Mondegreens as ads

If you watch TV at all, you’ve probably seen it by now: The ad for Lime Coke with the strange, catchy tune.

If you were ever a Harry Nilsson fan, you may feel a slight sense of outrage. Or nostalgia.

And if you can hear, you’ll recognize why the ad has a follow-the-bouncing-ball section: To convince you that what’s being sung is “lime in the Coke, you nut,” even though you don’t think that’s what you heard.

It isn’t what you heard.

Harry Nilsson wrote The Coconut Song and recorded it in 1971. As with much of what Nilsson did, it’s a mix of talent and eccentricity. I can’t make sense of all the lyrics, but the verses have something to do with “Doctor, ain’t there something I can take…to relieve this bellyache” and the chorus goes,

“You put the lime in the coconut, you drink them both up…”

I trust Nilsson’s estate got a hefty fee for the deliberate misquotation and use of his performance. I don’t plan to try the new concoction, but then I don’t care for pop in general. (Sodas? Cocola? I don’t know what my regional term for sweet fizzy stuff is supposed to be.)

(Mondegreens? Mishearings of song lyrics as being other lyrics. Jon Caroll’s written a number of great columns over the years about Mondegreens, which take their name from a mishearing of a ballad about how they killed Lord such-and-such and laid him on the green, which was heard as “they killed Lord such-and-such and Lady Mondegreen.”)

20 Responses to “Mondegreens as ads”

  1. I could makes sense of the lyrics. But I always wondered if there was a non-obvious (double-entendre) meaning.

  2. walt says:

    I have no idea. I always assumed Nilsson had the urge to do a pseudo-Caribbean song. He tended to be pretty single entendre when that was his urge (e.g., “You’ve broken my heart,” the third line of which will not appear in this family-oriented weblog). But there’s always that possibility.

  3. Brian says:

    Now I want to hear Colgate use “Angel of the Morning” in a commercial!“Just brush your teeth before you leave me …” sez that Coconut was used in ads back in the ’70s.

  4. randy says:

    I give thanks that I have yet to hear any Steely Dan tunes in commercials, and with the exception of Revolution in that 90s Nike ad, no Beatles tunes either. I’m now hearing Ramones’ music in tv ads. Nothing is sacred. Perhaps BF Goodrich or Firestone will use The Eagle’s “Take It To The Limit” someday…

  5. Anna says:

    I hadn’t seen the commercial when I discovered Diet Coke with Lime last spring while shopping at Target. It sounded interesting, so I bought some. I was not a diet cola drinker at the time, prefering the taste of corn syrup to artificial sweeteners. However, the lime flavor covered up the taste of diet cola that I didn’t like, and I was able to transition from sugared colas to diet colas, or at least Diet Coke. As someone with a family history of adult diabetes and as someone who is overweight, it was a good thing that I had that Diet Coke with Lime as a gateway diet cola to get me off of the empty sugars.

    As for the mutilation of the song, it’s not the first time someone has turned a classic into a commercial.

  6. Eli says:

    Not much of a soda drinker any more (except for rare ginger ale/ginger beer moments), I doubt I’ll try the Lime Coke (TM). As for the nostalgia/outrage, my sense of outrage at the unmitigated gall of it all was permanently broken when Mercedes-Benz licensed Janis Joplin’s version of “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz” …

  7. walt says:

    Ah, Eli, something we have in common: I don’t drink soda at all, but might make an exception for a really good ginger ale…

    On the other hand, I thought Mercedes’ use of Janis Joplin’s song was brilliant, showing a sense of humor I would not have expected from Daimler-Benz.

    I really don’t have a problem with ads featuring songs; I’m a little uneasy about deliberate misreading (not of the intention, but of the actual lyrics), but the post was mostly a light comment…and I assume that Nilsson’s heirs got a sweet chunk of money, since ad license fees can be pretty high.

  8. irish legend says:

    u put da lime in da coke u nut
    is da proper lyrics not
    put da lime in the coconut ders no cocnut

    i love u americans

    slán leat(bye in irish)

  9. walt says:

    Well, Irish Legend, cute but nonsense. The song’s title is “Coconut.” Harry Nilsson wrote the song, recording it in June 1971. The idea that he’d title a song “Coconut,” sing “Put the lime in the coconut,” and have it actually be about Coke is…well,

    Now, if you’re claiming that there’s an earlier song (possibly Jamaican) that Nilsson ripped off, and that the earlier song was about lime Cokes, I suppose anything’s possible, but I’d sure expect an explicit link or reference.

