Top 17 Best Songs (With Parentheses in the Titles)

What, indeed, IS so funny ’bout it?

I was trying to clean out my email a few days ago, but got distracted by this fun item the NYT was promoting. (Seems like the Times is just going out of its way to tempt me away from actual work these days, huh? First Wordle, then Spelling Bee, then this thing I had written about the same day I saw this…)

The Times called it “13 (great) songs with parenthetical titles.” Of course, it’s a rather silly category. One song with parentheses has nothing in common with other songs with parentheses, aside from that punctuational quirk. All it tells you is that the songwriter was engaging in an affectation, trying to say, Look, I’m deep. This song is written on multiple levels — including parenthetical!

Of course, I had to step in and correct it — narrowing the list to those that are actually good, if not necessarily great, and then expanding it to bring in equally good songs that the NYT left out. The proper thing to do then, of course, would have been to whittle the result down to a true Top Five list, but I didn’t want to spend days on the silly thing.

So here’s my Top 16 Best Songs (With Parentheses in the Titles). They aren’t in order with the best at the top, or anything. The first six are from the NYT list, the other 10 are ones I added. You may offer whatever suggestions occur to you:

  1. (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” — I agree to include this with mixed feelings. I love the song — it’s one that truly does rise to “great” — and let always feel kind of ignorant and out of it because for many years, this somewhat uncharacteristic number was all I knew about Otis Redding, the man who really knew HOW to express a lack of Satisfaction. I am wiser now.
  2. I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” — I agreed on this one, if only to give a nod to the late Meat Loaf, to make up for the fact that this is one of only two songs of his (the other being…) I can recall. And it really is a pretty decent song.
  3. (You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” — The NYT was confused, citing the Aretha Franklin version. But I’m not as big a fan of Aretha as lots of other folks are, and so I prefer Otis Reading’s version of “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.” And on this, I have to give the credit to the woman who actually wrote the song, Carole King.
  4. It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It)” — This is far — very, very far — from bring among the Rolling Stones’ greatest songs, but it meets the criterion, and they’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, so let’s include it.
  5. It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — Not only the best R.E.M. song, but probably the best use of parentheses on the NYT list.
  6. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” — A weaker use of parentheses than, say, R.E.M.’s, but a nice song, and it’s nice to contemplate something from when that lovely young woman was so full of promise, before her life started falling apart.
  7. It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” — This is a slight correction to the NYT list, which mistakenly chose “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Have Never Met).” To its credit, that list also mention this one, and “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).” That third one — the one from Blonde on Blonde (What? You don’t have Blonde on Blonde?), is the best song of the three. But “It’s Alright, Ma” is the one with the punchiest use of parentheses.
  8. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” — My fave of all of these. It’s an enigma: How can it sound like the quintessential Elvis Costello song when Nick Lowe wrote it? And how could the NYT have left it out?
  9. December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” —  Yeah, what you thought was the title is completely contained in the parentheses. This is Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons being… I don’t know what.
  10. Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love)” — Another of mine, as a way of getting a South Carolina band on the list. I lived in New Orleans when this was first big, and it was years before I knew that it and I were born in the same place.
  11. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper” — Of course, we need to hear it through the SNL skit.
  12. Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” I threw in this one because it is my considered opinion that Randy Newman doesn’t get enough attention. He would probably agree. And it comes from a truly great album that you will never heard fully played on the radio because, you know. It’s a shame “Louisiana 1927” didn’t have some parentheses.
  13. Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” — Maybe the person who compiled the NYT list isn’t old enough to remember Kenny Rogers & the First Edition playing it on a variety show, back when those existed.
  14. She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)” — You have to be in a certain sort of mood, I suppose, to enjoy Jerry Reed. I include this in case you’ve feeling that way. I’m not…
  15. Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” — This Loretta Lynn number is probably the one item on this list that is truly a classic.
  16. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” — You thought I was going to forget the Fab Four? Perish the thought.

20 thoughts on “Top 17 Best Songs (With Parentheses in the Titles)

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    As for the Times tempting me with games, I failed to mention another one that appeared after I discovered Flashback.

    It’s called Connections. It’s a word game based on the same principle as those IQ test questions that ask something like, “Which word does not belong?” Only it goes the other way.

    Have you tried it? If you haven’t, consider yourself warned. I’m playing that one every day TOO now..

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Submitted for approval:

    The Beatles, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”
    Three Dog Night, “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”
    The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

        1. Doug T

          Man, I loved the Four Tops. I remember hiding their album at the back of another section in the dime store until I had enough money to buy it. Levi Stubbs was great. Holland-Dozier-Holland were epic.

  3. Doug T

    OK, so I’m old.

    The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy): Simon and Garfunkel
    Opus 17 (Don’t You Worry ’bout Me): The Four Seasons
    I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch): The Four Tops

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, wow! Can’t believe I didn’t think of Can’t Help Myself! That may be the best example ever.

      And you know what replaced it on the charts back in 1965? “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”! I WOULD have included that, but I didn’t even know the parentheses were in the title. I remembered it as just “Satisfaction.”

