Many very good and very successful songs have already stood out from the crowd by their title. Until a few decades ago, there was even a principle that the title and the first line were the most important parts of a song. In the meantime, the focus has clearly shifted to the hook line in the chorus. Nevertheless, even a good title can put us on the right track. It can inspire us and be the first step on the basis of which a song is created. In this article, we at Allihoopa.com will look at seven strategies by means of which we can find a potentially good title. And if you want to read more good songwriting tips, you can find more articles worth reading in our Songwriting category!
Titles of books and films
Using book and movie titles can be a fantastic starting point for your own song. You don’t have to have read the book to use its title to get your own interesting song ideas. Get inspired and discover your own stories that don’t have to have anything to do with the original story at all. Sometimes it’s enough to read the blurb to know what the book is about. Sometimes just looking at the title is enough. Reviews can also be used as a source of inspiration. Bestselling books usually have a story that captured and inspired a large part of the population. These are exactly the kind of stories we look for in our songs.
So why not take a look in your own library or on the shelves of your local bookseller? Just look for books whose titles immediately appeal to you emotionally and which are on the bestseller lists. What comes to mind about the titles? If you don’t get it right away, you can also read the blurb and see if the story captures you. If this is the case, think about how you could package such a story in a song. Try it right away and increase your song portfolio with two or three songs based on well-known books or films.
Day, month or season
Using a day, month or season in a track can also add to its uniqueness.
Everyone is familiar with the days of the week and associates them with similar concepts. “Thank God It’s Friday” has a clear message and for very few people in our society Friday will have a negative connotation. Mondays, for example, are a different matter. Here, too, the thoughts of the masses can be expressed in a message, as Bob Geldof’s song: “I don’t like Mondays” clearly proves.
The same game with months. Months can be connected with emotions and situations in an exemplary way: January is the dawn of a new year; things change, things begin, resolutions are made, kept and broken. So a song whose story is about how good resolutions are broken would fit perfectly with the month of January, for example. “Two Weeks Slim In January” or “January Broke Bad Habits”. Both fictional titles, the first a little more cryptic, the second a little more direct. And immediately it becomes clear how quickly a song story can be deduced from the title. “Two Weeks Slim In January” just screams to tell the story of someone who tried to lose weight and then gave up after two weeks. The first verse could be about how big the temptations were and the second then in a humorous twist how the good resolution was finally broken. Wrap it all up in a rather upbeat uptempo song and you have a song that would certainly get a hearing around the turn of the year, as many could identify with what was said (and some might also use it as a welcome excuse to break their good resolution straight away).
February is cold – but also the month of the leap year. Setting a story on 29 February could be an interesting approach here. Appropriate title: “I Met Her In A Leap Year”. Or simply: “29th of February”.
March is usually the beginning of spring, but it is often still fresh and cool. The first flowers sprout. A tentative beginning and the setting for everything that thaws, blossoms and melts away. First love? The beauty of nature? Appropriate titles: “Love Letters in March” or “My Heart Thawed In March” and so on.
April does what it wants. Interesting stories can also be found about this month. For example, can you think of something or someone who “does what he/she wants”? Unpredictability, unpredictability etc. are ideal for this month.
May is the month of the blissful season. Here courtship and falling in love find their perfect home. Life takes off, the world blossoms. “May I Love You In May?” (“May I Love You In May?”), “May Day May Begin” (“May Day May Begin” – additional pun on the word “Mayday”, a well-known call for help) are some puns with the word “May”.
June and July are all about the immediate summer. Transience is still absent, no thought is yet given to the fact that summer could ever be over. The high time of the year. Appropriate titles: “Hot In June”, “Sun In July” and the like.
In August, the summer is at its peak. Its end is in sight. Despite the warmth and the still pulsating life, there is room for a little melancholy. Who doesn’t think of faraway holiday countries and lost holiday acquaintances when they think of August? “I Met You In August” or “Our August Skin”.
September is still warm, while October is already clearly autumnal. Time for transience, golden sun, leaves, cosiness. Compared to November, a warm wistfulness, not yet completely extinguished. A look back with a smile on the lips. “The Golden Leaves Of October”, “I Remember You In October” are just a few examples of possible titles.
November is a cold month, here things freeze, things break apart. Here trees are bare. Here autumn storms rage. “November On My Mind” (“November in my head/November on my soul”) or the old familiar “November Rain” (“November Regen”).
