track each flutter, and to write them down really well; to be a dedicated ornithologist for those little songbirds.

And though some solid music theory probably helps, I’ll never know. But I will sure as shit not be writing any more songs about Barbie.

In Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,”  I always hear “she’s got electric boots” as “she’s got electric boobs.” Share one of your favorite song lyric misunderstandings in the comments!

  • http://twitter.com/SarahBostAskins Sarah Askins (@SarahBostAskins)

    Besides the obvious…there’s a bathroom on the right(there’s a bad moon a-rising). For years, I was convinced that Peter, Paul, and Mary were telling me to send the soldiers “all my celery.” I had no clue why I would send celery since it would wilt and not taste so good without ranch dip or peanut butter. Then, I realized it was salary and not celery. Sigh…

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      There’s a bathroom on the right! Hahaha! How convenient.

  • http://turnerbethany.wordpress.com turnerbethany

    Even though I know this isn’t the lyrics, every time I hear the Beach Boys sing Barbara Ann, I hear Bob er ann.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      I’ve always heard the same thing! I never understood why they couldn’t pronounce it correctly. It annoyed me, even as a child. (I was a weird child.)

  • dan mcm

    I can relate to the crappy songwriting…. done my share of that too. My earliest stuff included writing alternate lyrics to existing songs…. The first one I can remember, I wrote alternate lyrics to the Beatle’s “Nowhere Man” when I had my first crush (6th grade) and had no idea how to talk to the girl.(The song selection says a lot about how I viewed myself at the time.)

    BTW – you could totally write a Barbie song by tweaking someone elses lyrics. Maybe substitute “I don’t wanna be a Barbie” for the Ramone’s “I wanna be sedated” and go from there. 😉

    Glad you found your true gifting. A lot of people never get there.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Awww! At least you changed the words!

  • http://twitter.com/reneeronika Renee Ronika! (@reneeronika)

    Whenever I heard MJ’s “Billie Jean,” I sang, “Village Inn, at my door.” To my credit, I was about 6 when the song came out.

    Also, “Every time you go, you take a piece of [meat] with you.” Again, here is proof of the things we heard at age 6 (Because why on earth would you take a piece of ME with you?!?!).

    I’m glad for your switch to the study of language. I did the same, but from broadcast journalism (which became nothing more than schmoozing and, in time, celebrity gawking and biased spinning). My husband has a doctorate in music theory; he loves it, and it suits him as a composer.

    Here’s to finding our voices, in whatever medium suits us best, even if the words get a little jumbled.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Take a piece of meat. Ha! That’s really cute.

      You and your husband could be quite the creative team. 🙂

  • http://deborahbryan.wordpress.com Deborah the Closet Monster

    I loved everything about this post, but its penultimate paragraph is stunning. I want to read it over and over again, and would do so if I didn’t have documents to update.

    I’m glad I’ll be able to return to it later.

    I can’t remember any of the lyrics I’ve misheard, but I do know Ba.D. pointed one out to me just a week or two ago. “Wait, what did you just sing?” I wish I could remember. Regardless, I’m sure he’ll be happy to point it out to me later, because once I misremember a song once, I misremember it forever.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Oh, thanks, Deb!

      And I’m the same way– even if I learn the right lyrics, I’ll still hear my version, always. 🙂

  • http://rasjacobson.com renée a. schuls-jacobson

    I was certain Prince was singing about a red spherical ring. Who’d a thunk it was a “Raspberry Beret”? It made about the same amount if sense! 🙂

    • http://deborahbryan.wordpress.com Deborah the Closet Monster

      Aaand there is my sample mondegreen!

      Me [mumbling to myself]: It’s not ‘red Spirit beret’?
      Ba.D.: What are you talking about, Deb?
      Me: That Prince song.
      Ba.D.: No, raspberry beret. What the heck would a ‘spirit beret’ be?
      Me: Y’know, like, Espirit.
      Ba.D.: [shakes head]

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Isn’t that funny? I hate when I find out that the actual lyrics make as little or less sense than my mistaken ones. Ha!

  • http://roadkillsrus.wordpress.com roadkillsrus

    I don’t mishear too many, and electric boobs was about the funniest, That song came out when I was 17. As a teenage boy in the south, I naturally spent a lot of time wondering what those were, and whether that was a good thing or a bad thing for her love. Like I said, I was 17.

    “And I think that’s how you know when you’re listening to truly good music: It makes your heart move.” Or reading good books, Or watching good movies. Etc. Amen, and boy howdy.

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Yes, yes– same for all art. Totally agree!

