Published on June 25th, 2012 | by Hunter Schwarz0
Copyedit Your Song Titles, Maybe: A History of the Comma In No. 1 Pop Songs
American Idol winners these days can’t get a hit to save their lives. Ratings are dropping and year after year a boring white guy with a guitar wins and pops out the same reality singing show schlock as the last guy — and no one cares. They should take a cue from our neighbors to the north: a 26-year-old who got third on Canadian Idol in 2007 and landed a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 Thursday.
From the name of her song, “Call Me Maybe,” you could infer her name is Maybe. But, in actuality, her name is Carly Rae Jepsen.
You see, a comma can change the phrase “call me maybe.” Sans comma, like in the song title, it’s a command to call someone “Maybe” like it was their name, the way you call someone “Carly Rae Jepsen” or “Newt” or “Mitt” or “Barack.” With the comma, however, it’s a command to call someone — only it’s not all that commanding because the “maybe” gives the phrase a bit of hesitation. Like she’s biting her lip while saying it and she’s not so sure the guy will actually call her (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. He’s actually gay. Watch the music video.).
Memorial Day is behind us, Americans are lighting up their grills and summer is here. The warmer months are an important time for pop music. It’s the time when big, roll-down-your-window-and-
OK, so maybe summer hits don’t require correct spelling, but at least the Black Eyed Peas and Katy Perry were knowingly using the slang terms “gotta” and “gurls” in their song titles. In Jepsen’s case, it just seems like comma usage isn’t something they teach in Canada.
In her defense, commas in pop song titles aren’t very common. In the 54-year history of the Billboard Hot 100, only 24 No. 1 songs have included commas in their titles. The first was “Hello, Dolly!” by Louis Armstrong in 1964 (which was also the song responsible for ending the Beatles’ unprecedented 14-week, three-song run at No. 1, so well done, Louie).
In the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, seven songs with commas in their titles went No. 1 each decade. 1988 was the top year, with a record breaking four songs with commas topping the charts.
But it was all downhill after 1988.
In the ‘90s, the only No. 1 song with a comma in the title was “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child in 1999. In the ‘00s, “Bump, Bump, Bump” by B2K featuring P. Diddy in 2003 was the only one.
It isn’t as if song titles couldn’t have used commas the past 23 years, though. Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous 1997 hit “Mo Money Mo Problems” could have used one, as could Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” in 1998, Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” in 1999 (all he had to do was check the grammar on the 1988 hit of the same name by the Escape Club), Santana’s “Maria Maria” in 2000 and “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s in 2006.
So why did Carly Rae leave the comma out, and why did no one at Interscope correct it? Call me crazy, but maybe in an era of tweenage gurls [sic] texting “hey i just met u n dis is krazy lolol,” putting a comma between “me” and “maybe” could have confused the poor kids. Log on to Facebook and check the wall of any of your friends with birthdays. I’m guessing very few people posted “Happy birthday, friend,” with the comma.
Below is a list of the 23 No. 1 songs with commas in their titles. From this list, we learn that Cher was not a fan of the Oxford comma, which is great because neither am I. The oddest entry is the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black.” Why is there a comma there? There shouldn’t be a comma there. Keith Richards said the song title was originally comma free, but Decca, their record label, added it. To make matters worse, the B-side to “Paint It, Black” was a song called “Long Long While,” a song that definitely could have used a comma. Nice work, Decca. ♦ ♦ ♦
1964 “Hello, Dolly!” — Louis Armstrong
“Oh, Pretty Woman” — Roy Orbison
1965 “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” — Herman’s Hermits
1966 “Monday, Monday” — The Mamas & the Papas
“Paint It, Black” — The Rolling Stones
1968 “Hello, I Love You” — The Doors
1969 “Sugar, Sugar” — The Archies
1971 “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” — Cher
1973 “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” — Jim Croce
1974 “I Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Baby” — Barry White
1975 “Fly, Robin, Fly” — Silver Convention
1976 “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” — The Four Seasons
“Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty)” — KC and the Sunshine Band
1978 “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” — Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams
1983 “Baby, Come to Me” — Patti Austin and James Ingram
“Say, Say, Say” — Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
1985 “Say You, Say Me” — Lionel Richie
1988 “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” — Billy Ocean
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” — Bobby McFerrin
“Wild, Wild West” — The Escape Club
“Baby, I Love Your Way” — Will to Power
1999 “Bills, Bills, Bills” — Destiny’s Child
2003 “Bump, Bump, Bump” — B2K featuring P. Diddy
Hunter Schwarz graduated from BYU in journalism. He is the editor of the Student Review, an off-campus alternative newspaper in Provo, UT. You can follow on Twitter at @hunterschwarz.