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What’s Your Name?

What’s Your Name?

Women have inspired most of the popular songs we listen to. Many popular songs have female names in their titles. So many that I have chosen to go alphabetically.

Amelia My two favorite songs on Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album have women’s names in their titles. Both “Song for Sharon” and “Amelia” are long, mesmerizing songs. The hypnotic music groove supplied by Joni’s guitar provides the perfect bed for the provocative lyrics. (Joni Mitchell is not only one of the best lyricists, but is also among the best guitarists in pop-rock music history.)

Joni's Hejira

Joni’s Hejira

“Amelia” is Amelia Earhart. Joni Mitchell has said that the song uses the aviator and her driven quest to represent her own overriding need to travel and perform music, to the disruption of family and relationships and a normal life. It’s a repetitive song that I never tire of. And we get to hear Ms. Mitchell’s Canadian r at the end of every verse as she sings “Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”

Bernadette The Four Tops had a string of powerful hits featuring lead vocalist Levi Stubbs. My favorites have always been their number ones, “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and “I Can’t Help Myself.” But just a notch below is their wonderful “Bernadette.” It’s a hard-driving number, like “Reach Out,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” and others that made these Motown stars second only to The Beach Boys as American hit-makers of the era.

I should also mention the Looking Glass hit “Brandy”—not because it’s a favorite, but because it’s the song my Sweetie asserts is her least favorite song of all time (with the exception of anything by Joni Mitchell, including “Amelia”). I had always loved imitating the lead vocal, with its quasi-lounge delivery, but especially liked doing so once I learned of my Sweetie’s annoyance by it. (Alas, I’m not able to do a convincing Join Mitchell impersonation.)

taraf

Carolina I recently made a discovery, upon listening again to the Romanian band Taraf de Haidouk’s 2001 album Band of Gypsies, that one song, “Carolina,” is a remake of a song from across the globe. The song is credited on the album to Gabi Voicila, but it’s actually a revved-up version of a song recorded in Jamaica in 1964 by The Folkes Brothers as “Oh Carolina,” one of the first ska/reggae songs. The original has a nice folky-Caribbean feel, which Shaggy, in 1993, turned into a delightful groove for his first hit. The woman is Caro-lie-na in the Jamaican versions, and Caro-lee-na in the Romanian, but it’s the same song.

Taraf de Haidouks are the quintessential “band of gypsies,” known for their frenetic, exultant workouts that feature violin, flute, impassioned vocals, and, underpinning it all (and occasionally taking a tasty ride) is the cimbalom, the happiest of musical instruments. It’s an Eastern European relative of the hammer dulcimer. It’s kind of like the back-end of an open grand piano, on which the cimbalom player strikes the strings with a mallet. The result is spidery and shimmery and enchanting. With a cimbalom aboard, a song’s lyrics may be sung in a language I don’t understand, and may be about failed crops or the death of a loved one, but the music sounds gleeful, and makes me want to tap, clap, and dance.

A happy cimbalom player

A happy cimbalom player

At any rate, I love Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina.” When subjected to Shaggy’s hits from the early ‘00s (while driving my daughter to school), I’d thought of him as a boring rapper whose verses worsened those mediocre songs that his guest artists sang. But Shaggy’s in control on “Oh Carolina.” I’ve reassessed Shaggy, due to that one song, which tops my running playlist. Groovy!

Fats

Fats

Dinah The great composer, pianist, singer, and raconteur Thomas “Fats” Waller did my favorite version of the 1925 song “Dinah.” It was written by Sam Lewis, Joe Young, and Harry Akst for Ethel Waters to sing in Plantation Revue. Many of my favorite singers recorded it, including The Boswell Sisters, The Mills Brothers, and Cliff Edwards. But Fats is the one I always hear. It’s got the sprightliness that he put across so well, and it seems timeless to me (although you’d be unlikely to hear anyone singing like that now—or singing that song any old way, for that matter).

p floyd

Emily One of Syd Barrett’s psychedelic-pop contributions to Pink Floyd’s repertoire was the loopy and beaty “See Emily Play.” It’s my favorite Pink Floyd song, which may mean I’m not a true Pink Floyd fan.

Honorable Mentions: Amity Great name. “Amity” is probably my favorite Elliott Smith song, though it isn’t really characteristic of his music.

Belle The great Al Green recorded one of his best albums a few years after his incredible string of hits. Belle featured a nice, acoustic guitar-driven title song, a laid-back but still vocally inventive Al entertains.