      I can’t believe you were 17 when “Bennie and the Jets” came out– you always sound so young to me. You must have a youthful spirit. 🙂

      • http://roadkillsrus.wordpress.com roadkillsrus

        I took the Peter Pan Pledge to never grow up. I later forgot and broke that promise, but it didn’t work out, so I gave up on the whole trying to be a grown up. I suck at it.
        I also swore to never forget what it was like to be a teenager. It’s very rare that I’ve forgotten.
        Then I ended up working with teens and young adults, which turns out to be my happy place. An apparent side effect is semi-eternal youth.
        I still like tie dye. And Vans. And rubber ducks. It’s hard to take yourself too seriously with those.

  • http://scream911.wordpress.com youhavemyword

    This is magnificent! I too remember the first song I ever wrote – it was scrawled in really bad, too-big-for-the-lines handwriting in a carefully torn out page from one of those scented, lock-up books. Vomit! But we move on…

    “And I think that’s how you know when you’re listening to truly good music: It makes your heart move.” Love it.

    Lyrics wise (on the worship front): “I’m coming back to the cart of warm chips” in place of “heart of worship”. Not great for chuckling whilst singing or for the hunger rumbles beneath the shrill of my voice over mic 😛

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Thanks, Shae!

      The cart of warm chips. Hahahahahaha! With queso, I hope.

      • http://scream911.wordpress.com youhavemyword

        Obviously! (If only this were off the record; here’s another fave: “or seen heavenly whore houses laden with snow” in stead of “store houses” in Indescribable. Terrible!)

        Thanks again for this. Life.

  • http://bloggerbemusings.wordpress.com JuanliT

    What a lovely description of the way music and words move us!

    On a different note (ha!), my husband is the funniest person to listen to when he’s singing with the radio. He almost never gets it right, and I love it 😉

    My favourite so far, was when Katy Perry’s Hot and Cold song came out. Where Katy sang “…you PMS like a bitch, I would know…” the first time we heard it, he looked at me in horror. “What? Why would she sing that?! ‘You pee a mess’? That’s nasty!”


    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Thanks, Juanli.

      I love that he didn’t even consider he’d heard it wrong– just went straight to horror. Hahaha!

  • http://graymani.wordpress.com graymanicom

    I used to think the “bear necessities” was “bear in the recipes”. Scrumptious.

    • http://asoulswalk.wordpress.com Soul Walker

      Probably only if it was a black bear killed in the right season.

  • Sarah H.

    Elton John is always tricky – along with electric boobs (obviously), there’s that last piece of the chorus to Rocket Man — though I can’t even come up with an alternate wording, I just always get mad at my radio because I can never remember what he’s saying (something about “burning up the ? up here alone” — I hear something about Babylon every time).

    I have a horrible would-be-Christian-popsong that I worked on early in college (*insert embarrassment that I was not 10 years old here*). It was something about my soul’s longing for a (male) friend to come to Christ. It was confusing to say the least. Eeek.

  • mdprincing

    if only boobs were electric what a wonderful world…..They have powers my wife says to me.
    I hear all kinds of goofy lyrics in songs like AC DC classics Dirty Deeds and the Dunder Chief (and their done dirt cheap), most times i like my version better and go on a mission to convince everyone that I am correct

  • http://gravatar.com/skydogg skydogg

    One from my sister. She used to work in a school in Sheffield, England. The school was in an area called Brightside, & they had their own Christmas Carol.
    Away in a manger it was, but when they got to the line, ‘The stars in the bright sky, shone down where they lay’, it was always sung as The stars in the Brightside.

  • lindsay

    Instead of Hot Blooded, my friend’s daughter sang, “Hot pudding, check it and see.” Another of my favorites is “Juice Box Hero” Aka: Juke Box Hero!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dale.b.campbell Dale Campbell

    im obviously way late on this, but i just creeped your blog for an hour or so. i always thought the beach boys were saying “bob moran” instead of barbara ann when i was a nugget. also, crocodile rock, by elton was my favorite favorite song back then. & until i was about 25, or 26, i thought the line “i remember when rock was young” meant rock was a person, a dude. like rock hudson. not rock & roll. hahaha.

    hope youre well! 🙂

    • http://tamaraoutloud.com/ Tamára

      Hahaha! Dale B. Campbell (did I get that right?), it’s so good to hear from you!

  • http://moncleronlineshopping.blogspot.com Moncler Outlet

    Christmas Gifts

  • George Lunardo

    Mine also comes from Elton John (Tiny Dancer). You have to imagine a sky diver whose parachute won’t open. He then sees a flock of mutton grazing on a hillside. He angles his body through the wind, and survives the impact due to the “Sheeps of landing”. Way better than ‘sheets of linen’. A mind is a terrible thing.

    • http://tamaralunardo.com/ Tamára Lunardo

      This made me actually laugh out loud. 🙂

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