10 Big Hits That Abjectly Fail the Subtlety Test

Music is littered with tracks that sound like one thing and mean something else altogether. Poets of yesteryear like Bob Dylan and the Beatles often produced songs that were layered in subtlety; that tradition continues with more contemporary acts like The Weeknd. Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” is rumored to be about a drug dealer, while The Weeknd has outright admitted that his smash single “Can’t Feel My Face” is about cocaine. It takes an artist of a certain caliber to layer a song with hidden meanings and subtle cues.

Saving Abel is not one of those artists. The band is most famously known for “Addicted,” a hit single in 2008 that is the opposite of subtle. Lyrics like “I’m so addicted to/ All the things you do/ When you’re going down on me/ In between the sheets” are pretty straightforward, to say the least. To be succinct, dude is buying what his lady is selling in the bedroom.

Saving Abel, who play Midtown's Proof Rooftop Lounge on Thursday, has released a smattering of other singles, complete with titles like “Stupid Girl” and “The Sex Is Good.” This is not a band that masks its message, but they're hardly alone. Plenty of other musicians — some legendary, some of the one-hit variety — have cranked out tracks that were as direct as they were popular.


Buckcherry is basically Saving Abel with a couple more hits. Singles like “Crazy Bitch” and “Lit Up” essentially spell out the message in the title; the former is about a crazy woman, the latter about cocaine. How evident is this in “Lit Up"? Front man Josh Todd screams out, “I love the cocaine/I love the cocaine.” Okay then. (Note: Todd is scheduled to do a DJ set at Proof this Friday.)

This is a tricky one, in that Clapton’s 1977 cover of J.J. Cale’s original from the previous year appears straightforward in one way, but is actually straightforward in exactly the opposite way. Lyrics like “If you want to hang out/ You’ve got to take her out/ Cocaine” suggest that life is better with cocaine, but in actuality, the lyrics indicate that cocaine addiction essentially renders one at its mercy. Last year, Clapton himself even described the track as an “anti-drug song.”

BRIGHT EYES, "It's Cool, We Can Still Be Friends"
Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst didn’t even get to the lyrics before giving away the meaning of this track. Basically, a couple breaks up but continues to do all the things that couples do, minus all the physical and emotional stuff. They go to dinner. They watch TV. They spend the night together, but keep their clothes on. Getting friend-zoned is bad; getting friend-zoned after the fact is infinitely worse.

THE RAMONES, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend"
The Ramones are legendary, even if subtlety wasn't exactly their strong suit. A perfect example is this typically straightforward track, which essentially consists of Joey Ramone pleading over and over that he wants “to be your boyfriend.” Duly noted.

AFROMAN, "Because I Got High"
The ultimate one-hit wonder, Afroman released this novelty track in 2001, and it absolutely caught fire; it was a No. 1 single in seven countries and propelled its album, The Good Times, to Gold status. It tells the story of a man who can’t seem to get anything done, because the only thing he can get done is getting high. In short, Afroman wrote a song for roughly a quarter of our nation’s collegiate populace.


Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Girl cheats on boy with boy’s friends (yes, there are multiple). Boy puts up with it for a while before moving on because, well, sex. Give Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst credit: dude knows how to write a linear narrative.

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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale