Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza

It’s unlikely that the cassette tape can be located now, but I famously produced and recorded a Christmas album back in the ‘80s. It sold only one copy (and “sold” is probably not the right word since I’m quite confident that I gifted it to Mom for free), but its impact is still being felt to this day.

I remember when Mom listened to it, she said it was priceless. At the time, I took that as an insult because I thought “priceless” meant “completely worthless.” As in “there’s no way you could possibly get people to pay money for this so you shouldn’t even bother putting a price tag on it.”

The song that stayed at the top of the charts in the Stillman house for the longest period was my rendition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Reeling off that incredibly tedious list of gifts apparently wore me out every time, and I always ended up gasping for air by the time I got down to the two turtle doves.

But one of the more underrated songs on that album was “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” My lyrics went something like this…

Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn king.
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners worth the style.

I have no idea what I thought “worth the style” meant. Although it probably had just as much meaning to me as the correct lyric. If I didn’t know the meaning of the word priceless, I’m sure I didn’t understand reconciled either.

A classic case of misunderstood lyrics. I’m sure I wasn’t the only six-year-old to be guilty of getting the words to a song wrong. In fact, there have been plenty of misunderstood lyrics over the course of American history.

One of my favorites is Elton John’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”

Many assumed Jimi Hendrix was making some kind of gay rights statement when they thought they heard him say, “…’Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”

And of course there’s Pat Benatar’s famous song, “Hit me with your pet shark.”

All of those misunderstandings are pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of life, I suppose. But unfortunately, people often mishear some of the lyrics being sung by their financial advisor, and those misunderstandings can be a lot more damaging.

Here’s one that I hear a lot: “I don’t pay anything for my financial advice.”

That might be what you understood. But those aren’t actually the words to the song. In reality, the actual lyrics probably go something like this…

“My broker doesn’t charge a management fee, he just makes commissions every time he buys or sells something. So every time he makes a recommendation to me, I really have no idea if it’s in my best interest or if he’s just trying to print a commission check for himself. But I don’t mind this model because the commissions aren’t really evident on any of my statements, so it feels like I’m not paying anything. Even though it might be costing me more than if I just paid a management fee.”

But that’s a mouthful, so you can see why someone might prefer to just sing the wrong words instead.

Here’s another misheard lyric: “I’m a conservative investor.”

Maybe you think you are, or you want to be, but I often find that these are the real words to the song:

“I’m getting close to retirement, so I’ve always assumed that they’re taking some of the risk out of my portfolio as I get older. They’re doing that, right? Right??”

I was visiting with someone recently who talked a lot about how risk averse he was and how conservatively he’d been investing. And I agreed that based on his age and short time horizon until retirement, that was a wise approach. But then we looked at his portfolio, and there was nothing conservative about it. In fact, it said right there on his statement that he was a “moderately aggressive” investor.

He’d been working with the same broker for 15 years, and while he indeed had a “moderately aggressive” mindset when he started, he didn’t any longer. And he assumed that his portfolio was being adjusted accordingly, but it wasn’t.

You’d be surprised how often I see things like that.

So don’t assume you know the words to the song. Ask plenty of questions, always clarify things you don’t understand, and get a second opinion when needed.

Because the ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind.