“What’s in a name?,” the Bard rightly asked.
It’s a question I’ve been pondering once again as I’ve become obsessed with another: Could pop music even exist without songs simply titled by a girl’s name?
There’s no reason they’re required, though. The number of songs about a generic girl dwarfs the named variety. And I haven’t even entertained the patriarchy/sexism arguments that are the rage of the day. So it must be selection bias.
There’s only one way to get nearly a century’s worth of ear worms temporarily out of my head. So here, spanning nearly seven decades of writing and four of recording, is a six-pack plus of girl’s name tunes. Spotify playlist available, too.
Cecilia , NRBQ
I might be starting out by cheating. The full title of this song, most often released as seen above, is “Does Your Mother Know You’re Out, Cecilia?” Penned by Dave Dreyer and Harry Byrd in 1926, I bonded with my grandfather over this gem from his youth. (This is a static video. All sound, no sight and motion.)
Maybellene, Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry, the poet laureate of post-war teenage America, was never one to shrink from a good idea. With this, his first single, he forever linked teenage romance, rivalry and hot rods. This song hit number one on the R&B chart almost seven years to the day before I was born. The video is from seven years the other way, a 1969 show in Toronto.
Bernadette, The Four Tops
If Motown was the Sound of Young America you can bet that the song catalog included songs about girls. The folks in Detroit, with all those girl groups to support, were actually equal opportunity namers. So you’ll find Jimmy and Bill along with the girls. Here The Four Tops sing their last big hit on the Sullivan show.
Melissa, The Allman Brothers Band
Even the Classic Rock canon contains a few of these appellation numbers. Of the two that instantly leapt to mind, I opted for this 1972 acoustic jewel for a number of reasons. It’s a bit less frequently played. It’s more wistful than tormented. And, really, it’s just a pretty song. Here’s Gregg and the band serving it up 30 years after its release.
Mary Anne, Marshall Crenshaw
Guitar-driven pop songs and I go way back. So the revival of that form during my young adulthood was a godsend. No one, it seemed, was more committed to the form than another man from Detroit, Marshall Crenshaw. Here, from a 1985 show I think I was at, he sings his ode to a girl other than the embodiment of France.
Billie Jean, Michael Jackson
You didn’t think you’d get out of here without the biggest single from the best-selling album of all time, did you? This one’s so iconic it speaks for itself. Torn between the original video and the Motown 25th Anniversary version, I opted for the latter. The dancing more than makes up for the lip-syncing.
PLAYLIST AND VIDEO BONUS
Dozens more such songs exist across genres. The Spotify playlist contains the above and quite a few more, including some double entries of both songs and singers, a blatant violation of the unwritten obsessive mix tape rules. But first, one last song from another guitar pop master.
Diane, Material Issue
Chicago‘s Material Issue, fronted by primary songwriter Jim Ellison, picked up the power pop mantle, complete with girl-name songs, at the start of the 1990s, only to run into the buzz-saw of grunge. Here’s the first album’s first song, a paen to the girl who has everything and swears she’ll never marry.