Crazy References You Missed In Hit Songs

Have you ever listened to a song and thought, "I think they're talking about something, but I have no idea what it is." Fear not: you're not alone in your toe-tapping ignorance. Some references simply go over the listener's head, which is a shame, because those are usually the best ones. Here are a few of the more interesting shout-outs that you might have missed the first thousand times you listened.

Barenaked Ladies: One Week

"One Week" is actually two songs in one. Song one is the chorus, where the singer laments about a bad fight he had with his girlfriend the week before. Song two can be found in the verses, where he sing-raps about pop-culture things he likes, like the Cigarette Smoking Man from X-Files, LeAnn Rimes, A Tribe Called Quest, Aquaman, and Sting. It's basically VH1's I Love The '80s/'90s in pop-rock form, but sung so quickly that you probably heard most of it as "badadadadadaabah bah bada IT'S BEEN ONE WEEK." But probably the craziest reference comes in the second verse, where he raps the following about Sailor Moon: "Gotta get in tune with Sailor Moon / Cause that cartoon has got the boom anime babes / That make me think the wrong thing." Yep, he just bragged about getting excited over cartoons. And these are schoolgirls, so they're almost certainly underage cartoons, driving the song's wholesome meter down to subterranean levels and making us question who they really had in mind when naming their band.

Nirvana: Scentless Apprentice

Kurt Cobain normally just sang whatever words went well with the music, virtually never caring whether they made sense or not. So you'd be forgiven for dismissing "Scentless Apprentice," with lines like "Like most babies smell like butter / His smell smelled like no other / He was born scentless and senseless," as typical Cobain gobbledygook. Not so: Cobain actually based these lyrics off a twisted 1985 novel called Perfume, by Patrick Suskind. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the novel's hero (if you can call him that) is a perfumer with hysperosmia, which gives someone a powerful sense of smell. In addition, Grenouille was born without a scent at all, hence the above lyrics. Grenouille eventually turns to murder, in order to make the wonderful smells of the women around him into perfume, which explains lines like "I lie in the soll and fertilize mushrooms / Leaking out gas fumes are made into perfume." Grenouille eventually finds the perfect scent, but is soon murdered by people who love his smell so much, they tear him to shreds and eat him. Cobain probably considered that a happy ending.

Elvis: Jailhouse Rock

Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock," tells the story of a prison party held by the most lax warden in history. Lines like "hey buddy, don't you be no square / if you can't find a partner use a wooden chair" existed simply for the rhyme, and criminals like Spider Murphy and Little Joe existed simply in the songwriters' imaginations. However, the couplet. "The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang / the whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang" actually references real people. Not the Illinois part—that was simply "we need a state that rhymes with boy" talking. But the Purple Gang was very real, and extremely vicious. They were Prohibition-era bootleggers from Detroit, who also specialized in murder, extortion, theft, kidnapping, and everything else that made that era so sweet and family-friendly. At their peak, they were so terrifying that even Al Capone preferred to partner with them rather than wage a turf war with them. Infighting, plus their leaders serving life sentences for first-degree murder, destroyed them in the early '30s. At least they have their bass and drums.

Hot Chelle Rae: Tonight Tonight

Let's jump to Hot Chelle Rae, a band people liked for a week before coming to their senses. "Tonight Tonight's" about getting dumped and having a party, like heartbroken kids are wont to do. But the second verse takes a left turn into...this: "I woke up with a strange tattoo / Not sure how I got it, not a dollar in my pocket / And it kinda looks just like you / Mixed with Zach Galifianakis." That might be the most disturbing image in pop music history—this guy getting ink of his ex, crossbred with the bearded Hangover guy—and it's somehow made more frightening by the music video (yes, they still make those) actually showing the tattoo. It is, in fact, a shapely woman's body with Galifianakis's head, and why the singer just dismisses it with "whatever, it doesn't matter, oh well" is beyond us. We'd be scrubbing that skin off with a power sander if some shady inkster did that to us.

Blues Traveler: Hook

Blues Traveler's hit "Hook" isn't the easiest song to understand. Singer John Popper mumbles the first half and sings the second at double-speed, so you're forgiven for understanding nothing he says. But the song is actually rife with pop-culture references like Peter Pan, Rin Tin Tin, and Anne Boleyn. So what, you may ask, do an ageless flying man, a crime fighting dog, and a 16th-century queen of England have to do with each other? Only that, with their powers combined, they reveal "Hook's" real reference: that nobody actually cares about lyrics, as long as they sound good with the music. The song's opening line, "It doesn't matter what I say / So long as I sing with inflection" makes that perfectly clear. Peter Pan is actually Popper mocking singers who throw in references to artificially make their song seem smarter: "To confuse the issue I refer / To familiar heroes from long ago / No matter how much Peter loved her / What made the Pan refuse to grow," while Rin Tin Tin and Queen Anne appear during the second verse speed round simply to confuse us further. Based on the song's success, either nobody got the point, or everybody did and totally agreed with it.

Aerosmith: Sweet Emotion

"Sweet Emotion" is about Steven Tyler hitting on a girl with a boyfriend. So, Tyler's usual territory. Most of the lyrics make sense, save one: "You're telling me things but your girlfriend lied / You can't catch me 'cause the rabbit done died." Why are we talking about rabbits? Why did it die? Did Steven run it over while escaping his paramour's angry boyfriend? As it turns out, "rabbit" actually makes perfect story line sense, along with scientific sense. Back before peeing on a stick told you if motherhood was nigh, doctors would determine pregnancy with a "rabbit test." They would literally inject a woman's pee into a live rabbit. Days later, if the rabbit's ovaries changed any, that equaled baby. So basically, Tyler's lady took a rabbit test and is pregnant. The "rabbit done died" thanks to an urban myth that insisted rabbits die after being injected with pregnant-woman urine (in fact, every rabbit died post-injection, which is why we don't do it anymore). Slight error aside, move over, Bill Nye the Science Guy; we've got Steven Tyler the Science Guy...ler.