Song Lyrics That Are Literally Nonsense

A lot of lyrics to popular songs are figurative nonsense. Whether you’re talking about “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent or “Bike” by Pink Floyd, many popular songs feature lyrics that make it look like whoever wrote them was barely even trying.

Then there’s the stuff that’s literally nonsense. The lyrics consist of words that exist neither in English nor any other language. What’s funny is that these songs became very popular in many cases despite the scarcity or even complete absence of recognizable words. Here they are in handy list form, and if some of your favorites are here, don’t get offended.  

‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen (1963)

Album cover for "Surfin' Bird" by The Trashmen. Four band members in suits pose with musical instruments and a makeshift cannon mounted on a vehicle. The band's name and album title are prominently displayed at the top in bold red letters.

“Surfin’ Bird” is by the surf rock group the Trashmen. It contains the repeated lyric “the bird is the word” and is actually a combination of two different songs by the Rivingtons, “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow” and “The Bird’s the Word.” It was released as a single in 1963 and hit number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and with a nonsense lyric like “Papa-oom-mow-mow, papa-oom-mow-mow,” how could it not?

‘Tutti Frutti’ by Little Richard (1955)

Album cover featuring a musician in a white suit playing a piano. The background has a blue and yellow striped pattern with silhouetted musicians. Text on the cover includes "Little Richard" in pink and white and "Tutti Frutti" in pink and blue.

“Tutti Frutti” means “all fruits” in Italian. Whether Little Richard was thinking about that when he recorded the song is anyone’s guess. Its refrain, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom!” was meant to emulate a drum pattern that Little Richard liked, and it became the template for many songs that he would record later in his career. It may not mean anything intelligible, but it has some of the most iconic nonsense lyrics ever written.

‘Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha’ by Trio (1981)

Album cover featuring three band members performing on stage with instruments. The background is red and black with blue text listing song titles: "Da Da Da," "Don't Love You," "Don't Love Me," and "Aha Aha Aha." The name "Sabine Sabine Sabine" is highlighted.

“Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha” is a song by the German group Trio. Usually shortened to “Da Da Da” and featured on their 1981 self-titled debut album, this literal nonsense song became a massive hit not only in their native Germany but in dozens of other countries, going on to sell millions of copies. Simple, repetitive, and unforgettable in its minimalist gibberish, this song is an object lesson in making money by not trying very hard.

‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ by The Beatles (1968)

Album cover for "The Beatles" featuring "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The cover shows four individual photos of the band members with their expressions. The EMI Odeon logo is at the top left corner and the code "OSL 203" at the top right.

“Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” is by the Beatles and appears on their 1968 double album of the same name. It was written by Paul McCartney but credited to the Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership, something Lennon probably bristled at since he famously hated the song. If what he hated was the nonsensical lyric, ‘Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra,” then maybe he shouldn’t have festooned his composition, “I Am the Walrus,” with nonsensical lyrics like “Goo goo g’joob.”

‘Mah Na Mah Na’ by Piero Umiliani (1968)

A close-up photo of a vinyl record label with the song "Mah-Na, Mah-Na (Umiliani)" by Piero Umiliani. The label is orange with black text, featuring the EMI International logo at the bottom. The record release year is 1969 and catalog number INT 530.

“Mah Nà Mah Nà” was by Italian composer Piero Umiliani and first appeared in the Italian film “Sweden: Heaven, and Hell.” But when it really took off was when the Muppets performed it on “Sesame Street” in 1969, and then it gained more traction when it was used on “The Muppet Show” in 1976. If you have little kids, do not show them the clip from either “Sesame Street” or “The Muppet Show” unless you want to hear the song sung to you from dawn until bedtime until your kid finally goes off to college.

‘Wooly Bully’ by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (1964)

Album cover for "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. A group of five men, dressed in a mix of traditional Middle Eastern attires and Western outfits, smile and pose against a blue background. The top text displays the album and artist name in bold yellow letters.

“Wooly Bully” was recorded by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in 1964, and it’s based on a standard 12-bar blues progression. It was their first and biggest hit, selling three million copies despite featuring the lyrics, “Matty told Hatty about a thing she saw,” but don’t worry – the rest of the song’s lyrics don’t make any sense either.

‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’ by The Police (1980)

Album cover titled "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" by the band The Police. The cover features three men with serious expressions. The title is in all caps on the right, while the band's name is in the top left corner.

“De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” is by the Police and was the single released in 1980 to promote their very mediocre Zenyatta Mondatta album. Sting wrote it as a searing commentary on how people love songs with simple, stupid, nonsensical lyrics. Tragically, as with so many artistic statements that Sting has been kind enough to midwife into the world, the record-buying public failed him by not understanding that his nonsensical gibberish song was satire, you philistines! We hope he can engage in enough Tantric relations with his wife, Trudie Styler, to get past it.

‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm’ by Crash Test Dummies (1993)

A CD album cover titled "Crash Test Dummies" featuring classical renaissance-style artwork with mythological figures. The bottom of the cover displays the text "MMM MMM MMM MMM". The background is a vibrant landscape with various characters.

“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” is by Crash Test Dummies and was the first single from their album “God Shuffled His Feet.” For mysterious reasons beyond reckoning, the song received glowing reviews from critics, who hailed it as a brilliant masterpiece and an artistic undertaking as significant as climbing the Matterhorn. It also topped the charts of multiple European countries, but at least you can hope this was just because they didn’t speak English and didn’t know “Mmm mmm mmm mmm” means nothing.

‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ by Iron Butterfly (1968)

A black and white illustration of a butterfly is centered on a plain background. Above the butterfly, stylized text reads "Iron Butterfly In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." At the bottom, the ATCO Records logo is displayed.

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” got its title from Iron Butterfly singer Doug Ingle singing the words “In the Garden of Eden” while his motor skills were impaired by generous helpings of the fermented fruit beverage known as “wine.” At just over 17 minutes (!!!!!!!!), it takes up all of the second side of the LP by the same name and is meant to be a love song sung from the perspective of Adam to forbidden fruit enthusiast Eve. The lyrics are ridiculous, and the song seems to go on for months, but none of that is as unforgivable as the two-and-a-half-minute drum solo in the middle.

‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ by Baha Men (1998)

Three men pose against an outdoor backdrop. One stands wearing sunglasses and a green shirt, another sits in a pale blue shirt, and the third leans forward shirtless. Large text reads "BAHA MEN" and smaller text underneath reads "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT.

“Who Let the Dogs Out” was performed by the Bahamian band Baha Men. Initially released in 1998 by Anslem Douglas with the original title “Doggie,” the Baha Men covered it, and their version remains the one that most people know. It was a huge hit thanks to its appearance in the movie “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.” But for those of us of a certain age, we’ll always remember it from presidential candidate Mitt Romney extemporaneously invoking the song while posing for a photo op with voters of color in 2008.

‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ by Manfred Mann (1964)

Album cover for "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" by Manfred Mann. The image features five men standing next to each other, all wearing black turtleneck sweaters and pants, against a plain, light-colored background. The title and band name appear in large, bold text above them.

“Do Wah Diddy Diddy” was originally recorded in 1963 as “Do-Wah-Diddy” by the Exciters, but it became an international hit when Manfred Mann covered it the following year. That version topped both the U.S. and U.K. singles charts, and while the lyric “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do” is indeed thoroughly nonsensical, this song is one of those rare cases in which it works perfectly.