Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's All About Joe Artist

posted by Tim Walters @ 6:41 PM

First came the self-titled album. As far as I know, no painter or writer has ever titled a work with his name, but somehow, this unimaginative and egocentric convention became common among musicians. It would make some sense for a best-of album*, but instead is most commonly used for debut albums--exactly where one would expect the artist to want to make a good impression, rather than seeming incapable of coming up with a real title.

The advantage, one assumes, is that the artist gets a name so nice, you say it twice. That is, he would, except that it turns out that people find referring to "Joe Artist's album Joe Artist" ridiculous, and will go to some lengths to avoid it: "Joe Artist's debut album," "Joe Artist: s/t," "the White Album," etc. What's a poor narcissistic** singer to do?

If you're Peter Gabriel, the answer is "try it three times and see what happens," but a more common strategy is the elaborate self-referential title. Here are my top/bottom five examples.

5 (tie):

Gary Burton: Who Is Gary Burton?
Dan Hartman: Who Is Dan Hartman?
Waldeck: Who Is Waldeck?
Marix: Who Is The Marix
Mike Jones: Who Is Mike Jones?
Mike Eddie: Who The Hell Is Mike Eddie?
Fletcher McTaggart: Who Is Fletcher McTaggart?

Who gives a shit?

Extra loser points to Marix for omitting the question mark, and a shout-out to Marlena Shaw, who shows these guys how it's done with her album Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?

4. Jill Scott: Who Is Jill Scott?: Words And Sounds, Vol. 1

Taking a bad idea to a whole new double-generic level of suck, with bonus implied threat.

3. The Nice: The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack

Presumably something like The Sorrows Of Young Werther, only with less moping and more sticking of knives in Hammond organ keyboards.

2. Arrested Development: Three Years, Five Months and Two Days in the Life of...

These guys expect us not only to care about, but to dutifully recite, the amount of time it took them to get a recording contract. Also, a five-yard penalty for the coy ellipsis.

1. Terence Trent D'Arby: Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D'Arby

Nicknamed "The Blowhardline" for obvious reasons, and as a sly reference to one theory about what could give a pretty boy named "Terence Trent D'Arby" the impression that he's a badass.


*Great opportunity for a band with cred but low sales: call your best-of album Pop Flies. Because it's pop, but they're not hits. Get it? OK, never mind.

**This has nothing to do with music, but I have to mention it: when working at a personnel office, I once found the file of a guy named Curtis whose four children were named Curt, Curtis Jr., Curtessa, and Curtessina.


At 11:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This has nothing to do with music, but I have to mention it: when working at a personnel office, I once found the file of a guy named Curtis whose four children were named Curt, Curtis Jr., Curtessa, and Curtessina."

Good lord. I went to school with Dick Gregory's kids, and he named one of them (the seventh, I think) Gregory.

On the actual topic, what do you think about album titles where the band/performer name may or may not be wedged into the title? "The Dictators Go Girl Crazy" is the example I'm thinking of off the top of my head. I find them somewhat confusing. Is the title "Go Girl Crazy" or "The Dictators Go Girl Crazy"?

"With The Beatles" and "Beatles for Sale" are also annoying. Are the titles "With" and "For Sale"? Or what?

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

You know, it never even occurred to me that Go Girl Crazy! was anything but an imperative. Now that you mention it, though, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! is equally plausible. For some reason, it doesn't strike me as problematic; likewise the similar The Who Sell Out. Maybe it's because despite including the artist's name, these titles feel like they're about the album rather than the artist.

The Beatles ones are lame, though. And did you ever notice how cringeworthy a band name "The Beatles" is?

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Todd T said...

Re "Beatles": Quite. I haven't read any biographies, but I'd be surprised if they didn't lament the choice by the end.

Re Curtis and his brood: hard to top the George Foremans there.

A couple of other categories of regrettable titles:

1. Drummer Jason Bonham's album title THE DISREGARD OF TIMEKEEPING would seem to serve as a warning rather than a come-on.

2. Metal has a dumpsterful of stoopid titles, such as Raven's ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP, Saxon's UNLEASH THE BEAST and Heavy Pettin's ROCK AINT DEAD and I don't know how many IN YOUR FACEs and LET IT ROLLs, then also mindless mouthfuls like Mythological Cold Towers' SPHERE OF NEBADDON: THE DAWN OF A DYING TYBBERETH. Same old songs about chicks and cars, that last one.

And of course a related thread could be awful band names...Kick Axe...Charging Tyrannosaurus of Despair....

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

How can something that's dying have a dawn... oh, never mind.

Do you actually own, or have you at least seen, any Charging Tyrannosaurus of Despair albums? It's such a classic bad name that one suspects it of being a prank.

The problem with listing bad names is that there are zillions of them. One interesting way to narrow the field is to rate inverse correlation between quality of name and quality of band. The Beatles score very high on this scale, but I can think of a couple that beat them: Swimming Pool Q's (in the running for worst name ever, and they've made at least one brilliant album) and Art Bears (as you know, I love these guys, but... damn).

There must be some bands with great names but terrible music, but none are coming to mind. The 4 Skins, maybe, for certain values of great?

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Todd T said...

It is said that we begin dying as soon as we are born, and although I don't know whether this is medically true, perhaps on some philosophical plane the Towers are on to something. Nah.

I do not own nor have I seen any CToD albums. I Googled, and found this link:

in which it is claimed that it was a rejected name, so maybe shouldn't count. The post does remind me though of the godawful And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Our Dead.

Doesn't "art bear" have some relevant meaning that I can't recall now? It does cause me to wonder what it is that art must bear, but I guess that's not what they were after. SPQs does indeed scratch my eight ball. I will ponder the good name/bad music matter.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

A new entry rising up the charts: David Hollister's THE BOOK OF DAVID: VOL. 1 THE TRANSITION. Could go to number one on this list with a bullet. I volunteer to fire the bullet. Comparing with the Jill Scott album that you identified, I sense a frightening trend.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Todd T said...

Returning to band names for a moment, apparently Van Der Graaf Generator was the group's fallback monicker, after considering but rejecting Zeiss Manifold and the Shrieking Plasma Exudation.


At 11:25 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

Please tell me he doesn't cover Psalm 23 on that suckah.

I am frightened to realize that Van Der Graaf Generator was, in fact, the best name in play.

At 10:14 PM, Blogger flasshe said...

Hey Tim! You've been tagged.

At 11:14 PM, Blogger Tim Walters said...

Cool. I'll try to think of six weird things about myself that I'm willing to mention in public.


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