  10. Lu says:

    I have been wondering about the meaning of the lyrics to the Coconut song. Honestly, I’ve only heard the song in it’s entirety once and couldn’t quite understand all the lyrics. BUT, I assumed it was about, well…lines of coke. The lyrics gave me the impression the girl had a belly ache from being intoxicated and the “line” would cure the problem. There is also the rumor that early Coca-Cola contained a small amount of cocaine. Therefore when I heard the little ditty on a Coca-Cola commercial I just about choked thinking that it was extremely suggestive! So I suppose I’m completely out of my gourd for jumping to conclusions especially since I had the lyrics wrong to begin with. It’s quite silly actually. Thank goodness the younger generations are more ‘evian.

  11. Niki says:

    I was told that Lime and Coconut were a way they used to cover up a drug like arsenic. To poison someone – anyone got a lead on that???

  12. Fredi says:

    Having heard the song many times, listened to “Put the Lime in the Coconut” driving home from work tonight with my friend Beth. We were trying to figure out the difference between what the sister did with the lime and the coconut AND what the doctor told her to do. OK, aren’t they both exactly the same? I figured it was like “Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning…What did you call me for anyway?” Was the song any kind of folk ballad before Nillson recorded it?

  13. walt says:

    I have no knowledge of anything other than Nilsson’s song itself or of hidden meanings. And yes, I believe what the sister did and what the doctor told her to do were the same…

    Nilsson’s listed as sole composer for the song, but of course if he adapted it from “folk” music, that might be the credit.

  14. C says:

    Saw this on another site, if it strikes a chord

    “Put the lime in the coconut”–
    (which, by the way, was Harry Nilsson’s take on goofy Caribbean songs [location/theme connexion], and folk medicine [theme of healing] by way of
    John Lennon & all the drugs they were doing.

  15. Satchmo1 says:

    All this overanalyzing is driving me crazee! Harry wrote a great song and his family deserves all the money they can make from Coke or any other company that can make a Harry song work for them. There is no hidden meaning. Harry was in a class of his own and the Coconut song is only one of many that took simplicity to the highest level. Visit the Harry Nilsson web site and get with the program! 😉

  16. Colonel Fink says:

    This song has puzzled me for years.

    I’ve thought cocaine, I’ve thought abortion, but neither seem to fit exactly. Perhaps they were guide lyrics for the music which he liked and decided to keep.

    In conclusion if an otter slept in a wheelbarrow would it be likely to qualify for official olympic memorabilia status?

  17. Shawn says:

    Well i for one assumed there was a coca connection

    When the indigenous Peruvians chew coca leaves they chew it with a little lime powder( the rock, not the fruit). They need to be mixed together so that the coca leaf chewer can absorb the mild stimulant.

    Our friend’s conservative mom was travelling in Peru in the 60’s. She was having stomach pain and at one of the little markets there an herbalist sold her coca leaves to make a tea to releave her stomach pain. She found it very effective. Not knowing it was illegal, or maybe it wasn’t then, she brought back a suitcase of the stuff. Nobody at the various borders noticed anything wrong with her suitcase full of leaves. Anyway once home the leaves ended up unused in the pantry. At some point we found out what these leaves were and chewed up quite a lot of them one night – no effect at all. We had not put the lime in the coca and mixed them all together.

    So of course when i heard the song that was what i thought

  18. walt says:

    Shawn, you could be right, and the song might be based on traditional/folk sources. Thanks for the info.

  19. David says:

    I have always felt that the song was about drinking. Now I have absolutly no proof of this, but hear me out:
    Harry is awakened by a very late phone call one night. There is a woman (perhaps an old girlfriend) on the other end who is very sick and has been throwing up. She tells him that she went out on a date that started by drinking Pina Coladas. Later at a Mexican restaurant, she started drinking Margaritas. The combination (and amounts) have made her violently ill, and she begs him to come over. He tells her to call a doctor, and then hangs up. Not being able to go back to sleep, he writes a song.

  20. smithers says:

    by the way, why is KENTUCKY fried chicken using sweet home ALABAMA in their new commercial?