Monday, July 28, 2008

Oh! Neil

On the radio at the weekend I heard something I thought I would never hear - a song with my name in it. 'Oh! Neil' (1960) by Carole King is in the great tradition of answer records, in this case an answer to Neil Sedaka's 'Oh! Carol', written for her. The song sunk without trace, but both King and Sedaka ended up working in the legendary Brill Building song factory churning out some of the great pop songs of the 1960s.

Why is it that some names are more popular in songs than others? There seem to be hundreds of songs about John (and Johnny) and Jane, perhaps because the names themselves have an everyperson popularity (Jane and John Doe). I am sure young women called Jane the world over get sick of lovestruck boys making them mix CDs with Sweet Jane and Famous Blue Raincoat ('Jane came by with a lock of your hair'). Rosie and Billy are also popular, particularly in old folk tunes. Some names have a musical resonance because of historic individuals. Thanks to Warhol superstar Candy Darling we have Candy Says by the Velvet Underground, Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed ('Candy came from out on the island') and Some Candy Talking by the Jesus and Mary Chain.

Meanwhile the rest of us struggle to find a single song for our loved ones to sing to us when we are feeling blue - oh the injustices of the world!

My unscientific theory is that names are more likely to be used in songs if they a) rhyme with lots of other words b) are two syllables or less c) are popular names d) end in a hard consonant if they are a single syllable, or d) end in an 'ee' sound if they are two syllables. If somebody wants to make me a grant so that I can give up work I would be happy to study this in more depth.


Rachel said...

So, love Carole King, but to respond off-topic, have you ever read "Teenage" by Jon Savage? I just finished it and I kept thinking about this blog as I read. It's about youth culture from 1875 or so to 1945 in England and the US. throughout, the revolutionary potential of dance played a big part in the development of youth culture. It's a great read anyway...thought I'd let you know about it!

Transpontine said...

I keep meaning to read Teenage, its out in paperback now so there's no excuse. Thanks for the reminder.

Transpontine said...

OK I've started with my extensive fieldwork in the names in songs programme. So far my working hypothesis is holding up on the basis of Rosie's CD collection -

- Hurricane Jane by Black Kids - conforms to the popular names rule (Jane) and the rhyming rule.

- Simon Diamond - by The Coral - conforms to the rhyming rule, though like Neil it's a rare name in a song (Simon Templar by Splodgenessabounds is the only other example that springs to mind)

but wait, what's this - 'Caroline, Yes' by Kaiser Chiefs - a three syllable name.

New rule - three syllabled names generally only appear in songs if that name is Caroline (cf Sweet Caroline).