I like it when songwriters don't choose an obvious title for their songs. I mean, Phil Collins repeats "One More Night" more than 30 times in the song whose title is, obviously, "One More Night". That doesn't happen here at all. Some of these titles are so obscure that nobody, but the songwriter, knows what is the connection between the lyrics and the titles, if any at all... These are my top 20 songs with titles that are not part of the lyrics.
1. Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
Freddie Mercury wrote most of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at his home in Holland Road, Kensington, in west London. Music scholar Sheila Whiteley suggests that "the title draws strongly on contemporary rock ideology, the individualism of the bohemian artists' world, with rhapsody affirming the romantic ideals of art rock." Commenting on bohemianism, Judith Peraino said that "Mercury intended... [this song] to be a 'mock opera,' something outside the norm of rock songs, and it does follow a certain operatic logic: choruses of multi-tracked voices alternate with arialike solos, the emotions are excessive, the plot confusing."
2. The Beatles - A Day in the Life
The Beatles started this with the working title "In The Life of..." The beginning of this song was based on 2 stories John Lennon read in the Daily Mail newspaper: Guinness heir Tara Browne dying when he smashed his lotus into a parked van, and an article in the UK Daily Express in early 1967 which told of how the Blackburn Roads Surveyor had counted 4000 holes in the roads of Blackburn and commented that the volume of material needed to fill them in was enough to fill the Albert Hall. Lennon took some liberties with the Tara Browne story - he changed it so he "Blew his mind out in the car."
3. Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Kurt Cobain came up with the song's title when his friend Kathleen Hanna, at the time the lead singer of the Riot Grrrl punk band Bikini Kill, spray painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his wall. Since they had been discussing anarchism, punk rock, and similar topics, Cobain interpreted the slogan as having a revolutionary meaning. What Hanna actually meant, however, was that Cobain smelled like the deodorant Teen Spirit, which his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail wore. Cobain later claimed that he was unaware that it was a brand of deodorant until months after the single was released.
4. The Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil
"Sympathy for the Devil" was written by singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, though the song was largely a Jagger composition. The working title of the song was "The Devil Is My Name", and it is sung by Jagger as a first-person narrative from the point of view of Lucifer.
5. David Bowie - Space Oddity
Released to coincide with the first moon landing, "Space Oddity" tells the story of Major Tom whose space adventure ends in tragedy as he floats away from the spaceship. Bowie's creation of Major Tom was certainly influenced by Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Bowie is said to have written his song shortly after seeing the movie. "Space Oddity" obviously is a pun on "Space Odyssey."
6. Led Zeppelin - D'yer Mak'er
This song was meant to imitate reggae and its "dub" derivative emerging from Jamaica in the early 1970s. Its genesis is traced to Led Zeppelin's rehearsals at Stargroves in 1972, when drummer John Bonham started with a beat similar to 1950s doo-wop, and then twisted it into a slight off beat tempo, upon which a reggae influence emerged. The title of the song is intended to be pronounced in a British non-rhotic accent as "Jamaica", /dʒəˈmeɪkə/)
7. Black Sabbath - Paranoid
The song was originally titled "The Paranoid" by Geezer Butler. "I wrote the lyrics and Ozzy just read them as he was singing it," he says. The antisocial nature of the words didn't hinder the song's popularity in the slightest. In fact, the honesty in downer lines like "I tell you to enjoy life/I wish I could but it's too late" seemed to appeal to disenchanted youth of the early '70s. "In actual fact the Paranoid album was going to be called War Pigs," recalls Ozzy, "and then we wrote 'Paranoid' at the very last minute. I mean, if you look at the album sleeve, it's got a guy in a pink leotard and a shield and a sword. That was supposed to represent the War Pig. A pink pig. They printed the album sleeve and changed it to Paranoid at the very last minute."
8. Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Karn Evil 9
This is ELP's most popular song from their most popular album. The song is most commonly interpreted as ELP's take on a shortened history of the world into a futuristic tale. The First Impression begins on the "Cold and misty morning" of the Earth's birth, through the ice age ("Where the seeds have withered, silent faces in the cold"), and to man's growing lust for money ("Now their faces captured in the lenses of the jackals for gold"), which leads to various wars. Afterwards, the world is described as a carnival, wherein various elements of humanity are reduced to circus sideshows ("A bomb inside a car," "Pull Jesus from a hat"), representing the human race's growing selfishness and indifference toward others. Even human misery is described as a "specialty" in the "show." The second part of the First Impression focuses on the growing artificialization of the world, describing something as natural as "A real blade of grass" as some bizarre circus attraction. Despite the fact that the world is becoming more and more consumed by artificiality and given control to computers (see Third Impression), the human race insists that it is still in control, as it created all that the "Carnival" encompasses ("We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown were exclusively our own."). The title is a pun on the word "Carnival".
9. John Denver - Annie's Song
"Annie's Song" was written as an ode to Denver's then-wife, Annie Denver (née Martell). Denver "wrote this song in about ten-and-a-half minutes one day on a ski lift" to the top of Bell Mountain in Aspen, Colorado, as the physical exhilaration of having "just skied down a very difficult run" and the feeling of total immersion in the beauty of the colors and sounds that filled all senses inspired him to think about his wife.
