Friday, 10 February 2012


You know what's good? The hyphen in Toni Braxton's 'Un-Break My Heart'. It'd be nice to think its inclusion was a purely artistic one, reflecting the drama in the song itself - specifically the pauses in Braxton's wrought cries of 'un-break' and 'un-do', but chances are it's not something anyone involved in its composition or release gave thought to.

Intentional or not, it also makes it look a bit archaic, lending the air of the classic the song by now is from the outset. Madonna's 'The Power Of Good-Bye' did the same to similar effect. Just one small use of punctuation in a title can go a long way to improving the song's whole 'package'. Grammar in general is an important thing when it comes to titling a song.

Ever fastidious with every aspect of their music, Pet Shop Boys probably know this best. Take for example this excerpt from a conversation between them documented in issue 18 of their Literally fanzine. Neil and Chris are discussing Oasis' then brand new 'D'You Know What I Mean?'

"And what happened to the question mark?" Chris queries.
"When I stop doing this," Neil announces, "I'm going to probably devote my life to defending punctuation."
Chris asks Neil the difference between a colon and a semicolon, and Neil explains at some length.
"I've got the Oxford Concise Book Of Grammar," Chris says.

Obviously they were wrong because 'D'You Know What I Mean?' does contain a question mark but that criticism is emblematic of their attitude towards the intricacies of presentation. A Pet Shop Boys song title never omits a question mark - 'How can you expect to be taken seriously?', 'Can you forgive her?', 'What have I done to deserve this?'. You get the idea. Other than it being grammatically correct, it also looks a lot better.

What can also be noted in those examples is their length - Pet Shop Boys titles are often very long, a tendency in stark contrast with their equally distinctive custom of single word album titles only - as well as the fact they are intended to be spelt as if they were sentences (this also seems to be the root of the question mark thing), with only the first word capitalised. Fundamental PSB behaviour, and it sets them apart.

Nonetheless, good song titles can come in many guises. Even though Tennant and Lowe seem to have perfected their own formula there are many features that they don't (and some they would never) utilise. Here is a 'definitive' (not definitive) list of good ones:
  • Verbiage - see 'You only tell me you love me when you're drunk', 'I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing'...  Basically about half of Pet Shop Boys' discography
  • Question marks (inclusion or exclusion) - see 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?', 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me'
  • Hyphens - see 'Un-Break My Heart', 'The Power Of Good-Bye'
  • Evocation of explicit scenarios - see 'Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors', 'Dancing On My Own'
  • Explicit evocation of mysterious drama - see 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore', 'I Can Never Go Home Anymore'
  • General drama - see 'It Will All End In Tears', 'Writing's On The Wall'
  • Longing - see 'I Wanna Love Him So Bad', 'Be My Baby'
  • Assertiveness and directness - see 'I Would Die 4 U', 'I Feel For You' 
  • (Parenthesisation) When used well - see 'You Are Loved (Don't Give Up)', 'Where Do I Begin (Love Story)'
  • Clever sounding nonsense - see 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale', 'The Age Of The Understatement'
  • Not sounding like a song title - see 'The Diary Of Horace Wimp', 'The Book Of Love'
  • Including the word 'melody', or 'ballad' - see 'Unchained Melody', 'The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan' (actually this one's quite hard to pin down, but 'Unchained Melody' is an incredible title, even after you find out why the song's called that)
  • Speech and quote marks - whether used for archness - "Heroes" - or weirdness - 'Are 'Friends' Electric?'
  • Exclamation marks - see 'Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)', 'Stop! In The Name Of Love'
Many of these elements cross over, many would never ever work in conjunction, and there's a wrong and right way of going about each one. Oh and there's probably obvious ones missing and the example titles might not be the best choices you could think of. To be honest it's not really the best list in the world but there we go.

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