33. Naming a song

Posted on 19/02/2017

33. Naming a song


I always find naming a thrill. Sometimes the lyrical idea is so obvious that you have little choice over the title. But in other, more interesting cases, it is a real challenge. The title may change each time you review a draft! This can be disconcerting when you come back to a song draft after an interval of time. One should label it correctly at the start, but that’s not easy when you have not worked out fully what the song is about.
PG Wodehouse has a story in which the hero is a writer who thinks of a great title for a schoolboy story: ‘The sword of doom’. He is then quite unable to think of a plot which would explain this title. This is a warning against choosing catchy titles regardless.
Looking at songs I have downloaded is instructive. An unlikely one is ‘Sirop et dragees’ from ‘Tresors de la radio’. This is an antique commercial for a pill which cures all internal ills. Its name is ‘Marubiase’. The ad claims that the name will soon be on everyone’s lips. Well, you win some and lose others!
‘In particular,’ by Blonde Redhead is an interesting title that bears no relation to its content. The song is about her new boyfriend Alex, and how she could not imagine that a new boy could be so groovy. Nobody could logically derive the plot of the song from its title. It’s a good song though.
‘Lego House’ by Ed Sheeran does indeed use the image of Lego brilliantly. Similarly, ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba, ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ by Dylan,’ by Johnny Cash, and many others. The contents fit with the label on the can.
For sales purposes, a clear and logical label is a good idea. But a cleverly oblique or even unrelated title can be very effective. As with ‘In Particular’ ‘The Artemis Ward’ by Endless Boogie is successful in that way. The song is about the conductor of a train who has gone mad, and recounts where the train goes and eventually records a suicide ‘red dress, didn’t see her face’. It’s a brilliant song, or rather monologue. It works through the laconic lyrics and the good groove.
The test, for songs as well as other products which you might buy or sell is obviously that the product should have impact. But sometimes the impact can be indirect and yet successful. The ‘Message’ by Grandmaster Flash was a big hit in the 1980’s as one of the earliest rap songs, but the title is not in the chorus. ‘Mose Allison played here’ by the folk singer Greg Brown only uses that phrase in the very last line of the song. Most effective because surprising.
I find the oblique or striking-but-irrelevant titles more attractive. And that may be related to the fact that I am still searching for my first Number 1 in my seventies! But if I should have a hit with an unlikely title it will be much more fun on that account. For those with a more immediate need to sell, it is wise to label the product mundanely, but accurately.

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