From The Beatles' laziness to Radiohead's politicism
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, declared William Shakespeare famously.
But let’s be honest, would some of rock’s most celebrated albums have achieved that greatness if they’d been released under their original monikers Tropical Disease, Everest, WH*RE and The Time Machine? Getting the title right caused its bad beats.
When the head of Electric Light Orchestra’s US label got his secretary to ring their British office to check the name of the band’s upcoming debut album, she couldn’t get through. So she scribbled “no answer” on his notepad. Which is why in 1971, the record went out as Electric Light Orchestra around the world except in the US where it hit the stores as No Answer.
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For their 1981 album, Split Enz chose Waiata, the Māori term for song and singing. The idea was that the indigenous word be used in each different country it was released in. Alas it became Corroboree in Australia but remained Waiata elsewhere.
Most confusing was the saga of Kylie Minogue’s Impossible Princess. A change was mooted after the death of Princess Diana – to Kylie Minogue, despite two of her albums already having that title.
At a Melbourne press conference, this writer argued with Minogue that (a) it was too great a title to give up; and (b), Diana wouldn’t mind. La Minogue’s response was “it’s still its title but it won’t be anywhere on the record”. It later reverted back to Impossible Princess but sales for indie Kylie remained very low.
The Rolling Stones – Tropical Disease
When work began in 1971 in Keith Richards’ rented villa in south of France (Villa Nellcôte, No. 10, Avenue Louise Bordes), it was already known as the Tropical Disease Sessions. It was stifling in the windowless basement where recording took place, sweaty musicians stripped to their undies and guitars went out of tune.
Two songs, ‘Ventilator Blues’ and ‘Turd On The Run’ were about that experience. At one point, Eat It was briefly its designation.
It came out as Exile On Main Street – the Stones had fled to France as exiles from Britain’s high taxes, and ‘Main Street’ was from the Riviera Strip where they and their entourage hung out.
Silverchair – The Time Machine
The ‘Chair’s fourth was to be The Time Machine until they learned a movie of that name was coming out around that time. They opted for Diorama, a miniature three-dimensional scene.
Coincidentally the movie starred Guy Pearce who would later feature in the music video for ‘Across The Night’, the album’s opening track.
Daniel Johns would reflect: “What’s funny is that when Silverchair released Frogstomp, most people went out of the way to tell me how much it sucked. Then when we made Diorama a few years later everyone started telling me how I should go back to making Frogstomp. That was part of why I picked the album title too by the way. I don’t really care what most people think. Let them talk.”
Pixies – WH*RE
Black Francis was never more potent in the use of the word when the guy in ‘I’ve Been Tired’ from Come On Pilgrim said his “biggest fear” was “losing his penis to a wh*re with disease.” But the lyrical darkness of ‘Hey’ led to Doolittle having the working title WH*RE.
But BF related, “I didn’t like how the word went with the artwork. Too Catholic or something. People would think I was anti-Catholic. If I could be anyone, I’d be Dr Doolittle and talk to the animals. We’d shoot some shit.”
The Beatles – Everest
Named after the Beatles’ recording engineer Geoff Emerick’s choice of Everest cigarettes, the plan was to fly to the Himalayas and take a shot against the Everest as the cover. But recording ran late and in the end the Fabs couldn’t be arsed flying 7,662.28 km for a shot.
So, the decision was to dash out of the studios on Friday 8 August 1969 to take six shots on the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road studios, which would give the album its new title.
It was a hot day, and Paul McCartney was barefoot. That naturally led to the conspiracy theory that the band was dropping hints Fab Macca was dead. The drugs were better then.
Pink Floyd – Eclipse
Pink Floyd always meant to use Dark Side Of The Moon for LP #8,, denoting lunacy, with themes about “things that make people mad”. But six months before its March 1973 release, Brit blues-rockers Medicine Head came out with a record with that name.
Their phrase was more to do with feeling depressed after a relationship went kaputski.
Floyd sulkily changed theirs to Eclipse. But the Medicine Head record was a stiff and sank into obscurity, so Floyd reclaimed it.
Radiohead – Little Man Being Erased
This was one tossed about for Radiohead’s 2003 “political album that’s not political”. It became an alternate moniker to ‘Go To Sleep’.
Others were The Gloaming (“twilight” or “dusk” but jettisoned as too “poetic” and “doomy”), The Boney King of Nowhere and Snakes and Ladders.
When Thom Yorke first heard the phrase “hail to the thief” by anti-Bush protestors as a play on the presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief”, it was a white light moment. It also meant “rise of doublethink and general intolerance and madness… like individuals were totally out of control of the situation… a manifestation of something not really human”.
The Smiths – Margaret On The Guillotine
Margaret On The Guillotine denoted the death of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher (aka the “Iron Lady”) as “a wonderful dream”.
The 1986 opus became The Queen Is Dead. Morrissey said: “The very idea of the monarchy and the Queen of England is being reinforced and made to seem more useful than it really is”.
The song ‘Margaret On The Guillotine’ surfaced on Morrissey’s debut solo album Viva Hate. In his 2013 autobiography, Morrissey claimed Special Branch brought him in to ascertain if the singer was a threat to the politician.He says he answered questions for an hour, signed some autographs, and split.
The Big M’s original tag for Viva Hate was Education In Reverse. Some copies were issued in Australia and New Zealand with that title and exchange hands for considerable moolah.
Talking Heads – Melody Attack
Talking Heads worked with Melody Attack throughout the recording of album #4 after watching a Japanese game show of that name. But they thought it was too flippant given the exquisiteness of the music within, and went for Remain In Light for the classic 1980 long player.
When it was still Melody Attack, the cover sleeve depicted Gruman Avenger torpedo bomber planes taken over the Himalayas – a tribute to bassist Tina Weymouth’s father Ralph, who was a US Navy Admiral during World War II.
This flipped to the back after the title change.
In other changes:
- What started as Good Ass Job became Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as the music transformed to something magnificent.
- Zoo Station, ’69, Adam, Fear of Women and Cruise Down Main Street were considered before U2 went for Achtung Baby.
- Public Enemy changed Countdown to Armageddon to the more rallying call of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
- By the time they got to 13, Blur were tossing about When You’re Walking Backwards From Hell, No One Can See You, and Only God.
- Eminem initially wanted The Marshall Mathers EP to be Amsterdam as a thank-you to the Dutch city’s liberal drug laws.
- Nirvana’s In Utero was I Hate Myself And I Want To Die until Krist Novoselic talked Kurt Cobain out of it as AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne were being sued by families of fans who topped themselves for “inspiring” them.
- Green Day’s Dookie was Liquid Dookie due to a member with the runs but deemed “too gross”.
- Suede tried Half Dog, Animal Lover ,and I Think You Stink before the white light of Suede.
- The Rolling Stones first plan for 1969’s Let It Bleed was Automatic Changer which explains that mysterious cake/record player on the cover.
More on Let It Bleed here.