By Ben Goldstein
Like many misinformed rock fans, I used to think that “Baba O’Riley” by The Who was called “Teenage Wasteland.” It’s an honest mistake, considering that the phrase teenage wasteland appears five times in the song, while the name Baba O’Riley shows up exactly zero times. Apparently, the name is a tribute to spiritualist Meher Baba and composer Terry Riley, who were both influences on Pete Townshend during the song’s creation. Yep. The band definitely over-thought that one.
So as a public-service, I decided to round up some more classic songs with bizarre, non-sensical, and illogical titles, and share the meanings behind them — and what they should have been called all along. Let’s begin…
“RAINY DAY WOMEN ♯12 & 35,” by BOB DYLAN
Why it’s called that: According to this totally-reputable Internet page, “A woman and her daughter came into the recording studio out of the rain. Dylan guessed their ages correctly as 12 and 35.” Obviously, that incident has nothing to do with the meaning of the song; maybe Bob Dylan just didn’t feel comfortable releasing a tune with “stoned” in the title. Still, it should be pointed out that “Rainy Day Women” is really about persecution, not sparking up — it’s a double-entendre sort of thing, dude.
What it should be called: “Everybody Must Get Stoned.” That’s a no-brainer. Speaking of which…
“BRAIN DAMAGE,” by PINK FLOYD
Why it’s called that: “Brain Damage” is a song about Syd Barrett‘s mental instability, and there’s a pretty straightforward lobotomy-reference in the third verse. (“You raise the blade, you make the change / You re-arrange me ’till I’m sane.”) The phrase “brain damage” doesn’t appear in the song, however, which is pretty damn confusing.
What it should be called instead: “The Dark Side of the Moon,” obviously. That line is clearly the biggest moment of the song, and gave the legendary album its title. Apparently, “The Dark Side of the Moon” was Roger Waters’s original title for this song, then it was changed to “Lunatic,” then it was changed to “Brain Damage.” My only guess is that the band didn’t want the song and the album to have the same name.
“ORINOCO FLOW,” by ENYA
Why it’s called that: The song was recorded in 1988 at Orinoco Studios in London, which is itself named for a South American river. The phrase “Orinoco flow” appears once in the song. The phrase “sail away” is repeated exactly 5,368 times. I guess Enya thought she was being cute or something.
What it should be called instead: Oh jeez, I don’t know, “Sail Away,” maybe??
“THE WEIGHT,” by THE BAND
Why it’s called that: As Robbie Robertson explained, this song is basically about a weary traveler who is weighted down by obligations and people asking him for favors while he’s on a trip. That’s the “weight” in the song, and Robertson probably felt that “The Weight” was a better title than “Take a Load Off,” even though the word “weight” is never mentioned in the song. And he’d be right. However…
What it should be called instead: “Take a Load Off, Fanny.” Did you think they were singing “Take a load off, Annie”? Yeah, me too. Everybody does. But apparently, that’s not the case. Putting the actual name in the title would have cleared up that confusion from the start.
“THE FLAME,” by CHEAP TRICK
Why it’s called that: As Robin Zander sings at the end of the song’s chorus, “After the fire, after all the rain, I will be the flame.” Basically, the song is about a love that stays burning, and “the flame” must have seemed like the most important phrase of the song to the guys who wrote it.
What it should be called instead: “Wherever You Go, I’ll Be With You.” After all, that’s the only line that people remember from this one.
“THREE LITTLE BIRDS,” by BOB MARLEY
Why it’s called that: Like “The Flame,” “Three Little Birds” is named for a repeated phrase in the song that defines its theme — in this case, the sight and sound of morning birds putting the singer in a good-ass mood. But that’s just not the lyrical hook that sticks out.
What it should be called instead: “Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright”
“POSSOM KINGDOM,” by THE TOADIES
Why it’s called that: There’s a lake in North Texas called Possom Kingdom that had some eerie legends attached to it, and inspired Toadies lead singer Vaden Todd Lewis to write this song.
What it should be called instead: Huh. This is kind of a tough one. As left-field as “Possom Kingdom” is as a title, what else would you call this song? “Do You Wanna Die”? “So Help Me Jesus”? “Give It Up to Me”? “I Will Treat You Well”? Those are all terrible names. Okay, maybe the band got it right this time.
“BLACK DOG,” by LED ZEPPELIN
Why it’s called that: Another non-sequitur — “Black Dog” was named for a black lab that wandered around the recording studio while this song was being recorded. And maybe the band realized that the guitar effects in the very beginning of the song sound like a dog panting.
What it should be called instead: “Hey Hey Mama.” Keep it simple, yo.
“GOOD RIDDANCE (TIME OF YOUR LIFE),” by GREEN DAY
Why it’s called that: The phrase “Good Riddance” reflects the bitterness that actually forms the core of this song, which is basically about being left by someone you love. That little hint in the title seemed to fly over everyone’s heads, and the song has been used at high school graduations and bittersweet TV finales ever since.
What it should be called instead: ”(This Is Not Supposed to Be a Sweet Song, You Dummies) Time of Your Life”
In both cases, the real titles mean nothing, or next to nothing. But considering that the lyrics in both of these songs are an impenetrable string of unrelated phrases, an arbitrary title makes about as much sense as anything else.