Working titles behind timeless releases from the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Nirvana, The Smiths and more revealed…
Kanye West’s decision to keep changing the name of 'The Life Of Pablo' isn't the first time that a high profile act has retracted their original title for something new. Here are 50 working titles of albums that had their names changed before they were released, and some are quite revealing...
The Smiths - 'The Queen Is Dead': Morrissey might have intimated that he was thinking about voting UKIP in 2013, but back in the 1980s he was a staunch left winger, and 'The Queen Is Dead' was originally going to be called 'Margaret on the Guillotine', inspired by the then incumbent Prime Minister. A song of the same name was eventually recycled for 'Viva Hate'.
The Beatles - 'Revolver': The Beatles had a hard days night working out the title for the follow-up to 'Rubber Soul,' with 'Abracadabra' favourite until they found out it had been used elsewhere. John suggested 'Four Sides of the Eternal Triangle', while Ringo came up with 'After Geography' (a weak play on words in response to the Stone’s 'Aftermath').
Pixies - 'Doolittle': ‘Hey’ might just be the most popular Pixies song there is, and it's certainly the most popular never released as a single. The dark lyrical underbelly of the song inspired the working LP title 'Whore', though Black Francis and co changed it to the more animal friendly 'Doolittle' and we’re kind of glad they did.
The Beatles - 'The White Album': It’s those indecisive mop tops again, who this time couldn’t think of a name for 'The White Album' (and given that it’s not really called 'The White Album' - that’s just a nickname - they never really did find one). 'A Doll’s House' was the working title for the record they eventually put out bearing nothing more than their name and a white sheen.
Nirvana - 'Nevermind': Kurt Cobain was rather concerned about all the sheeple (sheep people, obvs) following his band, a theme represented in many of the lyrics on the follow-up to 'Bleach', so it stood to reason he’d call it 'Sheep'. In the end Nirvana opted for 'Nevermind' - a record that would sell a staggering 30 million copies (and counting). Baaaaaaaa.
David Bowie - 'Low': After finally topping the charts in the US and having his most successful period, David Bowie retreated to Berlin in 1976 in order to try get off drugs and make his most avant-garde album, 'Low'. The working title was 'New Music Night and Day', reflecting the light and shade of the contrasting sides. It didn’t sell well then, but its influence is now vast.
Public Enemy - 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back': Public Enemy’s 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions...' was originally going to be named after the opening track 'Countdown to Armageddon'. The connotations of their first idea may have been negative, but the title they eventually decided upon was rebel rousing and defiantly positive.
Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy': As we’ve seen already, Kanye West is the kind of artist who changes his mind a lot. 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' started life as 'Good Ass Job', but as the album developed and the experimentation started to take him to places he hadn’t been before, the name inevitably changed to something more appropriate.
Blur - 'Parklife': Given the fixation with England’s capital throughout, it was no surprise Blur's 'Parklife' nearly ended up being called 'London'. The track 'London Loves' itself was bus, crepuscular and sounded like the clinical concrete and glass of the city, where ‘Parklife’ was more playful, evoking its greenery and shouting cockneys. In hindsight, it was probably the best way to go.
The Beach Boys - 'Pet Sounds': Whether it was a working title or not, who can say, but for some reason the Australian branch of The Beach Boys’ label decided to release 'Pet Sounds' as 'The Fabulous Beach Boys' in that country.
Blur - 'Modern Life Is Rubbish': Damon Albarn intended to set out his agenda of promoting Englishness with 'Modern Life Is Rubbish', originally titled 'Britain Versus America'. It would be the first in Blur's 'Life' series - the centrepoint of Britpop's suburban daydreams - and would mark the pivotal turning point in the band's fortunes.
The Beatles - 'Abbey Road': Everyone knows the story of ‘Yesterday’ starting life as 'Scrambled Eggs', but did you know that 'Abbey Road' was originally going to be called 'Everest'? The Beatles were planning a trip to the Himalayas for a photoshoot, when someone pointed out that the zebra crossing by the window was nearer.
Nirvana - 'In Utero': Famously, 'In Utero' was going to be called 'I Hate Myself And I Want To Die', though Krist Novoselic convinced Kurt Cobain to change it as he feared Nirvana would be sued if it turned up in someone’s suicide note. Ironic. 'Verse Chorus Verse' was also mooted before 'In Utero' won through.
Sex Pistols - 'Never Mind The Bollocks…': 'Never Mind the Bollocks... Here’s the Sex Pistols', was originally going to be called 'God Save The Sex Pistols'. After a scandalising performance on Bill Grundy's teatime show in 1976, it didn’t really matter what they called the album - they were still always going to be public enemy No.1.
Sonic Youth - 'Daydream Nation': Sonic Youth nearly went with the “Tonight’s the day” lyric from the song ‘Candle’ as the title for much-lauded LP 'Daydream Nation'. 'Daydream Nation' even inspired a dodgy 2010 Canadian teen angst flick of the same name, so despite this dubious homage, you sense they made the right call.