10. The Goo Goo Dolls - Iris
The Goo Goo Dolls were asked to write a song specifically for the City of Angels (1998) soundtrack. John Rzeznik, the lead singer and songwriter for the band, had been suffering from writer's block for several years. However, this was the challenge he needed. After seeing the City of Angels, he sat down and wrote the song Iris in one hour. As for the song's name, many thought it was named after Greek messenger of the gods, Iris. But the name "Iris" was inspired by a Country singer named Iris DeMent, whose name Rzeznik came across while reading a magazine. John said he just thought Iris was a nice name so he chose it for the title.
11. Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues
While Dylan was not a member of the original Beat circles of the 1950s, Kerouac's The Subterraneans, a novel published in 1958 about the Beats, has been cited as a possible inspiration for the song's title. Stretching further back, the title alludes to Notes from Underground, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose works were popular with Beat writers such as Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
12. Led Zeppelin - Black Dog
The song's title is a reference to a nameless black Labrador retriever that wandered around the Headley Grange studios where Led Zeppelin was recording its 4th album. The dog has nothing to do with the song lyrics, which are about desperate desire for a woman's love and the happiness resulting thereby.
13. The Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody
"Unchained Melody" is a 1955 popular song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. Rerecorded in 1965, it became one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, by some counts having spawned over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages. In 1955, North used the music as a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained, hence the name. Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. Les Baxter (Capitol Records catalog number 3055), released an instrumental version which reached #2. Then song recordings were released by Al Hibbler (Decca Records #29441) reaching #3 on the Billboard charts, Jimmy Young which hit #1 on the British charts, and Roy Hamilton (Epic Records no. 9102) reaching #1 on the R&B Best Sellers list and #6 on the pop chart. Hundreds of other recordings followed. It was the July 1965 version by The Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard for the late 20th century, regaining massive popularity when used in the 1990 blockbuster film Ghost.
14. Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth
While the song has come to symbolize worldwide turbulence and confrontational feelings arising from events during the 1960s (particularly the Vietnam War), Stills reportedly wrote the song in reaction to escalating unrest between law enforcement and young club-goers related to the closing of Pandora's Box, a club on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. The song's title appears nowhere in its lyrics; it is more easily remembered by the first line of chorus: "Stop, children, what's that sound? Everybody look what's going down." Stills said in an interview that the name of the song came about when he presented it to the record company executive Ahmet Ertegun who signed the Buffalo Springfield to the Atlantic Records owned ATCO label. He said: "I have this song here, for what it's worth, if you want it." Later they decided that should be its name.
15. Green Day - Basket Case
The song was written by front man Billie Joe Armstrong about his struggle with anxiety; before he was diagnosed with a panic disorder, he thought he was going crazy. Billie Joe once commented that "The only way I knew how to deal with it was to write a song about it.
16. Butthole Surfers - Pepper
The relationship between the lyrics and title is not made clear, nor is the exact connection between the different types of piqued awareness presented in the different sections. All in all, the song involves people committing suicide, trying to commit suicide, and overall carnage. It basically says life is shitty and overwhelming for some people, which recounted the somewhat sordid stories of several high school students in Texas. The lyrics of the verses list ten characters and describes how each either dies or escapes a brush with death. Each incident, whether brought about by idiotic recklessness or meaningless bad luck, finds the victim romanced or invigorated by facing death.
17. Panic! At The Disco - I Write Sins, Not Tragedies
The title of the song refers to Douglas Coupland's novel Shampoo Planet, wherein the main character, Tyler Johnson, says: "I am writing a list of tragic character flaws on my dollar bills with a felt pen. I am thinking of the people in my universe and distilling for each of these people the one flaw in their character that will be their downfall--the flaw that will be their undoing. What I write are not sins; I write tragedies." It can also be noted that the song lyrics are not related to the title of the song, although they can be applied to the music video.
18. Smashing Pumpkins - Bullet with Butterfly Wings
The title is derived from the classic Ray Bradbury short story, "The Sound of Thunder." Life is like a bullet and you're steering it with butterfly wings. According to singer/songwriter Billy Corgans: "The simplest way that I can understand therapy is that we're born a certain way, we're taught to be something different, and we spend our whole lives trying to unravel it and ultimately align ourselves with who we really are. So the bullet represents what people are pushing you to be, and the butterfly wings are you trying to become who you really are. so he's trying to say its not easy to be yourself in this world."
19. Savage Garden - Affirmation
"Affirmation" is a song by Savage Garden. It is the second single of the album of the same name. The lyrics are a series of statements each starting with "I Believe" for instance the "I believe you can't control or choose your Sexuality" or "I believe that trust is more important than monogamy".
20. System of a Down - Chop Suey
Chop Suey is a Chinese stew made with meat or fish, plus bamboo sprouts, onions, rice and water chestnuts. They used it for the name of the song because it describes their musical style, with lots of stuff thrown together. Suey-cide! In an interview, Daron Malakian explained, "the song is about how we are regarded differently depending on how we pass. Everyone deserves to die. Like, if I were now to die from a drug abuse, they might say I deserved it because I abused dangerous drugs. Hence the line, "I cry when angels deserve to die." The lyric "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" is a reference to Jesus' death on the cross, as, according to the Gospels, it was one of the seven things Jesus said while dying."