1. The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
Perhaps the best-known case of unnecessary parentheses in musical history, The Rolling Stones’ 1965 classic actually didn’t feature the “(I Can’t Get No)” on the artwork for the single—only on the Out Of Our Heads album art and points beyond. Purists just call it “Satisfaction,” anyway. Much better parentheses use by the Stones, but on a far lesser song: “It’s Only Rock ’N Roll (But I Like It).”
2. Luna, “California (All The Way)”
The first song on Luna’s mellow album Bewitched, “California (All The Way)” chugs along like The Velvet Underground gone happy and lazy, but its two-part title does it very little justice. Both bits—“California” and “All The Way”—are mentioned in the lyrics (right next to each other, in fact), but not in the chorus. A more pointed title would have been “Why Can’t We Smile Just Like We Used To?” but that title also kind of sucks.
3. Bloc Party, “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)”
In a classic case of putting the parentheses around the wrong bit, Bloc Party’s “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” moves the important stuff—i.e. the actual words that provide the lyrical punch—aside, and the dedication right there at the front. Witness how much better this looks: “Disappear Here (Song For Clay).”
4. The Kinks, “(A) Face In The Crowd”
It’d be easy to assume that The Kinks were being cheeky with “(A) Face In The Crowd,” since parenthesizing that single letter implies nothing and changes nothing. Perhaps there was some deeper meaning, considering the band was in the midst of releasing several concept albums. Regardless of the parenth-abuse, though, it’s a heartbreaking little song.
5. The Beastie Boys, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”
And it’s also probably safe to assume that The Beastie Boys were just fucking around with this double-parenthetical mess. “(You Gotta)” is completely extraneous, though it does add a nice balance to the title, with two parenthetical words on each side of a four-word main title.
6. Blue Öyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
7. R.E.M., “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville”
8. R.E.M., “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”
“The Reaper” and “Rockville” would have been shitty names for stone classics like these two—the former a sinister bit of ’70s radio-rock about death, the other a slightly lesser entry in the alt-rock canon. Both are great, but neither meets the parenthetical requirement that the contained information be extraneous. Both directions—“don’t fear” and “don’t go back”—are vital, so why hide them? The reason for adding “(I’m Sorry)” to R.E.M.’s “So. Central Rain” is much more clear: Those words are repeated over and over in the song, while there’s nothing much—at least nothing discernable—about rain, or the South, or anything central. Later releases cut the parenthetical for “So. Central Rain,” but not “Rockville.”
9-10. Radiohead, “Exit Music (For A Film)” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
The serial parentheses abusers in Radiohead deserve their reputations for artsy-fartsy fussiness, though the use in both “Exit Music (For A Film)” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” feel pretty natural. The former is a bit unnecessary, but the latter probably helped fans recognize what song they were trying to find, since “fade out” is repeated and “street spirit” is never spoken. The same can’t be said for every track on the band’s Hail To The Thief—though that didn’t stop Radiohead from giving all of them parenthetical subtitles and periods, from “2+2=5 (The Lukewarm.)” to “A Wolf At The Door. (It Girl. Rag Doll.)”
11-14. Arcade Fire, the “Neighborhood” songs
15. Arcade Fire, “(Antichrist Television Blues)”
Speaking of misguided parentheticals: On Arcade Fire’s fantastic debut album, Funeral, there are four thematically connected songs called “Neighborhood,” which are individually numbered and given subtitles, so they look like this: “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).” That’s presumably so that people can locate the one they’re looking for. But why not just “Power Out (Neighborhood #3)” and “Tunnels (Neighborhood #1)” instead of this confusing silliness? On the band’s next album, it put a whole song title in parentheses, “(Antichrist Television Blues),” though it’s unclear why—perhaps because the track was renamed late in the process after originally being called “Joe Simpson.”
16. Otis Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”
Widely and rightfully considered one of the best pop songs of all time, Otis Redding’s “The Dock Of The Bay” didn’t feature its extra titular words upon its single release, but gained “(Sittin’ On)” as time passed, perhaps because that’s just what people called it anyway. Fun fact: It was the first posthumous single ever to top the charts—Redding died in a plane crash just days after recording it.