Fleetwood Mac - 'Rumours': Fleetwood Mac nearly lifted the lyric “yesterday’s gone” from ‘Don’t Stop’ as the title for their biggest selling album; instead they went with 'Rumours', which better suited the soap opera that was going on within the band at the time.
The Rolling Stones - 'Let It Bleed': The Rolling Stones were originally going to call their 'Beggars Banquet' follow-up 'Automatic Changer', and those two words were actually the inspiration for the unusual cover that graces 'Let It Bleed'. The Royal Mail chose 'Let It Bleed' as one of its 10 ‘Classic Album Covers’ for a 2010 stamp collection.
David Bowie - 'Station To Station': David Bowie was thinking about calling the follow up to 'Young Americans' either 'The Return of the Thin White Duke' or 'Golden Years', neither of which would have been bad. Instead he opted for 'Station to Station'. In fact, any of the names of the six tracks on the album would have worked. 'Wild Is The Wind' anyone?
Talking Heads - 'Remain In Light': Talking Heads worked with the title 'Melody Attack' throughout the recording process of their fourth studio album after watching a Japanese game show of the same name, but eventually they went with 'Remain in Light' for the classic 1980 LP.
Pixies - 'Surfer Rosa': The Pixies first album proper was nearly named after the Black Francis / Kim Deal collaboration and musical high water mark 'Gigantic', but eventually the Boston four-piece went with the more enigmatic 'Surfer Rosa'.
Bob Dylan - 'Bringing It All Back Home': Bob Dylan’s 'Bringing It All Back Home' could have been known as the even more verbose 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' - one of Robert Zimmerman’s most iconic tracks - and that was the name the record company went with in the Netherlands.
Green Day - 'Dookie': Green Day’s 'Dookie' was originally going to be called 'Liquid Dookie', inspired by an unnamed member of the band’s dodgy bowel movements. 'Liquid Dookie', unsurprisingly, was eventually deemed “too gross”.
Suede - 'Suede': Suede’s first album went through some name changes before they went with a simple, eponymous title. 'Half Dog' and 'Animal Lover' were considered, and even 'I Think You Stink' - which you couldn’t imagine winning the Mercury Music Prize, could you?
Blur - '13': Blur may be back on track these days, but at the tail end of the century things weren't so chipper. '13', the band's 1997 post-Britpop classic, went under the dramatic working titles of 'When You're Walking Backwards From Hell, No One Can See You', and 'Only God', before they settled on the unlucky number (well, unlucky for some).
Pink Floyd - 'Dark Side Of The Moon': Pink Floyd certainly had their heads in the clouds when they were looking for names for what would eventually become one of the best selling albums of all time. 'Eclipse' was the working title, and eventually they settled on 'Dark Side of the Moon'.
Michael Jackson - 'Thriller': 'Thriller' is the best selling record of all time, but would it have shifted so many units had it been called 'Starlight' as MJ originally planned?
Eminem - 'The Marshall Mathers EP': Amsterdam has appeared in the title of a Jacques Brel song and a Max Bygraves song, and it was nearly the name of 'The Marshall Mathers EP', at least until Eminem changed it. It’ll probably surprise precisely nobody that the original working title was inspired by the rather loose drug laws that were prevalent in the Dutch city at the time of release.
David Bowie - 'Young Americans': David Bowie had many working titles for 1975's 'Young Americans', including 'Somebody Up There Likes Me', 'One Damned Song', 'The Gouster' and 'Fascination'. Bowie scored his first US number one single with ‘Fame’ - did the album title help with the US market or was it the fact the track was written with John Lennon? Neither probably did him any harm...
Manic Street Preachers - 'Everything Must Go': The Manics first album following the disappearance of guitarist Richey Edwards in 1995, 'Everything Must Go' - named after a play by Nicky Wire’s brother Patrick - started life as 'Sounds in the Grass', inspired by a series of paintings by American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock with the same title.
Massive Attack - 'Mezzanine': 'Mezzanine', Massive Attack’s third album, was something of a departure from the first two albums. The working title was 'Damaged Goods', which also happened to be the name of Gang of Four’s first single. The process of recording was drawn out, the music delivered far darker than its predecessors.
Yeah Yeah Yeah - 'Show Your Bones': Yeah Yeah Yeah’s 'Show Your Bones' was going to be called 'Coco Beware'. Fans of vintage WWF wrestling will tell you that the name comes from the contact sport's own Koko B. Ware, '80s and '90s wrestling extraordinaire, who went onto inspire the naming of Karen O’s cat. True story.
Beck - 'Midnight Vultures': Beck’s 1999 nu-disco masterpiece 'Midnight Vultures' underwent a few working titles. 'Zatyricon', which ended up as the name of a farout B-side to ‘Nicotine and Gravy’ was one. The other was 'I Can Smell the V.D. in the Club Tonight', and the less said about that the better.
