Monday, 5 November 2012

The Band Who...Stated Their Name Clearly For The Record

Pop Quiz! What do all the following songs have in common?

Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
Space Oddity – David Bowie
Sympathy For The Devil – Rolling Stones
The Weight - The Band
Paranoid – Black Sabbath
Immigrant Song – Led Zeppelin
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult
Song 2 – Blur
Enter Sandman - Metallica
Paranoid Android – Radiohead
The Scientist – Coldplay

Answer: None of the titles listed above appear anywhere in the lyrics.

Some bands are serial offenders, taking 'Title Avoidance Syndrome' to the extreme, like My Chemical Romance

You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us In Prison
Honey, This Mirror Isn't Big Enough For The Two Of Us
It's Not A Fashion Statement, It's A F***ing Deathwish

or employing it in a tasteful minimalist way like U2


But these bands are exceptions. One of the most foundational principles for making a song memorable is combining the title with a hooky melody and repeating it enough times for it to worm it's way into your subconscious. Now perhaps if your chorus lyrics are

“I need your love, I need your love, God speed your love to me”

“Woo hoo, well I feel heavy metal”

or even

“Argh argh aaaaaaaaargh....ARGH”*

you might be wise to write something else on the label. But successful songs with obscure titles are a rarity, if for no other reason than people can't buy a record if they have no idea what it's called. The Beatles understood this principle.

Of 211 tracks released by the Beatles, 
199 feature the title prominently.

Of the 12 exceptions, 1 is an instrumental (Flying, the incidental music from Magical Mystery Tour). Five more feature fragments of the title, but not the whole -

Revolution 9 - Number 9, number 9
The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill - hey Bungalow Bill, what did you kill?
She Said She Said - She said, I know what it's like to be dead
Love You To - I'll make love to you, if you want me to
Wild Honey Pie - (the only title that's longer than the lyrics) Honey pie, honey pie

This leaves a grand total of 6 songs that never mention the title

For You Blue
The Inner Light
A Day In The Life
The Ballad Of John And Yoko
Tomorrow Never Knows
Yer Blues

They are almost all album tracks (apart from Ballad Of.., and b-side, The Inner Light). But what's most interesting about this list is that every one is a Lennon or Harrison song. There is not one genuine McCartney song among them**.

If you want to understand Paul's success as a commercial pop writer this is one small, but undeniable, key.


*Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers), Song 2 (Blur) and Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin) respectively.

**McCartney was a co-writer on Flying, and let's be honest Wild Honey Pie is a weird outtake rather than a song in any traditional understanding of the word.

Read more about the Band Who...

...Kept Expanding
...Lived Outside
...Needed No Introduction
...Were Men Of Few Words

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