These Songs Helped Us Learn How To Spell

We don’t often think of pop music as educational. It’s usually considered to be the very opposite. But, we don’t give pop songs enough credit for teaching us about all the important stuff in life: love, loss, and … spelling.

Yes, spelling, as in Jay-Z’s “H to the Izzo” or John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A” So, move aside Schoolhouse Rock!, we’re looking at hit songs that literally spell out their hooks.

Before we begin, we wanted to spell one thing out: We don’t feature any strong language in this article, but note that many of the songs themselves do have explicit lyrics.

"Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani

In 2004, rocker Courtney Love dismissed Gwen Stefani in an interview for Seventeen magazine: “I’m not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She’s the cheerleader ….”

Stefani answered in part, it’s said, with a hit 2004–05 diss track, “Hollaback Girl.” And for it, she found inspiration in cheerleading, known for its spelled-out chants.

In cheerleading, the head cheerleader hollers and the team and fans respond (e.g.,”Give me a B! B!)” This forms the catchy structure of the bridge of “Hollaback Girl,” where Stefani belts: This stuff is “BANANAS—B-A-N-A-N-A-S” and the rest of her cheerleading squad repeats the line.

Of course, Stefani’s bananas is slang for “nuts” or “crazy,” but the next time you’re writing out the grocery list and are hung up on how many A‘s and N‘s there are in banana, Gwen’s got you.

"L-O-V-E" by Nat King Cole

A classic song-that-spells is “Love,” originally performed by the legendary jazz musician Nat King Cole in 1964–65.

The verse of the song forms a kind of acrostic:L is for the way you Look at meO is for the Only one I seeV is Very, very extraordinaryE is Even more than anyone that you adore.Spelling can be so romantic, don’t you think? The song has gotten a lot of love, considering its many covers. Fans of the show Glee will recognize it from their 2012 Valentine’s Day show.

"Respect" by Aretha Franklin

One of the most famous spelled-out lines in all music is “R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me.”

This lyric has won legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin eternal respect. While it was originally written and performed by Otis Redding in 1965, Franklin made it—and her—a smash hit in 1967.

Aretha Franklin modified Redding’s version to create her own version, including its now-iconic spelling. She also modified the lyrics to reflect the perspective of an empowered, respect-demanding black woman. Franklin’s “Respect” later became an anthem for the Civil Rights and women’s liberation movements. Oh, and Franklin played the piano herself on the track. Respect.

"Coffee" by Aesop Rock

Wordplay is a critical part of hip-hop, so it’s no surprise that its lyrics often feature spelling. One of the most ambitious spellings can be found in the 2007 track “Coffee” by Aesop Rock.

In “Coffee,” Aesop Rock shows a leave-me-alone kind of self-determination, which culminates in the song’s bridge, when he repeats five times: “T-A-K-E-N-O-P-R-I-S-O-N-E-R-S.”

This spells take-no-prisoners, an expression meaning “wholeheartedly aggressive”—perhaps not unlike Aesop Rock’s all-out spelling.

"Stay Gold" by Run the Jewels

Spelling out a word or phrase is not only catchy, it’s also great way to emphasize the theme of the song. Hip-hop duo Run the Jewels knew this when they created their 2016 track “Stay Gold.”

The hook of the song repeats several times “G-O-L-D, G-O-L-D, it’s gold.” The gold refers to wealth, of course, but also things metaphorically golden, specifically a smart, attractive, and self-assertive woman in this track.

"Bang Bang" by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj

Bang, in slang, has many meanings, variously associated with guns and gangs, sex and success, power and excellence. Pop legends Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj came together to bring these senses together in their 2014 collaboration “Bang Bang.”

On the song, Minaj rap-spells bang: “B to the A to the N to the G” to drum up female empowerment. Get it, girl.


"Steal My Sunshine" by Len

Spelling isn’t just for the greats. One-hit wonders get in on the action, too.

That’s the case for the 1999 hit “Steal My Sunshine” by Canadian band Len. The song is … very ’90s. The video features halter tops, beaded choker necklaces, bucket hats, and questionable sunglass choices.

In the second verse of the song, vocalist and bassist Sharon Costanzo sings: “I was frying on the bench slide in the park across the street / L-A-T-E-R that week.” We suspect later is spelled to fill out the meter, but it’s hard to tell under the sun-drenched effects.

"Kill V. Maim" by Grimes

Len aren’t the only star spellers from Canada. Vancouver electronic artist Grimes showed off her spelling chops on her 2015–16 single “Kill V. Maim,” which builds to the chorus:B-E-H-A-V-EArrest usItaliana mobsterGrimes knows how to spell behave, but the song, as the chorus makes clear, is about anything but: “I don’t behave.” Grimes has said she imagined “Kill V. Maim” as a mix of The Godfather and Twilight—and issued it as a kind of challenge to the idea of being a “good girl.”

the Oscar Mayer bologna jingle

Do you know how to spell bologna? If you do, it’s probably thanks to one of the most famous jingles (and song-spell-outs) of all time: the Oscar Mayer bologna jingle.

On the heels of its successful 1963 Oscar Mayer wiener jingle (“I’d love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener”), it followed up in 1973 with bologna. Sing (and spell) along with us:My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R,My bologna has a second name, it’s M-A-Y-E-R,Oh I love it eat it every day,And if you ask me why, I’ll say,‘Cause Oscar Mayer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-A.The song also reminds us that the company is Oscar M-A-Y-E-R, not M-E-Y-E-R—as many of us have wrongly thought. No baloney.

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