Here’s an exercise I love to do when I need inspiration for song titles. If nothing’s coming naturally, this trick can really get the creative juices flowing. Even if I end up using nothing that I come up with, I find that within a day or two, one of my ideas will trigger something completely different, usable, and inspiring.
The idea is simple. Rewrite song titles.
Song titles are great starting points. Song titles are often the hook. Once you’ve got a great hook, just about any competent or interesting verse will complete the song. So starting with a song title or hook gets you about 80 percent of the way there.
I have many sources that I go to, various iTunes top 10 lists, Billboard charts, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and many others. Even if you come up empty, it’s great practice and gives you insight into the songwriting of whomever you choose to emulate.
Take the following example, “I Will Dare” by The Replacements. If I begin by keeping the same syllables but looking for opposite meaning I get something like “You Won’t Dare”—keeping close to the original—or “You Won’t Risk.” Both of those titles give me ideas to develop into complete songs.
“After Midnight” by Eric Clapton becomes “Before Noon.” Beginning with “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” first charted by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, you could change it to the shocked and rhetorical question, “You Hate Rock and Roll?!” Or keep the content similar but change the style of music to “I Love Dance Punk.” “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard could become “Big Bad Brady.” I found that name using a baby name finder.
There’s no rules to this game. But you can set up some guidelines or directions to get you started. With “Long Tall Sally,” I tried to keep the song’s original alliteration. With “After Midnight,” I looked for the opposite meaning—even though after midnight and before noon refer to the same 12 hours. 😉
I often like to keep the same syllables since most great titles come with a built-in infectious rhythm. Internal rhymes, alliteration, content, any literary device can be kept, manipulated, or left behind.
I like to do little exercises like this whenever I’m running out of ideas or I’ve got a little down time. They grease your creative gears and give you plenty of material to work with. And they’re pretty easy to invent. Have fun and let me know what you come up with!