The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

23 December 2005

Not to be confused with Title IX

Titles are a relatively new phenomenon: the classical shelf is full of things called "Symphony No. 4" and such, and motion pictures often don't get a title until well into the production phase, often designated at that point as "Untitled So-and-So Project," naming a director or perhaps a star. (Then there's Untitled: A Love Story, which I've mentioned before.)

A few albums on the pop side have been designated as untitled, including one by the Byrds. The fourth Led Zeppelin album is technically entitled in Druidic runes, though it's usually referred to as IV or Zoso or That Thing With "Stairway" On It. But some albums — and at least one single — get their titles from their record-company catalog numbers.

This was perhaps easiest to do with instrumentals, which give you no words to draw a title from: Memphis bandleader Willie Mitchell had a fair-sized hit in 1964 with "20-75," issued on Hi 2075. (Five years later, he put out a track called "30-60-90"; this was Hi 2154. Apparently you can only pull this trick once.)

The first album I know of that followed this scheme was Peter, Paul and Mary's 1967 LP Album 1700 (Warner Bros. 1700). Nothing in John Court's poem-as-liner-notes suggests any particular reason why, so I assume they did it just for a lark. (1700 was a big hit, too, with two singles: "I Dig Rock and Roll Music" and a cover of John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane", which wasn't actually put out on a 45 until 1969.)

On the other hand, Brewer and Shipley's ST-11261 (Capitol ST-11261, 1974) was so named, they say, because the record company treated it like so much product. This does not seem to be the case with Dave Davies' AFL1-3603 (RCA AFL1-3603, 1980): Nipper's minions appear to be pretty supportive. Then again, the cover art shows Dave with his head replaced by a bar code.

Which brings us to Yes and 90125 (Atco 90125, 1983). So far as I can figure, the motivation here was to sound as little as possible like previous progfests like Tales from Topographic Oceans; it was a smash hit (the single "Owner of a Lonely Heart" helped) and spawned a concert-album follow-up, 9012 Live. At least one source once claimed that "90125" is the ZIP code for Warner Bros. Records in Burbank, which is neither true nor relevant.

I once thought that, were I to own a record label, I would number the releases in the Fibonacci sequence. This idea quickly turned sour when I realized that the first two releases would perforce both be numbered 1, and 2 would be the third release.

Posted at 6:23 AM to Tongue and Groove