You Probably Think This Song Is About You
I’ve always thought I deserved a better song. I mean, my name deserved a better song.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate that it got one in the first place. Pearl Jam couldn’t have picked a better name for the anti-hero of its best-known song, if not its biggest hit (Billboard Hot 100 peak: number 79).
I’m a sucker for names with two syllables that end in “N,” but I can’t imagine the tragic antihero of “Jeremy” being anyone with a name other than mine. Would Nathan have had the same ring had he been the one who spoke in class today? Or Brendan, Ryan, Justin?
Probably not. Though I like to think of us as being gentle and sensitive, incapable of violence of any kind, a guy called Jeremy was the perfect one to go postal in the 1992 grunge classic.
I consider Jeremy lucky to have been the standalone title of a bigger hit than more common male names like Michael and Tom. Boy names actually get lucky like that much less regularly than girl names, which songwriter Stevie Nicks has paid tribute to at least six times, in “Alice,” “Greta,” “Jane,” “Juliet,” “Rhiannon,” and “Sara.”
Jeremy also got its own book title, a 1919 novel by Sir Hugh Walpole, which my friend Laura found in a vintage book store just in time for my 30th birthday (opening line: “About thirty years ago …”). In addition, it was the title of a 1973 movie starring Robby Benson that won a Cannes Film Festival award and was nominated for a Golden Globe.
Maybe some day “Jeremy” will get a song I like as much as I do Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” or “Corduroy,” but relatively few names get one song, never mind multiple ones. Gloria, a name that is shared by at least three great singers (Gaynor, Estefan and Trevi), has been used as the title of at least four rock and pop classics (by Van Morrison, Patti Smith, U2, and Laura Branigan).
Meanwhile, Sara (without an H) has been celebrated in the titles of big hits by Starship, Stevie Nicks, and Hall and Oates as well as a track on Bob Dylan’s 1976 album Desire (it’s the name of his first wife). Ruby is the titular heroine of great songs by The Rolling Stones (“Ruby Tuesday”), Donald Fagen (“Ruby Baby”), Ray Charles (“Ruby”), and Kenny Rogers (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”), whose breakthrough 1977 solo hit, “Lucille,” is about a woman whose name pops up in song titles by Little Richard, The Drifters, and Prefab Sprout, and was also the name of B.B. King’s guitar.
Over the years, some major acts have been particularly big on name calling. Michael Jackson did it in “Ben,” “Billie Jean,” and “Dirty Diana, as did The Oak Ridge Boys in “Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue,” and “Fancy Free.” Bobbie Gentry offered “Ode to Billie Joe,” “Niki Hoeky,” and “Crazy Willie” on her 1967 debut album, and “Fancy” on her sixth.
British invaders The Beatles name dropped in “Eleanor Rigby,” “Lady Madonna,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Michelle,” “Lovely Rita,” and, of course, “Hey Jude,” while Sweden’s ABBA gave shout outs by name in “Fernando,” “Cassandra,” and “Elaine,” the B-side of “The Winner Takes It All.”
Elton John has racked up a ton of name hits: “Lady Samantha,” “Levon,” “Daniel,” “Chloe,” “Nikita,” “Emily,” and “Little Jeannie.” Kiss serenaded special ladies in both “Beth” and “Shandi,” while Lady Gaga paid her own respects to people with a certain name in “Alejandro” and “Joanne.”
Regardless of how I feel about the grunge classic that bears mine, I must give it credit for changing my life in one important way. After years of having friends greet me by singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” (from Three Dog Night’s dreadful “Joy to the World”), Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” at least saw to it that would never happen again.
So Good They Also Got More Than One Great Song
Angie (The Rolling Stones, Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby”)
Alison (Elvis Costello, Pixie’s “Allison”)
Amanda (Don Williams, Waylon Jennings, Boston)
Caroline (Fleetwood Mac, Concrete Blonde, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”)
Carrie (Cliff Richard, Europe, The Hollies’ “Carrie Anne”)
Christine (Morris Albert, KISS, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The House of Love, OMD, Luscious Jackson, Motörhead, Christine and the Queens)
Daniel (Elton John, Anne Murray’s “Danny’s Song,” “Danny Boy”)
Jane (Stevie Nicks, Jefferson Starship, Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says,” and Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got a Gun”)
Jesse (Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” Madonna’s “Dear Jessie”)
Joey (Bob Dylan, Concrete Blonde)
Johnny (Randy Crawford, Prefab Sprout’s “Johnny Johnny,” the rock & roll classic “Johnny B. Goode”)
Laura (Leon Ashley and numerous cover artists, Ray Peterson’s “Tell Laura I Love Her,” Christopher Cross’s “Think of Laura)
Maria (Marty Robbins, Blondie, B.W. Stevenson’s “My Maria,” and Santana’s “Maria Maria”)
Mary (Sarah McLachlan, “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Ike and Tina Turner, The Monkees’ “Mary Mary”)
Mickey (Toni Basil, The Miracle’s “Mickey’s Monkey”)
Patches (Dickey Lee, Clarence Carter)
Roxanne (The Police, UTFO’s “Roxanne, Roxanne”)
Suzanne (Leonard Cohen, Journey)
Valerie (Steve Winwood, Mark Ronson Featuring Amy Winehouse)
Song Titles That Probably Didn’t Come from a Baby Name Book
“Almaz” Randy Crawford
“Belle” Al Green
“Bernadette” Four Tops
“Candy” Iggy Pop
“Carey” Joni Mitchell
“Delilah” Tom Jones
“Dudley” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
“Fanny (Be Tender with My Love)” Bee Gees
“Guinnevere” Crosby, Stills and Nash
“Janine” David Bowie
“Jolene” Dolly Parton
“Layla” Eric Clapton
“Lola” The Kinks
“Luka” Suzanne Vega
“Mathilda” Freddy Fender
“Natacha” Love and Rockets
“Shameika” Fiona Apple
“Sussudio” Phil Collins
“Veronica” Elvis Costello
It Takes Two
“Frankie and Johnny”: The pop classic that inspired “Frankie & Johnny,” a standout track from the 1993 album Terence Trent D’Arby’s Symphony or Damn.
“Jack and Jill”: Raydio and Ray Parker Jr.’s 1978 breakthrough hit.
“Suzy & Jeffrey”: the B-side of Blondie’s 1981 chart-topper “The Tide Is High.”
“Jack and Diane”: John Mellencamp’s only number-one single.