How The Painfully Long Song Title Became One Of Emo’s Defining Traits
From pissing off record labels to referencing their favourite films, here's what kicked off emo's most curious trait.
‘I’ve Got A Dark Alley And A Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)’, is not a lyric or a portion of a novel. It’s one of the longest songs on Fall Out Boy’s 2005 record From Under The Cork Tree.
That album featured 127 words on its back sleeve stretched across 13 songs, reading like a stream-of-consciousness that was either an elaborate joke or an attempt to add some humour to a lyrically dark album.
Fall Out Boy may have pushed the long song title to its limit on From Under The Cork Tree and its surrounding albums, but they weren’t the only ones doing it. By the middle of the ‘00s emo had become a mainstream phenomenon, blossoming from a cult genre into an era-defining movement. Its commercial transformation brought a theatrical and playful side to the genre, reflected in the long song titles.
Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, All Time Low, Mayday Parade, Cobra Starship and more all delivered wordy tracklists at this time. There was no true method for the long song title. The only rule: it had to be long.
Mayday Parade tormented with 2007’s ‘I’d Hate To Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About’, My Chemical Romance started a narrative with 2004’s ‘You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison’ and Cobra Starship were obnoxiously self-deprecating on 2009’s ‘Pete Wentz Is The Only Reason We’re Famous’.
Emo Wasn’t The First Genre To Have Long Song Titles But They Certainly Gave Them A Red Hot Crack (Winter Song)
The long song title was not birthed by the emo genre. Pink Floyd’s 1969 track ‘Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict’, negates any emo band’s claim to creation, but it had never been seen so concentrated in one genre.
When emo infiltrated the mainstream in the mid-’00s, the genre has already been evolving for more than two decades. It emerged from post-hardcore in the ‘80s with a strong physical scene in Washington D.C. Throughout the years it morphed significantly taking influence from pop-punk (Blink-182), screamo (Underoath) and alternative-rock (Weezer).
“A lot of bands in the past have designed titles simply so they can fit in DJ mouths and we think that’s pretty pathetic.” – Pete Wentz
A Reddit thread tracing the origins of the long song title speculated that it first found popularity in the early ‘90s through bands like Nation Of Ulysses and further spread through screamo groups like Angel Hair and Rye Coalition. The titles these bands used were much heavier in subject (Nation Of Ulysses’ ‘A Kid Who Tells On Another Kid Is A Dead Kid’, for example) than those that ‘00s emo eventually adopted.
It seems to have been pop-punk’s influence that added obnoxious humour into the mix. Blink-182 mastered the provoking, nonsensical title with ‘Dick Lips’ and ‘Dumpweed’. Much like emo titles, neither of these words appeared in the songs but they were insults made up to playfully draw a middle finger and draw a reaction before the song was even playing.
Much like pop/punk, emo was attempting to shun the very thing that it was infiltrating — the mainstream. And yet, given the scene was all about being an emotional outsider, they had to find some way of demonstrating the rebellious nature of it all.
Thanks For The Memories (And The Very Long Song Titles That Your Record Label Hated)
Fall Out Boy may have fancied themselves part of an outcast scene but by the time their sophomore record From Under The Cork Tree dropped, their popularity had sky-rocketed. It reached number two in the US and launched two top 10 singles ‘Dance, Dance’ and ‘Sugar We’re Going Down’. Funnily enough, those songs were the shortest titles on the record alongside ‘XO’.
The rest of the titles made it painfully clear that they were shunning the system they belonged to. The opening track, for example, is called ‘Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued’. When asked about it, guitarist and songwriter Pete Wentz said, “A lot of bands in the past have designed titles simply so they can fit in DJ mouths and we think that’s pretty pathetic.”
Rumour has it that the band removed the vowels from 2007’s ‘Thnks fr th Mmrs’ because their label asked them to make shorter song titles. A worthy protest.
Rebellion may have been one mode of the long song title but there really was no true art to it. Wentz said that most of their song titles were simply based around “nostalgia or inside jokes.” More often than not the title didn’t share any obvious connection with the lyrical content.
“They have a connection to us, but the connection isn’t always obvious,” he told Daily Press at the time. It’s something that was echoed by Panic!’s Brendon Urie who also told Billboard the titles were “inside jokes”, citing Fall Out Boy as their inspiration.
Mayday Parade meanwhile played nonchalant when asked about their song titles, telling Stitched Sound, “[We] just kind of name it whatever we want and kind of have fun with it and that’s why we have a lot of the long song titles.”
Tell Mick He Just Made My List Of Things To Do Today — Also I Need To Watch A Lot Of Films
Film was a popular reference point with the genre name-checking a wide-array of cinema. Fall Out Boy named ‘Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner’ after the iconic Dirty Dancing line while Take This To Your Grave’s ‘Tell Mick He Just Made My List Of Things To Do Today’ comes from 1998’s Rushmore. Casablanca, Sixteen Candles, The 25th Hour and more have also inspired the band’s song titles.
Mayday Parade were also film buffs looking to the Mr & Mrs Smith script for ‘Champagne’s For Celebrating (I’ll Have A Martini)’. All Time Low got meta by referencing Angels With Even Filthier Souls which is the fictitious movie that airs in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York with their song ‘Get Down On Your Knees And Tell Me You Love Me’.
Panic! At The Disco also looked heavily to film on their debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. ‘Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off’ is a Natalie Portman quote from the movie Closer. The second part of that quote is, “But it’s better if you do,” which is the title of another Panic! song. Elsewhere, ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’ was inspired by the Douglas Coupland novel Shampoo Planet and ‘I Constantly Thank God For Esteban’ was taken from a guitar infomercial.
When they weren’t referencing film or infomercials, the titles were a response to the critics who multiplied as the genre became more popular. Cobra Starship’s ‘Pete Wentz Is The Only Reason We’re Famous’ is a sarcastic response to the media’s comments that Wentz accelerated their success. ‘The Scene Is Dead; Long Live The Scene’ was a retaliation to comments that emo had become more about image than substance. Interestingly, frontman Gabe Saporta called it his “most personal song,” despite the tongue-in-cheek title.
Cobra Starship were one of the last emo bands to cross over into the mainstream. They encapsulated everything that had come to define the genre, from Pete Wentz co-writes to increasingly obnoxious song titles. 2009’s Hot Mess appeared as a parody of what the genre had become with songs titles like ‘You’re Not In On The Joke’ and an appearance from Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester.
Straightened Fringes, Skinny Jeans, And God Why Doesn’t Anyone Understand Me? (Reprise)
Much like straightened fringes, long song titles subsided as the emo’s time in the sun came to an end — even Fall Out Boy’s word count on their tracklists has fallen dramatically. 2018’s MANIA featured just 31 words while Panic! At The Disco’s latest Pray For The Wicked included 37 words on the back sleeve. Mayday Parade are one of the very few that have kept it up — a 2018 song of theirs was titled ‘It’s Hard To Be Religious When Certain People Are Never Incinerated By A Bolt Of Lightning’.
While emo has seen itself reincarnated in hip-hop over the last few years through acts like Princess Nokia, Yung Lean, and the late Juice WRLD, it seems they’ve left behind the long song titles. For now, they remain a piece of emo nostalgia — a sign of a genre that was often fighting against its own popularity, attempting to be different while more and more people did the same.
Sam Murphy is a music writer and Co-Editor of The Interns. Follow him on Twitter.
All this week, Music Junkee will be tumbling down memory lane and exploring everything to do with emo.