Like piranhas, titles can be a tricky species, capable of stripping the entire work bare in one shot for the recipient (at its best) or turning its X-acto knife teeth on its writer (at its worst) and dragging the whole piece under water.
How many times have you sat for hours helping your friends come up with band names? Or stared at the completed story or poem or blog post and thought, "I know you're in there. Show yourself." And then, when you're lucky, the title head-butts you in the chest Zidane-style. Those are good moments. If painful.
And while the pressure to name an album isn't as great as naming a band, it's still there. The obvious move is to just pick the title of the strongest song of the album. Or if it's your band's first album (or not) you can just go the old self-titled route. You spent all that time on the band name, anyway--milk that sucker. One thing's for sure: clever and meta, like Filter up there, rarely cuts it.
Recently, Will at I Guess I'm Floating put together a list of 15 title tracks. While I do love a good title track, what I really love is the embedded title. The title that's hidden in a random moment in a song. Maybe it's still the strongest song on the record, maybe it's the one that captures the tone. Whatever the reason, when I hear an embedded title, I feel like a treasure hunter discovering the Rosetta stone, both for that particular song and the album as a whole. (Since March I've done something similar with Creekside's monthly mix titles. I like finding that representative lyric or discarded line that serves as the binding cord for the entire set of songs.)
Here are some of my favorite songs that have the album's title embedded somewhere in the lyrics.
Wilco - "Poor Places" A ghostly voice is stuck on a loop near the end of this song repeating this album's title over and over: Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. Yankee. Hotel. Foxtrot. It's haunting and beautiful at the same time, like much of this brilliant album. For a record largely about the difficulty in making connections and communicating, this title--with its HAM-radio call sign--fits perfectly.
Beastie Boys - "Ask for Janice" First, the ultimate album of samples should derive its name entirely from a long sample. And second, doesn't Paul's Boutique sound like a store that peddles some secondhand goods or at least some stuff that might have fallen off a truck? Yeah, another title that fits well and is buried just before the album's end.
Iron & Wine - "Passing Afternoon" Another title that shows up near the end of the album. "There are things that drift away," Sam Beam sings, "like our endless numbered days. Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made." That weary and hopeful tone that Beam nails in this song suddenly clarifies the oxymoron of a title.
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit" An obvious one, sure, but can you imagine if the band had titled Nevermind "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Would it have had the same hook? Would it still have some a trillion copies and been hailed as the definitive album of the so-called slacker generation?
Screaming Trees - "Shadow of the Season" Here's another that appears in the chorus of the album opener. Sweet Oblivion may not have buried its title as deeply as some of the others on this list, but it certainly fits as a phrase defining its album and its period. "Without a reason to carry on," Mark Lanegan huffs, in between gulps of Old Crow.
Ben Folds Five - "Battle of Who Could Care Less" The band gets to have the best of both worlds here. A song filled with great lines uses one for the title of the song and another for the title of the record. Whatever and Ever Amen is filled with characters that could easily have this album's title tattooed across their chests. "General Apathy and Major Boredom" had to have been a close second for this record.
Gemma Hayes - "Happy Sad" If the chorus doesn't work for your album's title, or you're already using it for the song's title, just pull from the bridge of a song. The Roads Don't Love You may not bind the record as well as some others on this list, but it certainly is evocative enough to serve as this album's title.
Built to Spill - "Randy Described Eternity" Perfect From Now On pulls its title from this moody and anthemic rocker. Neither from the bridge nor from the chorus, this is an embedded title at its best, quietly slipping across the transom to set up camp behind your couch, echoing throughout the rest of your listen of the record. "Where will you spend eternity," Martsch asks. "I wanna be perfect from now on . . . starting now."
Guster - "Happier" This is an interesting one because the phrase Lost and Gone Forever never completely shows up in any song on this record, but almost gets there in this track as well as the next one on the record, "So Long." I just like this song and the title's appearance in this one better. Layered and echoing lyrics drop this title in the background. Another lyric embedded in this song that would have been a good title: Bend Till You Break. If Guster wants my two cents.
The Decemberists - "California One and Youth and Beauty Brigade" An emdedded title in the album's closer that serves as the perfect definition for a record filled with characters that could be called Castaways and Cutouts. The delivery of this title never fails to raise the hair on my arms. Probably for the best that Colin Meloy didn't call this record Bedwetters and Ambulance Chasers.
What did I miss? Drop them off in the comments.