December is then the month of snow, Advent, reflection, charity, Christmas and the New Year. Full of confidence, human closeness and love – but also commerce. “A Warm Feeling in December” etc.
We have seen how with each month and season a connection can be made to the emotions. Autumn shows transience, spring shows the budding (of plants as well as feelings), summer is about celebrating and enjoying life. And in winter it is frosty; inside as well as outside. Except for December, because here Christmas and Advent provide a warmth that comes from within.
Some well-known songs that have days, months or seasons in the title:
- Monday, Monday
- Ruby Tuesday
- Autumn Leaves
- See You in September
- Saturday Night Fever
- Summer Skin
Also popular is the approach of including numbers in the title. A number always gives a title something concrete. There is really not much more to say about this.
Some songs that have numbers in the title:
- 20,000 Miles Over the Sea
- 100 Miles
- Three Times a Lady
- 17 years, blonde hair
Places promise quick access to people’s emotions. Imagine, for example, that you are lying on the beach, feeling the sand beneath your feet, feeling the gentle breeze coming warmly from the sea across your skin, making the hot rays of the sun on your skin more bearable. Your eyes are closed. You hear other people: children playing, adults talking to each other. The waves breaking and a beach vendor loudly hawking his wares.
Everyone who has spent a holiday on a beach in a warm country probably knows this place. And everyone associates it with different memories and emotions. The family holiday when you were little. Or the first holiday you spent there alone or with your girlfriend/boyfriend. Maybe you have different memories of different places. All this depends on the different experiences of the individual.
Nevertheless, just by presenting them, as done above, access to these memories can be created. So if we tell the story of a lost summer love in our song and begin our narrative with a description of a beach scene, we have already drawn most listeners into our song. Not every listener is on the same beach in their imagination. And almost certainly none of the listeners are on the beach we had in mind as songwriters. Nevertheless, everyone is on a beach. Yes, it is even the case that everyone is on his beach. The beach that his brain associates with the scenery.
The difference between films and books works in a similar way. If you read a book and then watch the film, in most cases you are disappointed. Because a person’s imagination creates much more beautiful scenes; namely those that perfectly match one’s own experiences and knowledge.
So when Max Herre describes the scene of a sudden downpour under a canopy in his song A.N.N.A., he certainly has a different canopy in mind than you do. Nevertheless, you have seen a canopy before and have certainly been surprised by a summer rain. So there is a good chance that you would be disappointed if you saw the canopy (or Anna) that Max Herre is talking about. The scenery exists in your imagination.
As a concrete exercise, it is recommended that you make a short list in which you write down places that are associated with a certain emotional colouring.
- A hospital,
- an outdoor swimming pool,
- a playground,
- the school,
- the university,
- the amusement park,
- the roller coaster,
For example, what emotional colourings are associated with the places mentioned here?
Well, in a hospital, life is brought into the world. Likewise, dying takes place in a hospital. So the emotional colouring could well be positive as well as negative.
Let’s take the open-air swimming pool: here, too, almost everyone can immediately connect emotionally with the situation. Think of popsicles, children screaming, lifeguards whistling, swimming without water wings for the first time, etc.
School: everyone has been there before and can therefore identify with it. Emotional colouring? Pressure to perform. But perhaps also classmates, first love, security, freedom from worries and the like.
The roller coaster: tension, ups and downs (like life), adrenaline, fear, overcoming fear – and so on.
You can add to this list whenever you are bored or a special place comes into your head. Let’s say you are sitting on a train. Just add this place to your list and think about what emotional colouring is associated with it. Travellers, commuters, the conductor, fare dodgers, not getting a seat, making room for an elderly person – etc. You will quickly have a handy list ready that can help you later to find a suitable place for the action of your song.
Conversely, you can also use this list to infer the story from the emotional level of a song. So let’s say you wrote a rather sad song, after consulting your list, you could place it in a hospital, for example, or refer to the “down” of the roller coaster, from the emotional colouring.
