Over the weekend, Lady Gaga struck a blow against copy editors everywhere when she announced that the title of her new album, ARTPOP, must always be written in ALL CAPS, because “it’s all in the details.”
And while we’re not trying to downplay said details, we’d be like to point out that Gaga isn’t exactly the first artist to demand orthographical satisfaction. Shoot, she’s not even the first to go ALL CAPS: Earlier this year, Linkin Park did the same thing with their LIVING THINGS album, only they one-upped Gaga by also requesting that all songs on the album also be written in all caps, bravely eschewing the lowercase for reasons apparent only to them.
In fact, the history of popular music is packed with affronts to punctuation — from early pioneers like the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” to more recent torchbearers like Panic! at the Disco and Godspeed You! Black Emperor — though rarely have artists had the audacity to extend that mistreatment to the album title itself.
Of course, there are those who have bravely dared to throw logic (and roughly 300 years of letter-case tradition) out the window when it came time to name their new albums. So in honor of Gaga’s ARTPOP demands, here’s a look back at some of the greatest — and by that, we mean most nonsensical — album titles in history.
Led Zeppelin’s IV: At the peak of their powers — both artistically and, it would seem, mystically — Zeppelin decided they didn’t need to title their fourth album. Instead, they printed four hand-drawn symbols (each representing a band member) on its inner sleeve. The move has subsequently enthralled generations of bong-glazed dorm inhabitants and only added to the album’s mystique. In the 40 years since it was released, the record has come to be known as IV, Runes, Zoso (after Jimmy Page’s symbol) and “the one with ’Stairway to Heaven’ on it.”
Prince’s Love Symbol album: Released in the lead-up to the Purple One’s “symbol” phase — when he changed his stage name to an unpronounceable hieroglyph that incorporated the symbols for both male and female — it understandably infuriated his label, Warner Bros., which was precisely what Prince intended. (Note to labels: Do not release greatest-hits packages without Prince’s approval.) After the album didn’t sell (he blamed this on Warner), Prince would eventually begin appearing in public with the phrase “Slave” written on his face. Shocking, to be sure, but at least you could pronounce it.
Ministry’s Psalm 69: Its actual title is a collection of Greek symbols (that translate to “head”) and the number “69” in Greek numerals. Not only that, but Ministry named their 1992 album in honor of occultist Aleister Crowley’s “The Book of Lies,” which was first published as “Which is also Falsely Called BREAKS. The Wanderings or Falsifications of the One Thought of Frater Perduarbo, which Thought is itself Untrue. Liber CCCXXXIII [Book 333].” And that would have been a ridiculous name for an album.
Sigur Ros’ ( ): The Icelandic art-rockers really outdid themselves on their third album, and we’re not just talking about the decision to sing all the songs in a made-up language called “Hopelandic.” Technically, ( ) has no actual title. Rather, the brackets are meant to represent its two halves or give the listener the opportunity to determine the title themselves. Oh, and officially, all of the tracks on the album are untitled too. Your move, Gaga.
Coldplay’s X&Y: Sure, it’s got a traditional title. But ever the artistes, Coldplay decided to print the name of their 2005 album in the Baudot code , an early forerunner of the Morse code that relied on a series of 1’s and 0’s to convey messages. Needless to say, the logic behind the decision was about as difficult to crack as the code itself.
M.I.A. /\/\ /\ Y /\: Yes, we know that technically, M.I.A.’s 2010 album is called Maya (she named it after herself, following in the tradition of her first two albums, which were named in honor of her mother and father), but let the record state that when she officially unveiled the title, she did so in tricky typographical fashion. No wonder Diplo hated it so much.
Liars’ WIXIW: It’s pronounced “Wish You,” FYI. And for a band like Liars, who have spent their career giving albums titles like They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top and They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, we’d like to think it’s actually an improvement.
Sound off on the latest album title trend in the comments, and FEEL FREE TO DO IT IN ALL-CAPS!