From Eileen to Billie Jean: Songs with names in the title

Dexys Midnight Runners

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

— William Shakespeare

Driving to work the other day I heard a couple of deejays mention songs with people's names in the title, but by the time I tuned in, I only heard them talk about two of the many recordings named specifically after a guy or gal that the artist is celebrating.

That affected me like dropping a handful of quarters into  a cerebral jukebox as I thought about not only the two songs they mentioned, but also about the many other recordings containing names in the title.

I started wondering about other well-known songs titled with the name of a person.

The two deejays mentioned "Sherry," the great 1962 hit by The Four Seasons that spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. They also briefly talked about "Aime," the song originally recorded in 1972 that became a 1975 hit for the Pure Prairie League.

Any mention of "Sherry" by The Four Seasons reminds me of "Oh Sherrie," the 1984 hit from Steve Perry after the then-Journey frontman released his first solo album. Both "Sherry" and "Oh Sherrie" hold a special place in my heart.

Thinking of "Oh Sherrie" reminded me the 1980s provided a bumper crop of hits songs endowed with the names of females in the title, including "Rosanna," by Toto, "Rosanna" reached No. 2 on the charts in 1982 and won Record of the Year honors at the 1983 Grammy Awards.

Female names that started with the letter R did well around that time, with "Roxanne" by The Police hitting the charts in 1978.

Another song contained both a first and second name. I'm talking about "Billie Jean," the recoding by Michael Jackson that held the number 1 spot for nine straight weeks in 1983 and helped "Thriller" become one of the top-selling albums of all time. (In this age of re-releases, streams and downloads the top spot fluctuates. Since 2018 it's been held by the Eagles, with "Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975.")

One of my favorites songs with a name in the title was another one released in the 1980s, although it sounded nothing like a typical record from the era — which is among the reasons I liked it so much.

There were no synthesizers, programmed drums or other syntho-tech instruments to be heard. It featured fiddles, a banjo, various horns and even what sounded like a scrub-board.

This group spurned the flashy clothes or other outfits adorned by some artists of the era, preferring overalls and other gear that made them resemble overgrown street urchins instead of 1980s pop stars.

I'm talking about by Dexys Midnight Runners, fronted by Kevin Rowlan, and their song "Come On Eileen." Featuring tempo and key changes, the song provided a welcome change to some of the mechanical-sounding recordings being issued at the time.

I had a hard time understanding the words to the first verse at the time, which I later learned referred to a well-known 1950s pop singer: "Poor old Johnnie Ray, sounded sad upon the radio, broke a million hearts in mono."

With so many songs with a name in the title, I thought of another that fit that criteria — and the recording also mentioned another name that would later be associated with pop culture.

The song: "Denise," a 1963 hit by Randy & the Rainbows, which would be one the last hits by an American vocal doo-wop group before that fabled band from Liverpool hit the shores of America in February 1964, and changed a lot of people's ideas about what constituted a vocal group in those changing times.

"Denise" climbed all the way into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts and also made it to number 18 on Billboard's hot rhythm and blues songs chart. It wound up being the number 27 song of the year for 1963.

It even won a second release in 1978 in the UK by the American new wave band, Blondie, retitled "Denis" making it all the way to the number 2  slot on the British charts.

The other name referred to on the original recording of "Denise" is not a regular moniker, but a series of sounds similar to the name that would later be given to a certain great Dane when Hanna-Barbera launched a new animated series in 1969 about some mystery-solving teenagers and their large canine companion.

Check out the lyrics to Randy & the Rainbows 1963 hit: "Oh Denise, scooby-doo, I'n in love with you, Denise, scooby-doo, I'm in love with you."

I wish I could say those lyrics to "Denise" directly inspired the name of the titular character in the long-running TV series.

Credit goes to a another 1960s hit instead. When Frank Sinatra released "Strangers in the Night" in 1966, he improvised some- scat-like vocals near the song's end, singing "doo-be-doo-be doo," as the recording faded out.

CBS TV executive Fred Silverman had a new TV series in development at the time, but he didn't like the name given to the Great Dane who served as a companion to those pesky kids who solved a mystery during every show. The program's creators gave the show's canine-in-chief the name of Too Much — a name Silverman didn't like.

While on an overnight flight, Silverman heard Sinatra's recording of "Strangers in the Night" and as Sinatra began singing the "doo-be, doo-be-doo" part near the fadeout, inspiration struck and Silverman decided to adopt it as the name of the title character in his new series: "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?"

As anyone who's spent much time around kids and TVs can attest, the "Scooby-Doo" animated series and its various spinoffs have at times seemed ubiquitous.

I'm just glad Silverman decided to change the name of the mystery-solving dog. The original one would have been ...  too much!

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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