Ok, here's the scenario - you've just finished your latest outpouring of aural magnificence, and it almost floats, sparkling, shining and in every way perfectly lovely, back at you from the speakers, when suddenly the moment fractures, great aeroplane-toilet-produced-icicles of music shattering on the floor as you realise the terrible truth - you haven't got a bleedin' clue what you're going to call it!
Now, if you're working in the genre best known to posteriority as "popular song", (often alternatively referred to as "facile crap mass-produced to part gullible 12-year olds from their parent's cash" by cynical musical snobs like, er, myself. Not that I wouldn't mind some of that parental cash, nor would I have any problems in selling-out in an instant if the price was right. Hypocrite? What hypocrite? Where?), the time-honoured simple solution of using the tag-line of the chorus (repeated ad-aforementioned-parents'-nauseam of course, so the sugar-and-caffeine-bloated little pop darlings have it imprinted deep in their brains, primed and ready for advertisers to exploit when they attach your ditty to their latest piece of disposable plastic junk/disposable plastic junk masquerading as food ) presents itself.
To be fair, this practice, along with that of extracting a particularly memorable word (as in Mr. Waits' excellent example I sullied by using as the title for the post), or phrase that succinctly conveys the essence of the song, is widespread across historical and genre boundaries. Who could ever forget such enduring titles as "Greensleeves", "Heartbreak Hotel", or South Park's cheery showtune, "Uncle F*ck*r" (that one pretty much embeds itself instantaneously, doesn't it) ?
But what do you do if you have no lyrics to plunder? There aren't really any easy guidelines for instrumental pieces, are there? You could try willful obscurantism or surrealism, which have long been ways of signalling to the audience that you have pretensions to intellectualism, that your mind and music occupy strata that only the brightest and best can hope to comprehend - or that it's going to be prog rock. So that may not be the ideal route to head down - and I have to plead guilty here, having been in two severely proggy bands back in the 1990's. The first one was a University of York outfit called "Mind The Gap", where I was one of the guitarists on tracks like "Lemon Aardvarks", "Extra Garlic", and "Schizophrenic Foot Fashion". To be fair, some of the actual songs had far more down-to-earth titles, such as "Paranoia", "The Order of the Dragon's Head" (!), and "Desperate Things (Said By Desperate Men)" - all, interestingly enough, written and sung by a bloke who is now a Liberal Democrat member of parliament...
(The less said about the other band, Citizen Cain's use (abuse!) of song titles, e.g. "To Dance the Enamel-faced Queen", the better! Although in my defence, I didn't come up with any of them.)*
But what if someone else has already taken your brilliant new title? There might be confusion - or even, at its most extreme, possible lawsuits! So what is a poor befuddled muso to do? Fortunately, help is at hand, courtesy of the good old internet. If you've not come across it before, spend some time getting acquainted with the wonderfully entertaining "repertoire search" at Broadcast Music Inc.
Now it doesn't pretend to be fully comprehensive, but they claim they've got more than 6,500,000 titles for your browsing pleasure, so it's not a bad place to start. Who would have thought there would only be one more title entry under "asparagus" than "artichoke"? (11-10, since you didn't ask). That there are a desperately unimaginative 186 tracks involving "motorcycle" (but only 24 for "motorbike")? Or that someone has registered a song called "Spatula Orgasm" ?
If they only had mp3 clips of all the tracks...I'm dying to know just what "Wombat Fever" (by Jonathon Burket) sounds like...?
*p.s. I don't want to give the impression that I have anything against prog rock. I love prog rock, but even the most diehard fan would have to admit that prog lyrics generally range from the slightly obtuse to the impressively silly.
p.p.s. A mate emailed to suggest the ASCAP database as another source of fun, but I have to warn you, it came up with significantly fewer wombats than the BMI.