Column: Singing along to lyrics — at least, as I remember them

An evening view of Sandbridge beach near Little Island Park on Saturday, June 17. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

SANDBRIDGE — I sing a lot – at the top of my lungs, especially when walking on the beach in the winter. 

Bob, my boyfriend, brings his Bluetooth speaker, and I sing to country rock, Fleetwood Mac and other oldies but goodies. I’ve always known the lyrics, or I thought I did. 

One day, Bob cut the Bluetooth off and stopped me on the beach.

“Did you just sing what I thought you did?” he asked.

What do you mean?

“Did you just sing, ‘One toe over the line, Sweet Jesus?’”

Yep. That’s how the song goes.

“Uh, no it doesn’t.”

Bob explained to me that the Brewer & Shipley 1970 lyrics were, in fact, this: 

One toke over the line, Sweet Jesus.

Also in fact: the song is called “One Toke Over the Line.”

I told Bob that couldn’t be true because the nuns at the Catholic school I went to taught us that it was “one toe.” 

That made sense to me, as a child, where I could envision a lonely poor hippie-sort-of-fellow with no shoes at a railway station with his big toe on the metal rail waiting for the train to come in. He wants to get home to his “home sweet Mary.” 

He hopes the train is on time – with one poor toe over the line.

Apparently, I get the words wrong frequently. Despite accusations to the contrary, this isn’t because I am blonde. I haven’t seen my real hair color since 1975.

Many of us listen to the radio while driving, working outside, walking with our earbuds in. Music influences how we grow up. It reminds us of specific times, happy or sad. It brings memories back.

At Catholic school, we were encouraged not to listen to one of Billy Joel’s songs about some girls starting much too late for something. And an Elton John song about a female dog that finally returned. 

I dutifully turned my transistor radio off when these songs came on.

Have songs always had such hidden meanings and words that I didn’t get?

“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (1943) was about a bugle player in the army,  right? “Rock Around The Clock” (1954) was about dancing all night.

But the sixties and seventies songs seemed to be written with confusing lyrics with a meaning that not everyone understood.

In the 1970s, wasn’t “Dreamweaver” about dreaming?  “Send in the Clowns” and “Blinded By the Light” were confusing to me.

A little hurly birley came up in his curly-whirly, and asked me if I needed a ride.

At least, I think that’s it.

I like songs that say what they mean, ones in which singers annunciate so there is no confusion. Still, I will sing the words I remember when I was younger.

After my conversation with Bob, I did look up the word “toke.”

It has two meanings. 

The second meaning is a tip a gambler gives at a casino. Probably not the one Brewer & Shipley had in mind.

But, when I sing their song, I will now think about a lonely poor hippie-sort of fellow with his last quarter, waiting for a train to take him out to Las Vegas to gamble and win a million dollars. Then he will present the casino employee with a show of gratitude.

A token of his appreciation, if you will.

See? It’s still a good, clean song.

Burkett is a Virginia Beach native and University of Richmond graduate who has been in marketing for over 25 years. She is a writer and photographer who owns her own craft business. Burkett has four children, ages 15 to 30. She lives in Sandbridge.

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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