Album titles are often a signpost offering directions to the music within. Sometimes they suggest what the songs sound like, sometimes they're a statement of a theme; a clue as to why the album was written. But sometimes albums are given titles that appear to be deliberately trying to mess with people's expectations.
This can be for mischievous reasons - such as Paul McCartney's 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom - or an attempt to remain coy and open to misinterpretation by listeners (especially in the field of live recordings). And some, as in our first example below, are just plain shifty.
20 Jazz Funk Greats - Throbbing Gristle
With the driest of wits, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle titled their third album 20 Jazz Funk Greats partly out of scorn for people who might like an album with that title, and partly because their music had started to incorporate elements that could loosely be termed either jazz or funk. Even the cover was deliberately misleading, as Cosey Fanni Tutti explained to Music Academy: "It was a pastiche of something you would find in a Woolworth's bargain bin. We took the photograph at the most famous suicide spot in England, called Beachy Head. So, the picture is not what it seems, it is not so nicey-nicey at all, and neither is the music once you take it home and buy it.
"We had this idea in mind that someone quite innocently would come along to a record store and see [the record] and think they would be getting 20 really good jazz/funk greats, and then they would put it on at home and they would just get decimated."
Alive! - KISS
When KISS were thinking about making their first live album in 1975, they realised that to get a good recording they were going to have to make some substantial compromises to their natural performance. As Gene Simmons told VH1: "In those days, I'd be taken over - I'd be possessed, and I'd make tonnes of mistakes on my bass. I remember talking backstage with the guys, and everybody agreed that we would jump around less - that we would try to hit the notes more."
But even being less frantic on stage didn't prevent the band from having to take their live tapes into the studio to fix missed notes, out-of-tune harmonies, and, well, sometimes everything but the drums. So, the name Alive! is an artful sidestep of the fact that it's not entirely a live album in the accepted sense, despite looking (and trying to sound) like one. Not that Paul Stanley minds. In his autobiography, he embraced the improvements to the tapes, saying: "Who wanted to hear a mistake repeated endlessly? Who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar? For what? Authenticity?"
10 from 6 - Bad Company
10 from 6 is a compilation album that came out in 1985. It was given that slightly clunky title because it has 10 songs, and Bad Company had released six albums by that point. The fun part is that there are no selections from their album Burnin' Sky. Not one. The album that was compiled should be called 10 from 5 (With 1 Remaining).
It's tempting to add a further layer of mathematical significance, because Burnin' Sky was their fourth album, and 10 from six equals minus four (yeah? Do you see?). But that might just be overthinking things...
Dusty in Memphis - Dusty Springfield
Technically there is nothing wrong with the title to this album. It was recorded at the American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, using Memphis soul veterans as a backing band, under the expert tutelage of producer Jerry Wexler. Dusty was there when the songs were recorded, and that music is a record of the time she spent in Memphis, making Memphis-style soul. All perfectly clear.
But from the title alone you'd probably assume she recorded her own vocals during that visit. That isn't the case. Overcome by nerves to be among such hallowed musical company, she barely made a sound and couldn't commit to more than a couple of the songs on offer. She eventually had to finish her vocals in a subsequent studio session in New York. The album's original subtitle is carefully worded to skirt around this, calling it "Dusty Springfield's first recording with the Memphis Sound" without actually saying she recorded her voice there.
A Collection of Great Dance Songs - Pink Floyd
Sarcastic album titles are a rarity, especially coming from one of the biggest bands in rock. And it's not as if Pink Floyd are particularly credited with a great sense of humour, so the title to this 1981 compilation can only be read as if snarled by a grumpy uncle. "Only mindless idiots DANCE to music," it seems to huff indulgently to itself, "This is ART."
Having said that, the album's first track is One of These Days, a bouncy, swinging tune that rests upon an echoed bass guitar shuffle (not a million miles away from the Doctor Who theme) that you could definitely shake a leg to. So it's a misleading title in two directions at once.
The Return of The Durutti Column - The Durutti Column
The principal reason why the title The Return of the Durutti Column is misleading as a title is that it's the first album by The Durutti Column; they're not returning from anywhere. That said, the album's title could be a reference to a revival of the Columna Durruti, an anarchist faction of about 6,000 people who fought against General Franco during the Spanish Civil War, even though the spelling is different.
And if that wasn't muddlesome enough, the album was originally packaged in sleeves made of sandpaper, to shred any records placed on either side of it. Which is a totally punk rock gesture of such violence, it's almost completely at odds to the thoughtful and plangent guitar madrigals that actually appear on the record.
Debut - Björk
At the time Debut was released in 1993, Björk was already established as the very popular lead singer of Icelandic indie darlings The Sugarcubes, so very few people took the title of her first solo album to mean anything other than a career rebirth, a break from her band identity and a chance to strike out on her own.
