Gonna Use My, My, My…Imagination

I'm specialLast year, the folks at Merriam-Webster added a bunch of new words to the 2009 edition of their Collegiate Dictionary. One of those new entries is “mondegreen,” a word or phrase that “results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” An easier definition would be “‘Scuze me while I kiss this guy.”

It wasn’t until I used my unexpected Best Buy Rewards Zone coupon recently that I recalled my first memorable bout of mondegreen. It was an error that stayed with me for many years, and it was of the magnitude that only two people know about it—they play central roles during the revelation of the true song lyrics—and its secret has been kept private since that time.

Until now.


When “Brass In Pocket” was a hit, I was in junior high school. There was a lot of pressure to young men in the 7th grade to consider girls and all that mystery that comes with them. Even if you’re not physically or emotionally ready to begin dealing with sex, you were still expected to talk with authority on the topic. We didn’t know shit, of course, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the girls already realized how clueless we were.

Since I was expected to know sex even though it was ridiculous, I began to obsess over sex. Not to the point where I was caught masturbating in class and sent to a counselor… No, I obsessed until I heard the Pretenders “Brass In Pocket” with a different set of words.

In this classic song, Chrissie Hynde runs down a litany of things that she is going to do, just to get the attention of a man that’s caught her eyes. Her list is substantial, to the point, and sometimes a bit confusing. For example, it’s very clear when Chrissie is going to use her arms, legs, fingers and there’s no confusion when she mentions the virtues of her style. It gets a bit curious when she states how she will use her sidestep—I guess she’s a decent dancer—but I totally thought that the last thing she was going to use was her “virgination.”

Understand, my priorities are so unbalanced at this age and my hormones are such a jumbled mess that I’m always thinking about girls, sex, and the reality that I’m still a virgin at the age of 13. “Brass In Pocket” spoke to me and it was something I could relate to. Chrissie Hynde was so into her potential beau that she was willing to sacrifice her virginity to the guy. What’s more, there’s a word for chronic virginity: virgination. Don’t bother looking it up in Merriam-Webster. That noun comes straight off the dome, motherfucker.

A few years later, I’m hanging out with a friend one Sunday afternoon, dubbing off a few of his records that I don’t have. I come across The Pretenders’ first album and realize that I don’t own a copy of it myself. I quickly load up a TDK SA-90 and begin recording.

The album is awesome—you already know this—but for a first time listener, to hear Chrissie tell you to how she’s “shittin’ bricks” and how you can “fuck off,” is one of the most amazing things ever.

I notice that “Brass In Pocket” is on the album. Side two. But on side one, it’s hard to believe how the chick that’s letting dudes show her “what that hole is for” is the same chick that’s going to give up her “virgination” in about twenty minutes.

It is at this moment that I start to ponder, “I don’t think ‘virgination’ is even a real word.”

I turn the record over and begin recording side two. I grab the album sleeve and begin looking for the words to “Brass In Pocket.”

It’s not there.

My friend’s doing something else, so I decide to see how ridiculous my misinterpretation may be. I was also hoping to see if, just maybe, there were others that held equally poor lyric deciphering with this particular Pretenders song.

The song begins. I clearly hear my error on this playback.

“You know,” I gingerly begin, “for years I thought that she was saying ‘gonna use my, my, my virgination’ on ‘Brass In Pocket.’”

“What?” my friend asks, only halfway paying attention to my confession.

“I thought she said ‘virgination’ instead of ‘imagination’ on the words to ‘Brass In Pocket,’” I offer again, more desperate for an acknowledgement than the first time.

My friend only gives a slight chuckle before going back to whatever he was doing before, remaining silent about my stunning admission.

I did not give up completely. I brought the cassette with me one night while my girlfriend and I cruised up and down Main Street in my hometown. I put in the tape and we began an endless monotony of weekend cruising, occasionally drifting off course into the neighborhoods just to change the scenery.

When the cassette began to play “Brass In Pocket,” my girlfriend began singing.

“Got brass…in pocket.”

She made it all the way to the chorus before I realized that she knew every goddamn word to this song.

I finally had to fess up.

“You know,” I began, “when this song first came out, I thought she said that she was going to use her ‘virgination’.

“What?” she stopped singing and looked at me for clarification.

“It was on the radio,” I offered, thinking that maybe by including the radio as an excuse, it would somehow explain how I could completely fuck up a lyric so bad.

I went over the gonna use my arm, legs, style, side step and fingers before giving another “gonna use my, my, my…virgination” for illustrative purposes.

My girlfriend immediately started laughing at me.

“Virgination?!” she repeated hysterically. “That’s not even a word!”

The Pretenders is one of my all time favorite albums. As soon as I ran across the deluxe edition in Best Buy, I knew how I’d be using my Reward Zone award. After looking at the bonus material (the deluxe edition comes with the Extended Play e.p. and a bunch of demo takes) it became clear that I needed to put my coupon towards an album that I already “had” twice before.

The material’s great, obviously, the sound quality is improved, and I’m listening to it with both fresh and experienced ears. I know the correct lyrics, but I haven’t forgotten my first assumptions. Occasionally, when “Brass In Pocket” finds its way through my speakers, I’ll belt out the “original” lyrics in a humorous acknowledgement of my most notable mondegreen. It represents a time when hormones, sexual exploration and the lack of a lyric sheet all helped to fuel my first case of embarrassing lyrical ignorance.

