I have often suggested that you can name an instrumental anything. You’re not restricted by lyrical content, and in our music we only occasionally choose titles that reflect a feeling evoked by the melody. So yes, anything goes. I usually present as evidence to back up this argument a composition by our band’s mandolin player, Mark Stoffel, called Swine Flu in Union County. If that isn’t convincing enough, I follow that up with Ricky Skaggs’ Spam Jelly.
But can you name a song anything? I think the answer is a firm “maybe.” Yes, a songwriter will usually choose a title from a word or phrase in the song that might be a key to the subject of the song, or one that occurs in the chorus, but really you’re not bound by those restrictions either. Flatt & Scruggs wrote the song Thinking About You, and that phrase not only doesn’t appear in the chorus, it doesn’t appear anywhere in the song. The same can be said for Blue Ridge Cabin Home. Sure there’s the Blue Ridge, and there’s a cabin, and “home” is mentioned, but those words never appear together to form that title.
Recently I’ve become particularly interested in the song-naming method in which you take the word or phrase that represents the dominant theme of the song and just call it “The (whatever that word or phrase is) Song.” A recent example is Volume Five’s current hit, The Army Vet Song, but we can go all the way back to bluegrass music’s early days, when an alternate title to Molly and Tenbrooks was “The Racehorse Song.” There’s also Jimmy Martin’s late 1950s The Grand Ole Opry Song. Other examples are the Lost & Found’s The Rabbit Song (coincidentally also recorded by Volume Five), and The Windowsill Song, by Becky Buller and Tom T. and Dixie Hall, a song about two windowsills that race each other (one dies and gets buried in a coffin ready-made).
It seems to me this way of naming songs takes a lot of the guess work out of the process. Instead of trying to decide whether to call, Bury Me Beneath the Willow just that, or “Under the Weeping Willow Tree,” or “Weeping Willow Tree,” or “Perhaps He’ll Weep For Me,” (and I think I’ve heard it called all of the above), why not just go with “The Weeping Willow Song” and be done with it? “The Guilt Trip Song” would also work.
I’ve combed through the big bluegrass song catalog, and here are some suggested alternatives to the titles we’re more familiar with:
Toy Heart: “The Toy Heart Song” (not a big stretch there)
Uncle Pen: “The Fiddling Uncle Song”
Darby’s Castle: “The Burning Mansion Song”
1952 Vincent Black Lightning: “The Biker Song” or “The Red Hair and Black Leather Song”
Paradise: “The Bad Coal Company Song”
Matterhorn: “The Foolish Mountain Climber Song”
Pig in a Pen: “The Pig Song” or “The Needing-Girl-For-Help-With-Chores Song”
Dream of a Miner’s Child: “The Possibly-Prophetic Daughter Song”
Old Home Place: “The Series of Bad Decisions Song”
99 Years is Almost For Life: “The Unrealistic Life Expectancy Song”
Down The Road: “The Property Boundaries and Distances Song”
Pretty Polly: “The Creepy Willie Song”
Knoxville Girl: “The Creepy Willie Song”
Down in the Willow Garden: “The Homicide Overkill Song”
Barbara Allen: “The Very Long William and Barbara Song”
Rank Stranger: “The Who-Are-All-You-People-Anyway Song”
Long Black Veil: “The Singing Dead Guy Song”
Rock Salt and Nails: “The Very Very Bitter Guy Song”
Send Me Your Address From Heaven: “The Unreasonable Correspondence Request Song”
Fox On the Run: “The Running Fox-Who’s-Also-Dying Song”