Sunday, June 2, 2013

The 12 Best Name Songs (That I Can Think of Right Now)

I've always thought I deserved a better song. I mean, my name deserves a better song.

It's not that I don't appreciate that it got one to begin with. Pearl Jam couldn't have picked a better name for the anti-hero of its best-known song, if not its biggest hit (Hot 100 peak: No. 79). Would Nathan have had the same ring? Or Brendan, Ryan or Justin (three of my favorite guy names -- apparently I'm a sucker for ones with two syllables that end in "N")?

Probably not. Though I like to think of them as being gentle and sensitive, incapable of violence of any kind, a guy called Jeremy was the perfect one to go postal in the 1992 grunge classic. If only I loved the song more, if only it was great music to my ears the way "Better Man" is.

Maybe it was the band. As grunge groups go (er, went), Pearl Jam always fell well below Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice in Chains on my list of personal favorites. I'd much rather have been named dropped in the title of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but you take what you get. Few names get a song title all to themselves (as opposed to the moniker of the hero of "Message to Michael" or the heroine of "Tell Laura I Love Her," both of which had to share titular space with other words).

Mine, one of those lucky few (guy names get lucky with far less regularity than girls names, which songwriter Stevie Nicks paid tribute to in "Juliet," "Alice," "Rihannon" and "Sara"), also got a 1919 novel by Sir Hugh Walpole, which my friend Laura found in a vintage book store just in time for my 30th birthday (opening line: "About thirty years ago..."), and a 1973 movie starring Robby Benson that won a Cannes Film Festival award and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Fewer names still get great songs to go along with their titles. Here are the 10 best ones that aren't named after famous people. (See a list of those here that left off Robert Plant's "Helen of Troy," Peter Murphy's "Marlene Dietrich's Favourite Poem," The Who's "Baba O'Riley," Billie Ray Martin's "Oprah's Book" and Rick Springfield's "Bruce," and was compiled well before Daft Punk's "Giorgio by Moroder").

Interestingly, the name at No. 1, shared by at least three great singers (Gaynor, Estefan and Trevi), had previously been used in two rock classics (by Van Morrison and U2), making it perhaps an even bigger name in music than the one right behind it, which was immortalized in the titles of big hits by Starship and Hall and Oates as well as a Bob Dylan album track, and the one at No. 12. Ladies by that name were also serenaded in the titles of great songs by Donald Fagen (written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) and Kenny Rogers (written by Mel Tillis), whose No. 5 name was previously used by Little Richard, Clyde McPhatter and B.B. King's guitar, and later by Waylon Jennings (covering Little Richard) and Prefab Sprout. Poor Jeremy pales a little in comparison.

12. "Ruby" Ray Charles

11. "Alison" Elvis Costello 

10. "Rhiannon" Fleetwood Mac

9. "Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)" Bee Gees

8. "Christine" Siouxsie and the Banshees

7. "Jolene" Dolly Parton

6. "Almaz" Randy Crawford

5. "Lucille" Kenny Rogers

 4. "Valerie" Steve Winwood 

3. "Natacha" Love and Rockets

2. "Sara" Fleetwood Mac

1. "Gloria" Laura Branigan

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