What makes a great song title? Maybe this sounds like a no-brainer. Most titles draw from the song's lyrics, so if the lyrics are good it stands to reason the title is too. But as the number of limp, thoughtless titles appended to otherwise decent tracks attest, this isn't always the case; there's art in the selection.
Some titles get by on sheer cleverness. Almost everything on McLusky's The Difference Between Me and You Is That I'm Not On Fire, for example, qualifies ("Without MSG I Am Nothing," "Your Children Are Waiting For You To Die") as do many of Grandaddy's ("The 'Go' In The Go For It," "Broken Household Appliance National Forest") and Liars' (more than I could list). Other effective titles are extremely simple, but evocative; they mark a song's mood, foretell its effect. Here I'm thinking Massive Attack's intensely physical "Teardop," or Low's alliterative "Weight of Water," which is, in fact, both heavy and fluid.
But what always gets me--and maybe it's my literature background--are titles that imply an unfolding narrative. They're long, conversational, have a direct address and seem to mark the middle of a scene. Instead of saying "this song is about x," they loosely sketch some characters, then invite you to do the work.
These are more random than exhaustive. Feel free to add.
Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before -The Smiths
There's so much interpretive space here. The speaker's the clown in every crowd, the tiresome bore, even the shy girl who has to put a disclaimer in front of everything she says. Then there's the meta aspect, the fact that you have heard this before and because it's such a fantastic song--one of the Smiths' best--you'll hear it many, many times again.
Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything - Superchunk
It's the exasperated end of an argument that's going nowhere and never will. It follows lines like "How many times do I have to tell you?" and "I thought we already decided..."
I Don't Know What I Can Save You From - Kings of Convenience
A guy with a savior complex and his desperate, needy girlfriend. But he's reached his limit. Finally. And she can't believe her ears.
Trying To Tell You I Don't Know - Freedy Johnston
One of the saddest titles of one of the saddest songs (about, as the lyrics go, selling the family farm to feed the band). Suggests profound resignation: wishing you had the answers and could make things right, knowing you're always letting other people down but not being able to do anything about it.
Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Gone - The Walkmen
A dramatic masterpiece of adolescent self pity. Said just prior to moving to Brooklyn and forming a band.
Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl - The Barbarians
More ha ha than anything, but there's historical context. Spoken by a scandalized suburbanite in 1965 to his long-haired, Beatles-mad son. Anticipates decades of even greater gender confusion.
Strangeways, Here We Come, The Smiths (US, UK)
Foolish, Superchunk (US, UK)
Quiet Is the New Loud, Kings of Convenience (US, UK)
Can You Fly, Freedy Johnston (US, UK)
Everyone Who Pretended To Like Me Is Dead, The Walkmen (US, UK)
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era (US)