A Word on Titles

A look at different types of song titles

Little Orphan Annie sings "Tomorrow" on stage
"Tomorrow" Flickr CC 2.0 by mliu92  

How do songwriters come up with apt and catchy titles for their songs? Some write the lyrics first then decide what title best fits the song; while others start off with a specific title and then build the lyrics from there.

Looking closely at several successful songs, you will notice that often songwriters use either a one-word title or a phrase. Here are some examples:

One-word Titles

  • "Unforgettable" (Nat King Cole)
  • "Crazy" (Patsy Cline)
  • "Desperado" (Eagles)
  • "Yesterday" (Beatles)
  • "Solitaire" (Carpenters)
  • "Burn" (JoDee Messina)
  • "Valentine" (Martina McBride)
  • "Breakaway" (Kelly Clarkson)
  • "Complicated" (Avril Lavigne)
  • "Beautiful" (Christina Aguilera)

Longer Titles

  • "Here There and Everywhere" (Paul McCartney)
  • "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" (Elvis Presley)
  • "Wind Beneath My Wings" (Bette Midler)
  • "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" (Michael Bolton)
  • "Everything I Do, I Do It for You" (Bryan Adams)
  • "When You Say Nothing at All" (Ronan Keating)
  • "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" (Aerosmith)
  • "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (Stevie Wonder)
  • "Love Me For What I Am" (Carpenters)

Types of Song Titles

Titles can be categorized in many different ways; they can answer the question who, where and when, they can be taken from a quotation, a title or line from a book or they can utilize the play of words. Here are some examples:

Who: "Diana" (Paul Anka)

Where: "I Left My Heart In San Francisco" (Tony Bennett)

When: "Tomorrow" (from "Annie")

Quotation: "The Days of Wine and Roses" (Perry Como)

Book Title: "Catch-22" (by Pink based on Joseph Heller's book of the same title)

Play of words: "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (Crystal Gayle)

The different types of titles are as vast as the number of songs that have been written through the years. Look closely at the titles of your favorite songs to see which category it falls under.

Your song title must be strong, fitting and catchy. Why? Because aside from the hook, the title of the song is the first thing that sticks to the mind of the listener. Listen to your favorite radio stations and you'll notice that most callers who phone-in requests remember the titles more than the artist who recorded it.

Of course, not all songs that have strong titles have been successful. It is important, therefore, that your lyric supports your title and that the melody is equally strong.

There are many song titles that have been used several times. "Beautiful" has been used by Smashing Pumpkins, Christina Aguilera, Faith Hill and other artists. Generally, it's okay to use titles that have been used before because song titles aren't copyrighted. But you do want to come up with a more interesting and unique title, especially if you're just starting out.

Where to Get Ideas for Song Titles

  • From your personal experiences
  • From experiences of family and friends
  • From events that you attended such as weddings and anniversaries
  • From places or countries you've visited
  • From reading materials like books, magazines, and newspapers
  • From photographs, paintings, postcards, etc.
  • From tv shows and films