Caroline “Caroline, No” is the haunting closer of The Beach Boys’ much-praised Pet Sounds album. The album was mostly Brian and his toys, the session musicians he used to get all of those interesting colorations in the songs. The Boys were almost an afterthought. “Caroline, No” is all Brian, and was issued as a Brian Wilson single. The lyrics were by Tony Asher, but it comes from Brian’s heart and soul.

Delia Georgia bluesman Blind Wille McTell sings the sad story of “Little Delia,” accompanied by his twelve-string guitar. Delia gets herself mixed up with some bad “rounders,” especially one Kenny, who shoots her dead and winds up in jail. Sordid stuff, but a nice, bright tune!

Eleanor/ Elenore I must mention Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby,” which blew me away when I first heard it. And then there’s The Turtles’ “Elenore,” with its groovily square lyrics: “Elenore, gee, I think you’re swell.” “You’re my pride and joy, et cetera.” Wonderfully nerdy stuff from the Fluorescent Leech and Eddie.

Dream Jukebox: Shaggy’s “Oh Carolina” is frequently on my iPod playlists of music to run to. When I get my Dream Jukebox, I’ll find the record.

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About themesongsteve

Each of my blog posts focuses on a category and very subjectively winds through some of my favorite music that falls somehow into the category. Not meant to be all-inclusive, by any means, or even to determine “the best.” Just a side trip of anecdotes, factoids, and observations about an eclectic range of music, category by category. I invite readers to contribute their own subjective favorites to each post.

15 responses »

  1. Great theme here and some excellent choices. Special mention must go to Toto (a favorite of mine but often unfairly maligned by many music lovers) for possibly having the most female-named songs in a single catalog, including one mentioned in your post (“Goodbye Elenore”). They also did “Manuela Run,” “Angela,” “Lorraine,” “Rosanna,” “Carmen,” “Holyanna,” “Lea,” “Pamela,” “Anna” and “Melanie.” I’m very pleased that you included the Turtles song “Elenore” here. That’s a personal favorite.

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  2. Nice choices Steve – especially Caroline No & Elanor Rigby.
    Speaking of reactions when you first hear records, I had no idea what to make of Shaggy’s voice when I first heard Oh Carolina!
    From this part of the alphabet I’d also add Denise (Fountains of Wayne) and Allison Road (Gin Blossoms)

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  3. Some fine choices here, Steve. Caroline, No remains one of the finest (and moving) songs I have ever heard, while Amity is worthy of a mention (also one of my favourite Elliot Smith songs)

    I would add Tom Wait’s Alice (from the album of the same name). It’s a haunting yet beautiful track.

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  4. Hey! “Brandy” is one of my favorite cheesy/bad 70s tunes ever! I think I love it because it’s so cheesy. And in that vein, what about the great (and awful) “Mandy”? Name songs had a real Pop/Rock/Country heyday in the 70s and early 80s, most of them terrible in the best kind of ways, so I have kind of a soft spot for them. Thanks for highlighting some name songs that weren’t terrible.

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  5. I have fond memories of “I Dream of Jeannie (with the long brown hair)” and “Bernadine (little bit like every girl I’ve ever seen”–not because of any superior qualities in their composition or presentation, which I am not qualified in the slightest degree to judge, but because they summon pleasant images and experiences from my younger–very younger–days. The first song (by Stephen Foster) I heard for the first time in some movie about Foster that starred my first Hollywood love Jeanne Crain. The second was sung by Pat Boone during the 1950s, and I referred to it when relating in my high school speech class what my ideal future would be, both career-wise and romance-wise. (At least nobody laughed.)

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    • CORRECTIONS: I beg your pardon. There were two errors (that I know of) in my previous comment above:. (1) “Jeannie” should have been spelled with only one “n”; (2) The 1952 “I Dream Of Jeanie” film starred Eileen Christy, not Jeanne Crain. In my mind, I apparently conflated that film with “Cheaper By The Dozen” (1950) in which Jeanne DID star and was a favorite of mine.. Should have Googled that before I babbled. Sorry about that.

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      • No problem–thanks for the song suggestions. I never saw the Foster biopic, but I will check it out. I enjoyed Cheaper by the Dozen, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen that one.

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  6. Pingback: What’s Your Name? (part 3) | Songs on a Theme

  7. Pingback: What’s Your Name? (part 4) | Songs on a Theme

  8. Pingback: Spotlight: Carolina | Songs on a Theme

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