13 (Great) Songs With Parenthetical Titles


When it comes to parenthetical titles — as with just about every other element of songwriting — Bob Dylan is an expert. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is an all-timer; “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” is a classic; “Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)” is a clever co-mingling of the sacred and profane. But this one, from his 1964 album “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” is probably my favorite. I love the way the title switches from second to third person inside the parenthesis, as if he’s turning to the audience in the middle of a conversation and mouthing, “Can you believe her?!” It mimics a similar perspective shift in the song itself, when, in the penultimate verse, Dylan goes from singing about this woman to suddenly singing to her: “If you want me to, I can be just like you,” he sings, “and pretend that we never have touched.” (Listen on YouTube)

Recorded days before his untimely death, the parenthetical prefix of Otis Redding’s enduring swan song not only specifies what he’s doing on the dock of the bay, but it gives that titular setting a human character — eyes through which this languid bayside scene is witnessed. (Listen on YouTube)

When the members of the recently (sort of?) reconciled Talking Heads recorded the instrumental tracks for their 1983 album “Speaking in Tongues,” they gave the demos unofficial titles. But even after David Byrne wrote lyrics to what would become the luminous “This Must Be the Place,” they wanted to honor the track’s original nickname, which expressed both its compositional simplicity and its childlike innocence. (Listen on YouTube)

I’m a big fan of parenthetical song titles that complete an internal rhyme — see also: Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” — and an even bigger fan of this ecstatic tune from Ms. Jackson’s 1989 opus “Rhythm Nation 1814.” That key change gets me every time! (Listen on YouTube)

The members of Radiohead are such fans of parentheses that every single track on their 2003 album “Hail to the Thief” has a subtitle — which is honestly a bit much to keep track of. I prefer this early song from “The Bends,” which has its title entirely encased in parentheses, adding to the song’s liminal, somnambulant feel. (Listen on YouTube)

Off “Bad Moon Rising,” a strange and eerie early Sonic Youth album of which I am quite partial, this ferocious squall of a song finds Kim Gordon meditating on masculinity, turning it inside out with her sly wordplay, and bellowing each lyric with a warrior’s intensity. (Listen on YouTube)


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