17-18. Elvis Costello, “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” and “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea”
It’s no surprise that a bookish guy like Elvis Costello would be a serial parentheses abuser, turning the perfectly serviceable title “Red Shoes” into a lengthy mess, and burdening a simple statement like “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea” with those extra curving lines. He apparently liked parentheses so much that even his most famous cover song, Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding” features them.
19. A Flock Of Seagulls, “I Ran (So Far Away)”
Big-hair guy: You said it a million times in the song. Everyone would’ve remembered the name without that extra information. Why confuse the issue?
20. T. Rex, “Bang A Gong (Get It On)”
This one makes perfect sense. T. Rex mastermind Marc Bolan released a song called “Get It On” in the U.K. Long-forgotten jazz-fusion band Chase had a song on the charts in the U.S. at the time called “Get It On,” so the T. Rex title was parenthesized. Luckily, either title would have been acceptable, as both phrases are utilized equally.
21. The Clash “Train In Vain (Stand By Me)”
“Stand By Me” on its own was already taken, and “Train In Vain” isn’t terribly descriptive of this standout London Calling track. At first, fans didn’t know what to call it, because it was a late addition to the Clash album, and thus wasn’t listed at all on the packaging. Even now, the parenthetical sometimes appears and sometimes doesn’t.
22. Buzzcocks, “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”
Somebody should’ve known better here. Not only is the parenthetical second half of “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” longer than the actual title, it also includes the mouth-filling non-word “shouldn’t’ve.” (Worse yet, some versions have a question mark after the parentheses!) Still, it’s easy to forgive one of the finest singles of the original punk era.
23. James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”
James Brown’s best-known song, originally released in 1965, is readily identifiable by either of its titles, but rarely would anyone use the two of them together. Make a request to any DJ in the world for James Brown’s “I Feel Good” or “I Got You,” and the meaning will be clear. Still, the less-popular half ended up inside the parentheses.
24. Wilco, “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway(again)”
Adding parentheses to just the “again” bit of the triumphant, poptastic Wilco song “Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again)” adds an extra punchline to the space-free title, though neither leaving the spaces out nor adding the parenthetical makes much sense. Still, it’s easy to sing along with.
25. Three Dog Night, “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”
Though Randy Newman wrote “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” he did not add parentheses around the second half of the title. Nor did Eric Burdon, who recorded the song for his 1967 album Eric Is Here. But Three Dog Night funked the song up and made it a hit, adding the curvy lines for no grammatical reason whatsoever—they just break up a single thought. Still, it’s a great song in pretty much every version, from the ’60s ones up to and including takes from The Wolfgang Press, Yo La Tengo, and Tom Jones.
26. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
Those seeking to cherry-pick Jimi Hendrix hits from iTunes need to pay close attention to the parenthetical in “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” lest they end up with “Voodoo Chile” instead. The former is one of the guitarist’s greatest moments, a structured rock song featuring one of the most fiery guitar solos in history. The latter is the 15-minute freeform-ish jam on which “(Slight Return)” is based. (The phrase itself is meant to imply that the shorter song was derived from the longer.) The lesson is: Don’t cherry pick, just get Electric Ladyland.
27. Talking Heads, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”
The parenthetical in Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” is entirely superfluous, the kind of notation that bands frequently use as placeholders then throw away (like “rock jam in E” or “fast love song”). But perhaps as an attempt to head critics off at the pass, David Byrne acknowledged right there in the title that the song’s music is incredibly simple—as it should be, since the song is nearly perfect.
28. The White Stripes, “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)”
The parenthetical in “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl),” from the second White Stripes album, De Stijl, should perhaps be replaced with an ellipsis, since it offers a punchline rather than extraneous information.
29. The Beatles, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”
This parenthetical seems to be more like indecision at work: Either “Norwegian Wood” or “This Bird Has Flown” would be a perfectly acceptable title for this classic Rubber Soul track. But John Lennon, with a little help from his friend, decided to go with both.
30. Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
Bob Dylan’s stark masterpiece, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, features just the man himself and his guitar—and a long pile of words. Not one of those words, notably, is “bleeding.” Dylan tells his ma that he’s sighing and that he can make it, but only the parenthetical in the title tells us that he’s bleeding, proving that Bob Dylan even uses punctuation marks and song titles better than everybody else.