Here's the meaning behind 12 catchy songs with completely nonsense lyrics

Discover what it means to sing these doo wah ditty ditties.

Image: Disney–ABC Domestic Television

It's one thing to hear a poetic lyric and wonder to oneself, "But what does it really mean?" It's quite another to listen to a singer belting out nonsense lyrics, where the confusion is much more genuine. In both cases, though, a song can end up reading completely meaningless and still become a giant, huge hit. These are the songs that definitively prove that point.

In the history of music, there are plenty of "Oh-oh-ohs" and "Ahhhs" to be heard, the sweet sounds singers make to hold a sentimental note. The earliest folk songs are often best hummed, their melodies oftentimes more significant than the words that go with them. Later on, doo-wop shook up that spirit and added some flavor, with bands like The Edsels harmonizing angelically over words like "Rama Lama Ding Dong" in the 1950s. Then girl groups of the 1960s kept this tradition going with hits like The Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron." It seems no matter how music evolves, there's always some artist, struggling to find the right words or else looking to make up a new phrase that helps his or her song stand out.

By now, every genre of music has sampled this long-time habit of spouting nonsense lyrics. Here, we go through some of our very favorites and attempt to explain the meaning behind the most befuddling choruses that for years have inspired the world's most curious singalongs.

1. The Police - "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" (1980)

Some songwriters admit they made up their nonsense lyrics on the spot. Not Sting. He intentionally wrote this song because he wanted to make a statement. "People love simple songs" – at least that's what Sting wanted his single to say. Instead, many listeners insisted, much to his frustration, that the song just reminded them of a baby chattering.

2. Manfred Mann - "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" (1964)

“Do Wah Diddy Diddy” became a hit in 1964 when British band Manfred Mann covered it. Many many years later when the band reunited, singer Paul Jones confessed he finally looked at the actual sheet music and realized a couple decades too late the lyrics were supposed to be “Do Wah Diddy Diddy DOWN Diddy Do,” not “dum diddy do,” as we’re all used to singing. Jones said that while the lyrics may not have meaning, they do uphold a long tradition of British folk songs in inventing words to convey a feeling, such as “With a hey, and a ho, and a hey-nonnyno!”

3. The Dixie Cups - "Iko Iko" (1965)

“Iko Iko” has been covered by many, but the great girl group The Dixie Cups made it famous in 1965. A few years later, "Sugar Boy” James Crawford sued the group due to similarities between their song and his, “Jock-A-Mo.” The lawsuit was settled by splitting the credit among them. As for what “Iko Iko” means, Crawford has said it refers to a victory chant repeated at parades for Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

4. The Beatles - "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da" (1968)

By 1968, Paul McCartney, like everyone else in England, was bit by the reggae bug. The Jamaican vibes had travelled overseas, and McCartney wanted to write a song that echoed its influence on him. At the same time, the Beatle had befriended a Nigerian conga player named Jimmy Scott-Emuakpor, whose favorite expression at the time was “ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah.” Feel free to sing it that way next time you hear the familiar tune.

5. Phil Collins - "Sussudio" (1985)

“Sussudio” is an example of a singer’s substituted lyrics accidentally sticking. When Phil Collins wrote the song, he was just goofing off with a drum machine, and he simply sang those random sounds over it. Unable to later find real words that fit with the flow and theme of the song, his improvised lyrics became a chorus nobody really knew why they were singing.