“Record labels want things that people can Google,” Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler recently told ABC News.
This may be one reason why she has become one of the finest contemporary exponents of the captivating, one-word song title. It’s a strategic songwriting approach that has resulted in a stream of distinctive hit songs such as: ‘Diamonds’, ‘Chandelier’, ‘Cannonball’, ‘Titanium’, ‘Unstoppable’, ‘Radioactive’, ‘Breathe’, ‘Invincible’, ‘Sexercize’, and many more.
“I’ll choose lyrical content from a list of concepts I have in my phone, and whenever I think of one, I write it down,” said Sia. “I usually choose a word, one solid concept. So say I’m looking around and I see a chandelier, I think ‘oh, how can I use that?’ … There’s a lot of strategy that goes into it.”
A recent study by Priceonomics confirmed that, in recent years, there has been a steady upward trend in the number of one-word song titles in the Billboard Hot 100. This could be a result of the growing importance of using catchy hashtags on Google, Twitter and other social media to promote artists. The Priceonomics study found that the probability of a one-word title is two and a half times greater today than in the 1960s, and the average number of words per song title has also declined. In the 1960s, less than 10% of hit songs had a one-word title; today the figure is almost 25%.
“There have always been songs with one-word titles, but in the first half of the 20th Century, they were uncommon,” said Dan Kopf of Priceonomics. “If you peek at lists of popular songs from the 1920s and 1930s, you’ll find that one-word song titles are exceedingly rare – hits like Jimmy Dorsey’s ‘Tangerine’ and Billie Holiday’s version of ‘Summertime’ are exceptions.”
He added: “By the 1960s, one-word song titles were more popular, but still unusual, at less than one in ten hits. The growth was relatively gradual from the Sixties to the Nineties, and then accelerated at the turn of the century”
With easy-to-remember song titles becoming increasingly important as a music marketing tool, it’s not surprising that Sia Furler and fellow hit songwriter Bonnie McKee both advocate writing songs from titles. After all, the title is the heart and emotional foundation of any song—a stepping stone to the lyrics in the verses and the chorus.
Once you find a great title, a song can almost write itself—or at least give you the direction that the song should take. It can help you to focus your creativity by encapsulating the message of the song in a simple phrase or (increasingly) just a single word.
“I start with titles a lot because I think if you open your ears and eyes to them they’re everywhere,” said Bonnie McKee (pictured – photo by Justin Higuchi). “They’re on billboards; they’re in conversations when you’re eavesdropping at the grocery store. The world is full of song titles. So I just have a list that I go through.”
She added: “In pop music usually there’s already a track finished, so I can listen to the track and decide does it sound like a sad song or a love song? Is it a party song? What is it? And then I look at my list of titles and kind of find a title that looks the way the track sounds and build the story around that.”
A good title can also dictate the whole architecture of a song—with the words in the title helping to establish the cadence for the rest of the lyrics and thus playing a part in determining the melodic structure.
Sting is another top songwriter who always writes from titles. “I never write the first line of a song first,” he once remarked. “It’s a mistake, because then you have to come up with the second one.”
(Sia Furler photo: Kirk Stauffer)
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