“Don’t go ’round tonight, it’s bound to take your life, there’s a bathroom on the right…”
Well, up ahead there may indeed be “a bathroom on the right,” but what John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival was singing in their 1969 hit single was, “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
When we listen to a song lyric, there are often a lot of distractions that hamper our ability to understand the words. First, there’s the recording itself. Perhaps it’s not very well produced, or was recorded or mixed in a below-average studio. There may be multiple layers of guitars, keyboards, horns, drums and more that drown out the vocals. Or maybe the vocalist didn’t enunciate clearly, either by design or because the voice just isn’t very good in the first place. And of course, the listener must often cope with ambient noise — nearby conversations, car horns and traffic, enthusiastic crowds.
In a fascinating article last year in The New Yorker, blog writer Maria Konnikova explained the science and psychology of how we listen. For instance, she points out that we tend to comprehend more fully when we can see the person who is talking; we have visual cues that help us put the words in order and assign meaning to words and phrases. The same conversation heard over the phone might require occasional clarification because the visual cues are absent.