Jimmy wasn’t trying to be funny, he genuinely thought he had it right. That made it all the more screamingly funny to me. When I pointed out his error every scout in the troop was instantly singing it.
“He’s got you and me brother – in his pants. He’s got you and me sister – in his pants. He’s got the whole world in his pants.”
Pants in Ireland didn’t mean trousers, they meant underwear. You weren’t allowed to sing about the pope’s underwear in the Republic of Ireland in 1979 – not unless you were about to light a bonfire.
It’s how I remember the papal visit now. It’s why that song became the highlight of John Paul II’s visit for me. It also started my lifelong interest in misheard lyrics, prayers, quotations and speeches.
Irish life is filled them. I was twelve before I realized that “Our Father, who aren’t in Heaven,” wasn’t the actual wording of the prayer. In the school choir I sang “Round John Burgen, mother and child,” every Christmas for years without noticing anything amiss.
And when we sang the national anthem I thought “tonight we brand the bearna whale…” was odd thing to do but I went with it. Growing up in Ireland gives you a very high threshold for eccentricity.
Famous songs that were not Irish also had the power to immobilize us with laughter. One of the worst offenders was the song "The Weight" by the American band called The Band. You just had to hum a few bars of it to start a laugh riot.
“Take a load of Fanny, take a load off free, take a load of Fanny and put it right on me,” they sang – or so we thought they sang – and we could hardly believe it was being played on the radio.
Later when the "Ghostbusters" movie came out in the early 80’s we made a massive northern improvement to the Ray Parker Jr theme song by singing: “Who you gonna call? Those bas-ards!”
But the all-time Irish classics were still ahead of us. I thought that Danny Boy, that mournful song about lost love, ended: “Achoo! Achoo! Must go and I must die.”
The undisputed Queen of misheard lyrics – then and now – is none other than Ireland’s fluttery music maker Enya. Her signature track "Orinoco Flow" was a misheard classic.
“From Paree to Tralee, let me buy a homo float/Stay away, stay away, stay away…”
It’s said that – upset by all the dodgy interpretations of her admittedly opaque phrasing – she eventually took to her castle in Ireland and has not been seen or heard from since. That’s a shame, if it’s true, because some of those misheard versions were all time classics.
“Save the whale, save the whale, save the whale…”