Just for fun, I decided to look up as many songs as I could think of that had just a person’s name as their title. And it had to just be a person’s name: songs like Little Willy didn’t count, because Willy’s real name doesn’t include “Little”. A first name is sufficient, but first name followed by initial or last name is also acceptable.
Not surprisingly, there are more songs about women than men. I only know of three songs with a man’s name as the title:
- Pink Floyd’s Arnold Layne is about a man who liked to steal women’s clothing from washing lines. The link is to a home-movie style promotional video; it’s pretty cool.
- Peggy Scott-Adams’ Bill is a blues in 6/8 time about a woman who discovers her man is having a fling with his male best friend. (This is no relation to Jim Stafford’s 1974 hit My Girl Bill, which I could stand listening to for only 11 seconds.)
- Donnie, which was a 1964 hit for The Bermudas, a group of teenage sisters. It feels like it’s from a much earlier era than Beatlemania, even though the two happened at the same time.
So that’s all the men. Now, the women:
- Alison, which is not one of my favourite Elvis Costello songs, but is very well known. Linda Ronstadt also covered this, which I liked even less, but hey, whatever. There’s also a completely different Alison by Slowdive, which is okay if you like Slowdive (I do).
- Barbara Ann by the Regents (covered by the Beach Boys), which every human in the English-speaking world has probably heard by now. (Ba-ba-ba!) The only person I can think of named Barbara Ann is former Canadian skating gold medallist Barbara Ann Scott. No one can be named Barbara Ann ever again, or they’ll be followed around by that song for their entire life.
- Beth, which stands out like a sore thumb on Kiss’s Destroyer album, as it’s a quiet song with a piano and stuff, instead of sounding like Kiss. I listened to this a lot when I was a teenager, but I find it unlistenable now – I hit Pause after only one second.
- Brandy, by Scott English. It’s a bit over the top, but not anywhere near as bad as Barry Manilow’s cover version, Mandy, which is, you know, Barry Manilow – either you like him or you really really don’t. (Manilow changed Brandy to Mandy so that listeners would not confuse this song with Brandy, You’re A Fine Girl. The more you know!)
- Carrie Anne, which the Hollies apparently wrote about Marianne Faithfull. Which makes it seem less creepy, since Ms. Faithfull was an adult, not a schoolgirl. The harmonies are irresistible.
- Christine by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I don’t have much to say about this, other than that there is only one person in the world named Siouxsie, as far as I know. I don’t think there could be any others. (There are a lot of people named Christine.)
- Clair, by the cheerfully eccentric Gilbert O’Sullivan. I don’t think there can ever be a time like the early 1970s ever again in music – record labels and radio stations now do a lot of profile demographics and focus group testing, and tend to focus on a few proven hitmakers, which means that cheerfully eccentric people don’t get to record any more. That’s both good and bad. I’m glad a song like this exists, but I could only listen to 16 seconds of it.
- Diana by Paul Anka. He wrote and recorded this when he was 16. I’m not a huge Paul Anka fan, but wow. The chord sequence for this is just wonderful. I almost forgive him for writing “You’re Having My Baby” (which I will not link to – sorry). Did you know that Anka wrote the theme music for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show? How cool is that?
- Deborah by Dave Edmunds. I love the album that this is on – Tracks On Wax 4 – but this is probably my least favourite song on it. (My most favourite is Trouble Boy.)
- Donna by Richie Valens. At least one member of your extended family has slow danced to this song.
- Now we’re up to the Glorias. There are two. The first is Van Morrison’s version, back when he was with Them. The Shadows of Knight also recorded it and Patti Smith riffed on it. It’s great. G-L-O-R-I-A! The second Gloria was originally recorded in Italian by Umberto Tozzi, and re-recorded in English by Laura Branigan. It’s 1980s synthpop, and it’s not so great, says me. Hey, it’s my blog; I get to make value judgements.
- Jolene, by Dolly Parton and also covered by the White Stripes, is wonderful. You can decide for yourself whether you like Parton’s somewhat more understated countryish original, or whether you want to hear Jack White go over the top. But you should probably listen to at least one of them.
- Layla is by Derek and the Dominos, which is really Eric Clapton and a bunch of other well-known musicians, including Duane Allman on that slide guitar that sounds like it’s swooping down on you from a great height. Wikipedia informs me that this is inspired by a Persian tale of a man hopelessly in love with an unattainable woman. Clapton himself was apparently hopelessly in love with Patti Boyd, who was Mrs. George Harrison at the time. You can hear Clapton’s desperation in his singing, and I guess so could Ms. Boyd – she and Clapton later married. And then divorced. So it goes. (Gruesome rock trivia: this song was co-written by drummer Jim Gordon, who later became schizophrenic and stabbed his mother to death. He’s still in prison.)
- Marianne, which is Stephen Stills singing in what I think is falsetto. This was a hit in 1971.
- Omobalasire, by Prozzäk, which – umlaut and all – is the stage name for two guys from Montreal. The fake British accent is annoying, and the lyrics are very silly, but the music is irresistibly bouncy. Hang on because I’m on my way!
- Polly by Nirvana. This is a song written from the point of view of a man who is holding a woman captive. Only Kurt Cobain could have pulled this off. When I hear those chords, they stick in my brain.
- There is no way you could have gotten out of the 1970s without having Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon imprinted on your brain. It was so prevalent that it went beyond the concept of good or bad – it just was, like the sun rising in the east or everybody wearing pants with flared legs. (Which we did, youngsters, though nobody knows why.)
- Rosanna is by Toto, and apparently is not about Rosanna Arquette, even though Toto’s keyboard player was dating her at the time. So that’s one myth debunked. You probably couldn’t have gotten out of the 1980s without hearing this.
- Roxanne was recorded by The Police back when Sting was still just a lead singer and not yet a global celebrity. Did you know that Sting will turn 64 this year? Don’t you just want to lie down for a while now?
- Sally G is a mostly harmless countryish song recorded by Paul McCartney and Wings. G is an easy initial to rhyme with, as is the Q in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Suzie Q. If they’d wanted a real challenge, they could have recorded “Sally X” or “Suzie W”. But they didn’t, because some things are not worth doing.
- Wendy is a song by the Beach Boys, back when they were singing about girls and cars and surfing and stuff. This isn’t one of my favourite Beach Boys songs, but Brian Wilson is such a good musician that pretty much all of their early stuff sounds great.
- Last but not least, there are the weather girls: in the 1960s, there were hit songs titled Stormy, Sunny, and Windy. I don’t particularly like any of these songs, but it’s cool that all of them exist together. I don’t think people name their children after weather conditions any more, which perhaps is just as well.