It’s day two of my brand new obsession with Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel…, and today the subject is song titles.
Considering the verbose 23-word name of her new album, Apple’s new song titles are surprisingly concise. Six out of 10 are one word only, and not necessarily words we haven’t heard before in song and movie titles: “Daredevil,” “Valentine,” “Werewolf,” “Regret.” Even her ode to a boy — a specific boy, her real-life ex — gets the long form of what must be the second most-common masculine name in the English language. (Though if the parties involved were Eastern European, or Italian, he’d be, respectively, Ivan and Giovanni, two hot names that are practically begging to be in song titles.)
Then there is “Periphery.” How can I resist loving a singer-songwriter who can not only work such an awkward word into a song but use it as the title and have it make total sense? I’d probably love the song under any name, but the one it has probably makes me love it even more.
Which brings me to song titles that sell the songs to which they’re attached. Morrissey’s have been doing it for his entire career — from “Pretty Girls Make Graves,” “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” and so many others with the Smiths, to “Girl Drowning, Lifeguard Sleeping,” “The Youngest Was the Most Loved” and so many others on his own. Nobody outside of country music gives better song titles than he does.
Prince has tried, but his overuse of “2” and “U” always seemed so juvenile (much like “Sexy MF,” as in “sexy motherfucker,” did in 1992, post-heyday), and it undermined the uniqueness and greatness of songs like “I Would Die 4 U,” “Take Me with U,” “I Wish U Heaven,” “U Got the Look” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Occasionally, though, he succeeded, most notably on “When Doves Cry,” “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” and “1999,” which was totally edgy back in 1982, when it made my 13-year-old self look forward to the turn of the millennium for the first time, with a queasy mix of anticipation and fear.
Here are 10 other great songs that had me at the title.
“I Had a Dream I Was Falling Into a Hole in the Ozone Layer” Deee-Lite I once dated a guy who told me that Deee-Lite was his favorite group. You know, it’s the only thing I can really remember about him.
“Alone Again Or” Love Alone Again — but not so naturally. The Gilbert O’Sullivan No. 1 hit I’m referencing came five years after Love’s 1967 non-hit, which is all about that two-letter word at the end. “Or” what? Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean never say — nor do they even sing the word “or” anywhere in the song, which makes the title all the more cryptic and brilliant.
“Waiter! Bring Me Water!” Shania Twain The queen of the exclamation mark — “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” “Whatever You Do! Don’t!” “If You Want to Touch Her, Ask!” — did the best exclaiming of her career so far on track 14 from 2002’s Up!.
“Weirdo” The Charlatans Yes, short and sweet can be just as delicious as long and twisted.
“I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home” David Frizzell My favorite country song title ever!
“To Know Someone Deeply Is to Know Someone Softly” Terence Trent D’Arby True words, from Neither Fish Nor Flesh (A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction) — speaking of interesting titles you’ll probably never hear anywhere else.
“Star Me Kitten” R.E.M. Michael Stipe actually sings, “fuck me kitten,” in the song, but I sort of prefer the title that was used to stop the moral majority from kicking up a shit storm. It’s wonderfully opaque, just like the song.
“I Am Stretched on Your Grave” Sinead O’Connor Certainly not the strangest thing Sinead has ever sung — or done — but “Jump in the River” aside, these words and the song behind them, both based on a traditional Irish poem, are what I loved most about 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (the one with “Nothing Compares 2 U,” the other song on the album that O’Connor didn’t write).
“Big Log” Robert Plant I have absolutely no idea, which is the point exactly: It can stand for anything you want it to mean. From 1983’s brilliantly titled The Principle of Moments, featuring seven other near-equally evocative song titles.
“Curtains” Elton John Another great title that appears nowhere in the song (like Plant’s), and another case of one word says it all — now let’s get to the music!