Excerpted from Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting by Robin Frederick. Available at Amazon.com
In a well-constructed song, the title is the one lyric phrase that I guarantee your listeners will notice and remember! More that that: It will be the guide and the goal toward which all other lines lead. It will be the hook that grabs people and pulls them deep into your song. It will sum up the heart and soul of your theme. So, right from the start, think about choosing a memorable title with potential for development.
What makes a title memorable?
Let's try out a title. How's this: "Love Relationships Can Be Difficult." As a song title, this is a real loser. Of course you knew that but why is it so bad? The statement is certainly true and it's what our song is about, so why is it so weak and forgettable? Because it's an abstract statement. Abstract statements are ones that are not connected to a specific action, concrete example, or image. This type of statement goes right in one ear and out the other. Listeners may agree with it but it doesn't make them feel anything; it has no relevance and doesn't raise curiosity; it quickly sinks into oblivion.
What if we gave that same song a title like "Our Love Is a Battleground"? Now the title is specific ("our love") and it has a concrete image ("a battleground"). The listener is automatically involved, curious about what these individuals are feeling and mentally picturing a battleground. This has become an intriguing story or situation rather than an abstract statement. Which title would you, as a listener, find more compelling and memorable-"Love Relationships Can Be Difficult" or "Our Love is a Battleground"?
Let images do the work
A mental picture gives listeners something to react to, evokes a family of associated images and feelings, and can even affect listeners physically. "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" is a great example of an image-based title that nudges the listener toward a physical reaction. Images can also raise questions for the listener that you can answer in your lyric. "Gangsta's Paradise" contains two images that are worlds apart. How will this song answer the questions this title raises: What is a "gangsta's paradise"? What happens there?
Use action words
Action words are both visual and energetic. They not only help your listeners picture what's happening, they evoke the physical feeling itself . Here are a few examples of hit song titles that use action words: "Rise Above This," "Chasing Cars," "Barely Breathing." When you put an action word in your title, you drop your listener into the middle of the scene, creating interest, involvement, and momentum.
Say it to someone
Add intimacy to a title by speaking directly to "you." Listeners love to feel like the proverbial fly on the wall, eavesdropping on a private conversation. Here are a few effective titles that use this approach: "Like You'll Never See Me Again," "You're Beautiful," and "Hey There Delilah."
Titles that use images, action words, and direct address not only draw listeners into your song, they also tend to be easy to develop into a lyric since they offer plenty of raw material to work with!
Writing Lyrics: Song Titles by John Braheny