Compression in bluegrass titling

Chris JonesI realize that there are musical rays of hope that break through the radio barrier periodically, but I still try to avoid most of the offerings of current pop music, and the same goes for “New Country.” Still, it’s almost impossible to shut this stuff out completely. Somehow it manages to worm its way into our awareness, whether it’s through music that’s piped into a mall somewhere, or because of sitting next to someone in a waiting room who’s got earbuds blaring so loud that it just sounds like you’re listening through someone’s small, cheap speakers. The occasional good song is even discovered this way. This puts you in the awkward position of saying to the person with the loud earbuds: “Excuse me! Could you please rewind that song and turn it up a little (to 11!). I missed that second verse.”

I’m aware enough of today’s biggest pop hits, though, to have noticed something about a lot of them. One quick look through the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 reveals the following songs:

  • Work (Rihanna featuring Drake)
  • Sorry (Justin Bieber)
  • No (Meghan Trainor)
  • Hello (Adele)
  • Stitches (Shawn Mendes)
  • Don’t (Bryson Tiller)

Clearly the one-word song title has taken over the industry. Immediately I thought, is this what’s been holding bluegrass music back from mass market success? Are we being rejected by millions of potential fans of the music because our song titles are too long? The Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban, and Taylor Swift have all proven that it’s not the banjo that’s limiting our potential. The song title theory is certainly worth discussing.

We do have the occasional one-word title in bluegrass music, it’s true, but more often we have titles like, Little Cabin Home on the Hill, Sun’s Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday, and The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn. In one extreme case, some friends of mine in a local bluegrass band were doing an original of theirs called, I Really Liked Her a Lot But Then I Said Something I Shouldn’t Have Said And Now She’s Left Me For a Guy Named Jerry. It was their show-closer.

We’re going to have to shorten these up a little if we have any hope of topping the Billboard pop charts. I would start by suggesting to my friends that they call their song, “Jerry”, or perhaps just “Whoops.”

Looking at the other titles I mentioned, could we not just call Little Cabin Home on the Hill simply “Cabin”? Sun’s Gonna Shine In My Back Door Someday could easily be called “Shine.” The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn could be, you guessed it, “Corn” (I think that’s preferable to “Boy,” or “Hoe,” and it’s definitely better than “Who”).

There already is a “Corn” or “Shine,” you say? This is true, and the one-word title does lead to a lot more duplication, but remember that you can’t copyright a song title, so there’s no need to be concerned. Also, looking on the bright side, if you write a song called “Work,” you might accidentally receive some of Rihanna’s royalties.

While today’s bluegrass music songwriters are busy changing I Loved Grandpa and All The Really Great Stuff He Did to “Grandpa,” can we at least unofficially shorten some of the titles of our great bluegrass standards down to one word, too?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Little Maggie –  “Maggie”
  • Pretty Polly  –  “Polly”  (see how much you can accomplish just by eliminating adjectives?)
  • Footprints in the Snow – “Snow”
  • One Loaf of Bread – “Bread”
  • Banks of the Ohio – “Drown”
  • I’m Using My Bible For a Roadmap – “Roadmap”
  • Pig in a Pen – “Pig” (though here you have a decision to make: if you think the song is about what he has, call it “Pig,” but if it’s more about what he lacks, call it “Girl”)
  • The Fields Have Turned Brown – “Brown”
  • I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby – “Confused”
  • Down in the Willow Garden – “Bloody”
  • John Henry – “Hammer”
  • I’m Sitting On Top of the World – “Peaches”

With apologies to Alan Munde:

  • Uncle Clooney Played the Banjo But Mostly Out of Time – “Mostly”

And finally, with thanks to Rihanna featuring Drake (featuring Jerry Douglas):

  • I’m Working on a Building – “Work”