      I looked that up, of course, and found that Billboard named Can’t Help Myself as the second hottest single of the year. (Satisfaction was third.)

      Now, without looking it up, what was No. 1 on that list? It surprised me a bit, although it was a good one…

      1. DougT

        Woolly Bully? Wow. never woulda guessed. I would have guessed “What’s New Pussycat?”. Heard that song a thousand times on a road trip to California (along with “Satisfaction”), but it came in at number 28.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, and you know, I never heard “Woolly Bully” NEARLY as much as I did “Little Red Riding Hood.”

          What was it being played? What put it at the top of the charts?

  4. James Edward Cross

    Really? Only those two Meatloaf songs? Not even “Bat Out of Hell” or “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”? I can forgive “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” Even though he wanted to record it from Day One, he was the third to do so, and *everyone* remembers Celine Dion’s version (it was first done by Pandora’s Box).

    He had two other “parenthetical” songs, BTW: “I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth)” and “Runnin’ for the Red Light (I Gotta Life)”.

    1. Norm Ivey

      You sound like a fellow Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman devotee. You don’t often hear someone mention Pandora’s Box. I wore out the cassette, and I’ve never been able to find it again (affordably, that is).

  5. Norm Ivey

    I’ll play. (I love a good song list.)

    My intention was to whittle the list down to 10 songs. What I ended up with is a Top 10 (with 18 Honorable Mentions).

    Top 10 (in order):

    1. “You’re So Square (Baby, I Don’t Care)” Buddy Holly. Elvis’s version is certainly more popular, but I like this version better. Interestingly, Elvis’s and some other versions put the parentheses around the “You’re So Square” part.
    2. “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” R.E.M. I’ve got an affinity for song lists and list songs. This one always entertains.
    3. “(Just Like) Starting Over” John Lennon. This one would also make my list of top 10 Love Songs. It’s a shame it’s permanently linked in my mind with his death.
    4. “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” Billy Joel. Popular during the height of my teen angst years, it still feels like an anthem for me.
    5. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” Bruce Springsteen. I love the multiple solos, the story, the tempo/style changes. Just classic Bruce.
    6. “I Got You (I Feel Good)” James Brown. I probably would not have included this 20 years ago, but I’ve come to have a deeper appreciation for Brown as I’ve aged.
    7. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” Looking Glass. I think this is what they call Yacht Rock now. Just a comfortably nostalgic tune I like to hear from time to time.
    8. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” T Rex. I love the opening riff. I have no idea what the song is about. I don’t even understand all the words.
    9. “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” Sly and the Family Stone. I had a friend who owned the album, and I dug the way the parenthetical was written. It’s a practice that became annoying in the 80s, but at the time it seemed clever. Good song.
    10. “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” The Proclaimers. This track has a negative reputation, but I’ve always felt it was kind of catchy. It can be an earworm, though.

    (First) Honorable Mention

    “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)” Tedeschi Trucks Band. The only reason this one is not up around 4 or 5 is because the best version of it (Nina Simone) doesn’t include the parentheses.

    The remaining Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

    “4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)” Bruce. From the same album as Rosalita, and almost as good.
    “Brass in Pocket (I’m Special)” Pretenders. On the list more for nostalgia than anything else. It’s the first song I remember that kind of had that sound that so much of the 80s music had.
    “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” Everyone. I like Michael Buble’s version best.
    “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. I sing along every time, completely forgetting I can’t sing…
    “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” Blue Oyster Cult. Also features prominently on my Halloween Playlist.
    “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” Rupert Holmes. Another Yacht Rock song, and the story it tells is absolutely awful, but it’s got a catchy refrain.
    “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” Parliament. Funk is a genre I’ve come to appreciate more. Sorry I didn’t pay attention when I was younger.
    “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” Rolling Stones. Not Brad’s favorite version, I know, but it is mine.
    “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” Meat Loaf. This one very nearly made the top 10. I just had too many songs to choose from.
    “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” They Might Be Giants. Just fun. That’s all.
    “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” The First Edition. I still remember how incredulous I was when I learned that the lead vocal was Kenny.
    “Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)” Reunion. Another list song.
    “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” Three Dog Night.
    “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” Beatles. No song list is complete without one from the boys, I suppose…
    “She’s A Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked)” Carl Carlton. Politically incorrect now, but I enjoy it.
    “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” The Byrds. Sometimes this track includes the parenthetical, but often it does not. My list, so I included it.

    And of course I created a playlist….

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Awesome list, with SEVERAL I had missed!

      I THOUGHT about You’re So Square (Baby, I Don’t Care), as a Buddy Holly song. But he didn’t write it, and not only did Elvis record it first, but for one of his movies! Like, you know, “Do the Clam”…

  6. Ralph Hightower

    Layla. The electric version by Derek and the Dominos. That piano solo is awesome!
    Ball of Confusion. The Temptations.

    About butchering songs, Tina Turner destroyed CCR’s “Proud Mary”.

  7. Ralph Hightower

    Since music videos are being posted, I thought that I would share this
    With the blessings of Don McLean, a group of talented musicians cover his American Pie..

    The Greenwood, SC Musicians cover American Pie


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