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Pop Songs and Band Names Inspired By Places, Names and Numbers

Springsteen Songs About Names and Places - Craig ONeal
A great party game, or one to occupy everybody on long journeys: think of all the song titles about places, people, night, day, love, clowns, food, colours.

From time to time, a band comes along with an original, unusual or plain weird name. Who’d have thought The Grateful Dead, The Kinks, The Mindbenders, Moby Grape, Limp Bizkit, A Flock of Seagulls or The Electric Prunes would take off? Other out of the ordinary, left field names, like Large Marge and the Tell ‘Em I Sent Ya’s or Dead Ant Farm are known by fans alone.

Actual places have become common inspiration for band names: Alabama, Boston, Chicago, Europe, Asia, Bay City Rollers; while locality inspiration struck E Street Band, Kansas, Sugarhill Gang, and Backstreet Boys. However, it’s what inspires songs that is really revealing of the zeitgeist and the ambient culture.

New York New York, Oklahoma, Chicago, South Pacific, Miss Saigon, for example, are mainstream song titles named from places that have become part of the cultural fabric through being immortalised in musicals. But there are equally musical sub-genres of songs named after numbers, names or a host of other topics.

Songs Named After Places

UK’s The Guardian published a top ten list, including Europe Endless (Kraftwerk); Zoo Station by U2 about Berlin; Back in the USSR by The Beatles; Warsaw (Joy Division); Strasbourg from The Rakes; Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel; Weekend a Rome by Etienne Daha and Amsterdam by Scott Walker.

There was White Car in Germany by The Associates, while Paris appeared in Count Basie’s April in Paris, John Cale’s Paris 1919 and Joni Mitchell’s Free Man in Paris. Massachusetts inspired the Bee Gees, Waterloo did it for The Kinks (Waterloo Sunset) and Abba (Eurovison winner Waterloo). The Animals promised Gonna Send You Back to Walker, Richard Harris waxed lyrical about MacArthur Park; The Monkees caught the Last Train to Clarksville and Pleasant Valley Sunday and Gene Pitney was Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa.

Songs Named After Names

Girls names as song inspiration are many. The Beach Boys did Help Me, Rhonda, Barbara Ann and Caroline, No. The Beatles used Michelle, Eleanor Rigby, Dear Prudence, Julia, Sexy Sadie, Polythene Pam, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Lady Madonna, Martha My Dear while John Lennon did Oh Yoko.

Leonard Cohen took three: Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Seems So Long, Nancy; while Bob Dylan used Sara, Corrina, Corrina, Maggie’s Farm, Queen Jane Approximately, Absolutely Sweet Marie, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, Isis, and with The Band, Katie’s Been Gone and Bessie Smith.

There have also been Kelly Watch The Stars (Air); O Maria and Debra (Beck); Deborah (T Rex); Lucy in Disguise With Glasses (John Fred and His Playboy Band); Yuko & Hiro (Blur); Isobel (Bjork); Alison, Veronica, (Elvis Costello); Charlotte Sometimes (The Cure); The Thoughts of Mary Jane (Nick Drake); Me-Jane, Angelene, My Beautiful Leah, A Perfect Day Elise, Catherine (PJ Harvey); Lola (The Kinks); Roxanne (Police); Cecilia and Kathy’s Song (Simon and Garfunkel).

The Pixies used Velouria, Allison, Havalina and Ana; Outkast did Rosa Parks and Toilet Tisha; Gloria was with Van Morrison’s Them and Patti Smith who also used Kimberly. For Martha, Annie Dog, Daphne Descends, Ava Adore, To Sheila, Lily My One and Only, Thru the Eyes of Ruby and Luna was material exploited by Smashing Pumpkins. Pictures of Lily also inspired The Who and Lily the Pink, Scaffold. Nirvana used Molly’s Lips, and Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, girl’s name and place.

Velvet Underground produced Stephanie Says, Candy Says, Lisa Says and Sweet Jane; White Stripes, Now Mary; Kiss, Beth, and Guns N Roses, My Michelle. The Everly Brothers sang about Claudette, Poor Jenny, Take a Message to Mary, Lucille. Elvis Presley sang Marie’s The Name, The Righteous Brothers Fanny Mae and Jimi Hendrix, The Wind Cries Mary.

Male names are almost as popular. To take just three from A-C, to illustrate how widely different the material is: Abraham, Martin and John (Dion), Adam Raised a Cain (Springsteen), Arnold Layne (Pink Floyd), Bad Bad Leroy Brown (Jim Croce), Ben (Michael Jackson), Bye Bye Johnny (Chuck Berry), Charlie Brown (The Coasters), Captain Jack (Billy Joe)l and Cousin Kevin (The Who). Johnny Cash got A Boy Named Sue.

Songs About Numbers

There are probably around 500 songs with numbers in the titles. Again, to select a taster sample: 123, (Len Barry), 100 Percent (Sonic Youth), 1000 Years (The Coral), 19-2000 (Gorillaz), 1984 (David Bowie), 2 Becomes 1 (Spice Girls), 2000 Light Years from Home (Rolling Stones), 25 Minutes to Go (Johnny Cash), 3 (Britney Spears), 3 Words (Cheryl Cole), 4 Minutes (Madonna), 42 (Coldplay), 48 Crash (Suzi Quatro), 505 (Arctic Monkeys), 6 of 1 Thing (Craig David), 7 Rooms of Gloom (Four Tops), 80 (Green Day), 9 to 5 (Dolly Parton) and 98.6 (Keith).

Slight variations on numerical theme include: Billion Dollar Babies (Alice Cooper), Cloud 9 (Temptations), Eight Days a Week (Beatles), Eight Miles High (Byrds), Five to One (The Doors), Gimme Three Steps (Leonard Skynyrd), Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan), In the Year 2525 (Zager and Evans), Million Dollar Bill (Whitney Houston), Rocket 88 (Ike Turner) and She’s Turning 50 Today (Reba McEntire).

There are nearly 400 movies named after songs, not songs written especially for movies, but existing song titles appropriated by moviemakers. They include The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Paul Dukas), Domino (Van Morrison), Xanadu (Rush), Coming Apart (Tom Verlain), Death of a Salesman (Steve Goodman), Love Story (Randy Newman), Between the Lines (Janis Ian), Rocky (Austin Roberts), The Morning After (Maureen McGovern), Point Blank, Badlands and Atlantic City (Springsteen), Happiness Runs, Season of the Witch and Universal Soldier (Donovan), How Sweet It Is (Marvin Gaye), American Psycho (The Misfits), Harper Valley PTA (Jeannie C. Riley) and California Dreaming (Mamas and Papas).

There are categories of songs named after colours, food, clothing; bands named after other people’s songs; bands named after movies; movies about movies. And so it all goes on, in a never ending merry-go-round of things inspiring other things, but all of them, great reminders of the priceless cultural, musical, film heritage we have in this age.

First published on Suite 101, 9 October 2010.

Photo: Springsteen Songs About Names and Places – Craig ONeal

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