Names are also a great way to make a song title very specific and get the songwriting process going when the creative “mojo” isn’t bubbling at times. On the one hand, using a name makes it possible to recognise the song title quickly. On the other hand, a name also contributes to personification. The nameless protagonist, therefore, gets more personality through his name. The listener imagines something when the story is told. It does not matter whether it is a man’s or a woman’s name. Nor does it matter whether the person the song is about belongs to a positive or a negative character/behaviour spectrum. Names, however, can also give the protagonist a colouring. For example, names like “Hildrud”, “Kunigunde”, “Albrecht” or “Klaus-Peter” are visualised by the majority of listeners as a different group of people than names like “Thomas”, “Manuel”, “Sarah” or “Steffi”. And of course this also applies to names like “Chantal” or “Kevin” – and names like “Zora” or “Peggy”. You think these are stupid and superficial prejudices? Then you’ve hit the nail on the head. Because there is really no basis for inferring age, abilities or even intelligence from a name. Nevertheless, human beings are prejudiced creatures.
Think of “Roxanne”, who no longer has to prostitute herself. Or “A Boy Named Sue”, whose story revolves around how a man named “Sue” wants to take revenge on his father for leaving him alone when he was three years old and whose only contribution was the idea for the (actually rather feminine) name “Sue”.
So pick a name and think of a story about that person. Another approach would be to simply search for personalities on Wikipedia or to take personalities from novels and books and put their stories (perhaps somewhat shortened and dramatised) into a song.
Some songs that have names in the title:
- Sweet Georgia Brown
- Eleanor Rigby
- Cotton Eye Joe
- Richard Cory
Colours can make words and situations more intense. For example, a “blue sky” or a “grey sky” is significantly more vivid than just a “sky”.
Colours can also express certain emotions or secondary meanings. The colour white, for example, is usually associated with innocence and purity, the colour black with darkness or uncertainty. The colour red usually stands for passion, love, energy. Blue is a calming colour, while green, as the colour of nature, comes across as particularly fresh.
So, for example, what is the connection between the colour and the well-known song title “The Lady in Red”? Well, the story is about how the protagonist will never forget how beautiful the Lady in Red looked that night. The song closes with the last line: “I love you”. Whether the story really happened and the lady happened to be wearing a red dress is not known. However, it seems reasonable to assume that the red colour is also associated with love and passion.
The well-known song title: “Black Or White” is about the fact that it makes no difference whether you are black or white. However, the choice of colours alone, black and white, represents an additional contrast, regardless of skin colour. Black is at the other end of the scale compared to white. This fact highlights the great divide associated with the issue in terms of discrimination and prejudice.
In order to successfully integrate colours into your titles, it is advisable to carry out the following exercise and walk through the world for a slightly longer period of time with eyes that are specifically opened to the topic of colours. If you go for a walk in the park, you should always pay attention to all the colours. The thoughts that should go through your mind are, for example:
- I see a dark green meadow under a light blue sky with individual juicy green deciduous trees. Single, white clouds are in the sky. The man coming towards me is wearing dark blue jeans and a white T-shirt…
- I see yellow-red leaves blown by the wind from a tree and then left on the grey asphalt or maybe in a brown mud puddle…
If you do such exercises regularly, you will quickly develop a sense of how, just by adding a colour, you can give a word a special imprint – literally a colouring.
Some titles that have colours in them:
- Nights in White Satin
- Yellow Submarine
- Red, red wine
“It’s been a Hard Day’s Night”, “20,000 leagues above the sea” (instead of under the sea after Jules Vernes) are just two examples of songs whose titles play with words.
For example, use two opposite words in a song title that still make sense. Examples: “No, I say yes!” or “I hate loving you”. A particularly original title is one that Elvis sang (written by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers) which is “I forgot to remember to forget”. Such titles stick in the mind.
But opposites are not the only puns. With some words, for example, you can achieve a completely different meaning by omitting or adding a letter (“Total im (R)eimer”). The same applies to rhymes. If you then find a proverb that many people are familiar with and replace one of the words with the changed word, you have a very original song title and a good basis for a story. Guess what” could become “(B)guess what” or “(Be)guess what”. He who does not honour the penny is not worth the thaler” could become “He who does not honour the band is not worth the hangover”. Surely, after some thought, you will be able to form original song titles from well-known proverbs.
Of course, this also works independently of rhymes or added letters – simply by changing a recognised proverb or saying. Examples: “Love at second sight”, “Dogs that bark also bite”, etc.
A good title is exceptional, makes you want to know more and stands out from the conventional phrasemongering. Good titles can therefore give us great ideas for the story of our song. Just try it out and try each of the seven strategies we have just learned. You’ll probably be amazed at how much better the results are when you really sit down and put a bit of planning into it. Be sure to check out the other articles in our extensive Songwriting category. You won’t be disappointed.