Video: The Pretenders – “Brass in Pocket”

21 thoughts on “Gonna Use My, My, My…Imagination”

  1. “Gonna use my sidestep?” Crap, I’ve always thought it was “gonna use my style, gonna use my substance.” Playing off the phrase “style over substance.”

  2. Could be worse though… when the German version of “99 Luftballoons” was on the radio, I actually failed to realize that it was in German, and had several points in the song where I had worked out whole lines of English lyrics that I /thought/ were the real lyrics. Can’t remember any of them now, unfortunately. I think I was about 10.

  3. I didn’t realize it was “sidestep” until I read this. I thought it was “senses”…or something.

    How great is that video though?

  4. My two winner mondegreens are always:

    Billy Joel, “Piano Man”: “Well I’m sure that I could be a movie star / If I could get out of Des Plaines.”

    DeBarge, “Rhythm Of The Night”: “Come join with me, and we can shake your boobs right away.”

  5. one of the most common mondegreens is from the song bad moon rising. people commonly think they’re singing “there’s a bathroom on the right” when they’re really singing “there’s a bad moon on the rise”. which has become mondegreen for me as i thought they were saying “there’s a bad moon rising”.

  6. Style/Substance is better! That line has actually sort of fucked me up forever!

    That song came out when I was 15, and my Mom (35 at the time) really loved it.

    I remember one day it was on the radio and Mom was dancing around the kitchen and singing along, but when Chrissie sings “sidestep,” Mom sang “Gonna use my sexy.” Now I thought the lyric was “Gonna use my senses,” but I KNEW it wasn’t “sexy.” What’s worse is that when she said “sexy,” she did some kind of weird…hip…thing. I scolded her and told her to cut that shit out!

    I still love The Pretenders, and I think that “The Singles” is one of the 2 greatest “Best Of” albums of all time, (The other being Squeeze’s “45′s and Under.” I expect that eventually a Foo Fighters comp might make the list…) but that song will always creep me out a little. Thanks Mom!

  7. For me, it was Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’. Until recently, I thought:

    “Sit on your hands on a bus of survivors,

    Blushing at all the Afro-Sheeners”

    was actually “Blushing at all the apple-stealers”.

    But I always new Chrissie was singing about using her imagination.

  8. Until I googled the lyrics to “brass” today I had half the freakin’ song wrong. The best..I thought it was “I got moussecake so eat”. It’s actually ” I got new skank so reet”.

  9. I mistakenly thought the lyrics to these songs where as follows…

    REO “Cant’ Fight This Feeling”–”Stick your finger in my sphincter on a warm dark august night”

    Sing It Again Rod– “You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul. Ya got big breasts or so I’m told”

    H and O “Kiss On My List”–”Because big tits are on my list of the best things in life”

    Neil Diamond “Turn on your fartlight in the middle of a young boy’s dream”

    Hooters “Day By Day”—”Gay guy gay! Gay guy gay!”

    Men Without Hats “Safety Dance” -Shit your pants! Shit your pants! Everybody’s making a mess.”

  10. Ha! I was JUST going to write and say, I always thought it was “sassy”! Now jonas makes it sound like it is, indisputably, sassy. Yes!

  11. Lots of misunderstandings here on trivial lyrics. But there is no mistaking the relevance of the following. Or so the descendants of you stupid minds will find out in the future…

    In the year 2525

    If man is still alive

    If woman can survive

    They may find

    In the year 3535

    Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies

    Everything you think, do, or say

    Is in the pill you took today

    In the year 4545

    Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes

    You won’t find a thing to do

    Nobody’s gonna look at you

    In the year 5555

    Your arms are hanging limp at your sides

    Your legs not nothing to do

    Some machine is doing that for you

    In the year 6565

    Ain’t gonna need no husband, won’t need no wife

    You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too

    From the bottom of a long black tube

    In the year 7510

    If God’s a-comin’ he ought to make it by then

    Maybe he’ll look around himself and say

    Guess it’s time for the Judgement day

    In the year 8510

    God’s gonna shake his mighty head

    He’ll either say I’m pleased where man has been

    Or tear it down and start again

    In the year 9595

    I’m kinda wondering if man’s gonna be alive

    He’s taken everything this old earth can give

    And he ain’t put back nothing

    Now it’s been 10,000 years

    Man has cried a billion tears

    For what he never knew

    Now man’s reign is through

    But through the eternal night

    The twinkling of starlight

    So very far away

    Maybe it’s only yesterday

    In the year 2525

    If man is still alive

    If woman can survive

    They may find

    In the year 3535

    Ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies

    Everything you think, do or say

    Is in the pill you took today ….(fading

  12. I just watched the video and I think she does say “sidestep,” actually.

    But Todd, I can totally see why you heard “virgination.” She doesn’t say “imagination”, more like “agination” but with a confusing burr at the beginning.

    What does she say at the very end? Sounds like “in he walked.”

  13. The “imagination” lyric was probably the only part of the song I ever got right.

    A great song and album, and a big part of my musical blueprint. Damn, I’m gonna go listen to it right now…

  14. “gonna use my sad self”

    in other words, by pretending (see! pretenders!) to be sad, she will take advantage of the male’s protective instincts to garner his attention. Works every time on me anyway.

  15. I totally thought it was “sassy,” too, but the lyrics at Pretenders.org (click my name) say it’s “sidestep.” Sidestep? WTF does that mean?

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