Why You Misheard That Word on Manfred Mann’s ‘Blinded by the Light’
"Blinded by the Light" had disappeared into obscurity in the years after its release on Bruce Springsteen's Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Then Manfred Mann's Earth Band garbled a lyric, and their cover shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Springsteen's only chart-topping composition.
On one level, that was just what Springsteen – or his label, at least – had always envisioned for "Blinded by the Light." He'd written the song, along with "Spirit in the Night," after Columbia Records executive Clive Davis said he didn't hear a single on Springsteen's 1973 debut.
Utilizing a rhyming dictionary to speed things along, "Blinded by the Light" found Springsteen piling up references to his nostalgic past: There were mentions of his old Little League team ("Indians in the summers"), neighborhood characters ("Go-Cart Mozart" and "Early-Pearly"), his early bandmate Vini Lopez ("madman drummers") and his love of big, fast cars ("cut loose like a deuce"), among other things.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band got Springsteen's reference to the 1932 V8-powered Ford dubbed the "deuce coupe," but they didn't like the sing-song rhyme with "cut loose." Changing the lyric to "revved up like a deuce" was meant to give the song a new propulsion for their 1976 album The Roaring Silence.
Unfortunately, the Earth Band kept getting stuck on the wordy song's frankly complicated transitions. "The real problem was how to get from the chorus to the verse smoothly. I just couldn't figure out a way to do it,” Mann later admitted. "And then – and this is why you need to be in a band – our drummer Chris Slade said, 'Play "Chopsticks" over it.'"
Elsewhere, singer Chris Thompson would end up skipping some verses altogether. The Earth Band was finally ready to get the session underway. Then Mann said a problem with the tape machine changed everything, just as Thompson was singing the new line about hot rods.
Listen to Manfred Mann's Cover of 'Blinded by the Light'
Instead of "revved up like a deuce" – or even "cut loose like a deuce" – Thompson sang what sounded like "wrapped up like a douche." "It wasn't written like that, and I screwed it up completely," Thompson told Record Collector in 2006. "It sounded like 'douche' instead of 'deuce,' and because of the technical process – a faulty azimuth due to tape-head angles – it meant we couldn't remix it."
Their label executives were gravely concerned. "Warners in America said, 'You've got to change 'douche,'" Thompson added, "because the Southern Bible belt radio stations think it’s about a vaginal douche – and they have problems with body parts down there.'"
He said the Earth Band tried to re-record the vocal, "but then the rest of the track sounded horrible, so we had to leave it. We just said, 'If it's not a hit, it's not.'" "Blinded by the Light" instead became a huge hit, peaking at No. 1 on Feb. 19, 1977 – and fans had a theory about its success. "The funny thing is that afterwards people came up to me and said, 'You know why that record was such a hit, don't you? Because everyone was trying to figure out if it was 'deuce' or 'douche,'" Mann remembered.
Subsequent performances found Thompson once again adding "wrapped" instead of "revved," but more clearly singing "deuce" rather than "douche." Meanwhile, their label hadn't taken any chances. "Warner Bros. sent Manfred and I on a three-week tour to 56 radio stations in America," Thompson told Classic Rock Revisited in 2015. "We had to tell people that it was not that."
The damage, however, had already been done: "It was horrible. It was known as the 'Douche Song,'" Thompson lamented.
Manfred Mann was forced to wait 13 long years after previously hitting No. 1 with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy." Springsteen never got to the top as a solo artist, finishing at No. 2 with "Dancing in the Dark" in 1984. So, the lyrical mix-up just added insult to injury – at least at first.
In time, Springsteen learned to joke about the lyrical mix-up. "Deuce was like a little deuce coupe, as in a two-seater hot rod," he said during an episode of VH1 Storytellers. "Douche is a feminine hygienic procedure – but what can I say? The public spoke."
Albums That Saved a Band's Career
Why Bruce Springsteen Called Killers Collaboration ‘Cathartic’