The interesting thing to note is it's not actually Björk's first solo album either. Her unearthly vocal talents arrived so early that she actually released her true debut, an album called Björk, in 1977, aged 11.
Jazz - Queen
Picky as it may seem, you'd be hard pushed to find any jazz on this album. And that's strange, because while Queen were never going to embark on an atonal journey into free-jazz skronk, they definitely dabbled in a bit of Dixieland from time to time. Brian May's Good Company features a guitar orchestra taking all the instrumental parts - clarinet, trombone, trumpet - associated with a trad jazz band. But the closest Jazz gets is the loosely swung Dreamer's Ball, and the title of the vicious sign-off More of That Jazz. The rest is enormously varied, taking in rock, klezmer, funk and languid ballads, but Charlie Parker it is not.
See also: More Songs About Buildings and Food by Talking Heads.
2001 - Dr. Dre
This might not have seemed misleading at the time it was released, because in 1999 everyone knew it wasn't 2001 yet. But looking back over Dr. Dre's three-album solo career (so far), it's going to become more and more common to assume the title refers to the year of release. In fact, the album was intended to be called Chronic 2000, but Dre's former label boss Suge Knight used the title, so Dre just added a year, and put a marijuana leaf next to the number as a coded reference to the original title.
Pub quiz captains across the land would do well to memorise the true release date, just in case.
Magic Bus: The Who on Tour - The Who
While some live albums make an artful fudge of their gig verisimilitude, others avoid all that hard studio work by not even bothering to pretend the music on the album matches its title. Magic Bus: The Who on Tour is an American compilation of Who b-sides, album tracks and EP tracks, put together to capitalise on the success of 1968 single Magic Bus. It is not a record of The Who on tour in any understandable definition of the phrase.
And this does seem to have ushered in an era of exceptional honesty in album titling from the band. Subsequent albums carried the titles Tommy (the story of a boy called Tommy), Live at Leeds (a live album, recorded at Leeds University), Who's Next (a belligerent pun) and Odds and Sods (a collection of unreleased recordings). And their slightly lacklustre 1975 album was even entitled The Who by Numbers.
Mind you, the band did put out a farewell album in 1983 called Who's Last, and while that actually was live, it wasn't their last album.
The Story of the Clash: Volume 1 - The Clash
To take this from basic principles, anyone who titles their first greatest hits album as if it's going to be part of a series - as The Kooks recently did with The Best of... So Far - is a fool. Even Justin Bieber would be unwise to bank on having any more great hits to add to the pot. But what makes The Story of the Clash: Volume 1 a particularly strange title is that it was compiled long after the band had split up. The Clash's record company knew exactly how many songs they had from the start.
And it's not as if the record was such a duffer no one bothered to make a sequel; it was, in fact, so popular that subsequent compilations were commissioned of the band's lesser-known work, such as Super Black Market Clash. It's just no one named any of them The Story of the Clash: Volume 2.
Greatest Hits 1984-1987 - Reggie and the Full Effect
Pop punkers Reggie and the Full Effect recorded their debut studio album in 1998, and released it in 1999. The band formed in the studio, Foo Fighters-style, after leader James Dewees started handing out a jokingly made cassette demo of four of his songs, while on tour in the mid-90s with Coalesce. At no point had he had any hits between 1984 and 1987.
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - U2
If you're expecting a line of snark about why none of the lyrics to this U2 album actually mention blueprints or wiring schematics, settle down. The title is not supposed to be taken literally. In an online Q&A Bono explained that it was largely about his father: "In my head How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is about my father, Bob, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bob. He died a couple of years ago, and his demise set me off on a journey, a rampage, a desperate hunt to find out who I was. And that resulted in a lot of these songs, so it's a lot more personal than a political record, I think."
Not that it's not an ungainly title for an album, as The Edge acknowledged in the same interview: "It's still got all the awkward qualities that we at first were uncertain about, but for a reason we couldn't even begin to explain, it just seems like that's the title of the record. You have to get out of the way when that happens. If something is right, you just have to acknowledge it, even if you don't necessarily have a great explanation for why it's right."
III - Van Halen
It's always worth double checking albums with a number in the title. Sometimes it's to signify the number of albums an artist has released - as is the case with Chicago and Scott Walker - but that's not always the case. So although Van Halen II was indeed Van Halen's second album, Van Halen III is their eleventh, but their first with singer Gary Charone, so it's a commentary on their third line-up.
On a similar note, 13 is Blur's sixth album, Bee Gees' 1st was the third studio album by the brothers Gibb (but the first to be released internationally), and Seven by James refers to the members of the band. It's their fourth.