The Avalanches - 'Since I Left You': Bloody lazy Australian electro outfit The Avalanches have only released one proper album to date - 2000’s 'Since I Left You' - and it was very nearly called 'Pablo's Cruise', after one of the tracks on said album.
Radiohead - 'Hail To The Thief': Radiohead’s politically charged 2003 album 'Hail to the Thief' underwent many name changes in the recording process, including 'The Gloaming', 'Little Man Being Erased', 'The Boney King of Nowhere' and 'Snakes and Ladders'.
U2 - 'The Joshua Tree': U2’s 'The Joshua Tree' was recorded at Joshua Tree in the Californian desert, so it stands to reason that it got its name from the place it was recorded. The working titles include the more generic 'The Desert Songs', and the more intriguing 'The Two Americas'.
Wilco - 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot': Wilco’s 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' started life as 'Here Comes Everybody', which alludes to Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE), the central character of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. In the end Joyce’s letters were eschewed for three chosen from the phonetic alphabet.
Arctic Monkeys - 'AM': Before Arctic Monkeys settled on the very simple 'AM' title for their last album, they considered calling their 5th studio album 'The New Black'. But it wasn’t the first time they vacillated either...
Arctic Monkeys - 'Suck It And See': 'Suck it and See' - Arctic Monkeys' preceding album - went under a number of working titles including 'The Rain-Shaped Shimmer Trap', 'The Thunder-Suckle Fuzz Canyon', 'The Blondo-Sonic Rape Alarm', and perhaps most hilariously, 'Thriller'.
Arctic Monkeys - 'Favourite Worst Nightmare': Arctic Monkeys' second album, 'Favourite Worst Nightmare', also could have been called a number of things, with 'Gary Barlow' the most surprising. 'Gordon Brown' was another idea, 'Lesbian Wednesdays' another. One suspects they might have been having a laugh.
Led Zeppelin - 'Presence': 'Presence' might be Led Zeppelin’s least famous album, but its arrival in 1976 followed a traumatic time for the band, especially singer Robert Plant (who’d been involved in a car crash the year before). Jimmy Page apparently wanted to call the album 'Thanksgiving', because they finished it the day before Thanksgiving, but that idea didn’t last long.
U2 - 'Achtung Baby': 'Achtung Baby' was by far U2's most radical record when they released it in 1991, and the change of direction required a radical name. Those bandied about included '69', 'Zoo Station', 'Adam', 'Fear of Women' and 'Cruise Down Main Street'. The name they settled upon came from Mel Brooks’ Oscar-winning comedy The Producers.
The Who - 'Tommy': The Who’s rock opera 'Tommy' was originally going to be called 'Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy', on account of the fact the main character Tommy is a “deaf, dumb and blind kid”, as posited in the lyrics of ‘Pinball Wizard’.
The Who - 'Endless Wire': The Who’s 2006 album 'Endless Wire', recorded on Eel Pie Island (and in Pete Townshend’s home studio) nearly came out a year earlier under its working title 'WHO2'. Interesting name considering it was the band’s 11th studio album.
The Beatles - 'Let It Be': The Beatles’ final studio album 'Let It Be' (or at least the final release) was actually recorded before 'Abbey Road' as 'Get Back', and somehow kept being put back until it was shelved. Once the Fab Four split, Phil Spector was brought in to soup it up with some orchestration (which McCartney stripped away again for 2003’s 'Let It Be… Naked').
Hard-Fi - 'Once Upon A Time In The West': If Blur were in thrall to London on 'Parklife', then Hard-Fi were just as influenced by their hometown of Staines on 'Once Upon a Time In The West'. The LP was going to be called 'Bat Out of Staines' and then 'Songs In The Key Of Staines' before they settled on the eventual title for their 2007 release.
Guided By Voices - 'Bee Thousand': Guided By Voices lo-fi classic 'Bee Thousand' was recorded under the snappy working title 'All That Glue and Instructions for the Rusty Time Machine'. Who knows why they changed it?
Morrissey - 'Viva Hate': Morrissey had planned to call his first solo album 'Education in Reverse', and some were released in New Zealand and Australia under that title (which are probably worth a mint now). 'Viva Hate' was not only a snappier title but also a wittier mission statement.
Beck - 'Guero': Beck’s sixth studio album 'Guero' - Mexican slang for someone with light skin - was initially going to be called 'Ubiquitous.' While it was Beck’s highest charting album in the US, to be fair only 1996’s 'Odelay' could really lay claim to being ubiquitous, spawning three massive hit singles and winning two Grammys.
Bjork - 'Homogenic': Bjork’s 1997 album 'Homogenic' started life as 'Homogeneous', which she shortened to make it more snappy. It was the Icelandic musician’s most experimental album to date at the time, and has been hailed by critics as one of the finest electronic albums ever recorded.