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Parenthetical Song Titles

I am way, way, way too fascinated by parenthetical remarks in song titles. Take the Simple Minds song “(Don’t You) Forget About Me.” “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” To give you an idea how insane I think that title is, I got it completely wrong the first time. I thought the (Don’t You) part was in parenthesis. That made little sense. The way it actually is makes even less sense.

Look, these quotes might not be quite as powerful if we had used parentheses:

“(All We Have To Fear Is) Fear Itself.”

“(Ask Not) What Your Country Can Do For You.”

“(A House Divided Against Itself Cannot) Stand.”

Best I can tell there are three (or four, maybe) kinds of parenthetical song titles. The first is the kind where the words in brackets actually counter the rest of the title, giving it the opposite meaning. People think the Rolling Stones classic is titled Satisfaction. But it isn’t. The song isn’t about satisfaction. He may try and try and try and try but the bottom line is he can’t get no satisfaction.

And the song title, of course, is: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

This of course also has all sorts of double-negative ramifications too — is he saying he CAN get satisfaction since he cannot get no-satisfaction? — but we’re focusing on the parentheses. We can’t get into the grammatical and logical crimes of music. We’d spend 200,000 words on Steve Miller alone.

Blue Oyster Cult wrote a song that seems to be called “The Reaper” but without the parentheses that might be a song about how awesome The Reaper is, how frightening, how intimidating, how fun he is at parties, how much his name must be celebrated with cowbells. But only after you add a little message in a parenthetical preamble do you understand.

It’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” After all, seasons don’t fear the reaper.

The second type of parenthetical is the kind that more or less explains the song title. I particularly like these sorts of bracketed words — they are like helpful little signs that guide you through. For instance “The Shoop Shoop Song.” What is that? The parentheses explain. “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).” OK, now I get it.

Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” is another well-placed explainer.

Sly and the Family Stone are saying “Thank You.” That’s nice. But thank you for what? Thank you for buying the album? Thank you for not smoking? Thank you for the flowers?

It’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

Well, that clears it up — and offers one of the fun word puzzles in music history.

The third kind of parenthetical adds critical and often surprising information. These are like Sixth Sense parentheses that twist the song in directions you didn’t see coming. Elvis Presley’s song is “Teddy Bear.” This could be a remembrance of a favorite stuffed animal or a fit of jealousy about someone’s love toward their teddy bear or, well, anything else.

But then with the parenthetical you understand. The song is “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” Ah. Got it now.

The two best explainer parentheses in music history, in my opinion, are Aerosmith’s “Dude” and Elvis Costello’s “Red Shoes.” There is absolutely no way whatsoever to draw from those titles what the songs are about. Aerosmith could be doing some country song about some Dude ranch guy or The Dude in Big Lebowski.

The parentheses clear up all confusion. The song title is actually: “Dude (Looks Like A Lady).”

Red Shoes’ parenthetical comes entirely out of nowhere. Red Shoes? What could that be about? And here’s the song title: “(The Angels Want to Wear My) Red Shoes.” Whoa.

In this genre you have to include Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion).” And I think you have to also add R.E.M.’s “IT’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I feel Fine)” to the list, though I have mixed feelings about that one. I’m thinking R.E.M. is giving away a little too much, sort of like those movie trailers where you feel like you’ve seen the whole movie.

But then, I guess there’s a fourth kind of parenthetical — this is the kind where the parenthetical seems to add absolutely nothing at all to the title. These bother me so much that I probably need to get psychiatric help about it. I mean, sure, I get the gag parentheses like The Kinks “(A) Face In the Crowd” but some of these people add bracketed comments that add nothing — absolutely bleepin’ nothing — to the title. And they don’t seem to (notice). They don’t even seem (to care). Arrrgh (Arrgh!).

Here, from my small amount of research, are the ten most useless, pointless, worthless, extraneous, repetitive parenthetical song titles.

10. “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do).” Darryl Hall & John Oates.

Why? Just … why? “I can’t go for that” is plenty explicit. No need for deeper explanation. Why?

9. “Sad Songs (Say So Much).” Elton John.

Do they now, Sir Elton? Not getting the message across with simply “Sad Songs?”

8. I Ran (So Far Away), A Flock of Seagulls.

You write a song called “I Ran” we’ll just assume you covered some ground.

7. “(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty.” KC & The Sunshine Band.

I’m not as angry about the words themselves as I’m angry they put those first three shakes in parentheses. They are every bit as important as the fourth “shake.”

6. “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” T.Rex

I almost put this in the (explainer) category, but no. “Bang A Gong” is sufficient for a song with the verse, “Well you’re built like a car, you’ve got a hub cap diamond star halo.”

5. “I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band).” The Moody Blues.

We did not think you were a singer with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

4. “(I Got That) Boom Boom.” Britney Spears.

There’s so much stupid happening here it’s kind of hard to separate one boom from another.

3. “(I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long.” Chicago.

Who else would be searching? Title also features the faux dropped-G-replaced-by-apostrophe trick to give the song attitude and grittiness.

2. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.

Those two words, “I’ve Had” have taken two years of my life. The song itself took off another five.

1. “All Night Long (All Night)” Lionel Richie.

If anyone ever deserved to be arrested for a song title it is Lionel Richie.

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96 Responses to Parenthetical Song Titles

  1. Adam says:

    What about R.E.M.’s song “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)”? What does that parenthesis do?

  2. Vinnie says:

    Let the music play on (play on play on play on play on)….The song title doesnt bother me as much as Lionel’s faux Jamaican (?) accent.

  3. Mergatroid says:

    For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
    Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
    Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
    If I Only Had the Words (To Tell You)
    Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) That’s four from Billy Joel and I only have four of his albums…
    Hats Off to (Roy) Harper
    (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
    The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)
    (Ghost) Riders in the Sky
    Boom Boom (Out Goes the Lights)
    The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)
    They Dance Alone (Cueca Solo) I feel like Sting would be all about parentheticals, but all I got was a translation.
    Mama Told Me (Not to Come)
    The Talking Heads are just a mystery to everyone, so I wasn’t surprised to see Drugs (Electricity), Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On), A Clean Break (Let’s Work), Memories (Can’t Wait), and This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)

  4. invitro says:

    Joe, Joe, Joe. The song is correctly titled “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. If you’re gonna write about parenthetical song titles, and use a song as your prime example, at least get that one song right!

  5. bl says:

    Good God. So many parenthesis and yet the greatest parenthetical song of all time is no where to be seen!

    i want you (she’s so heavy)

    you’re welcome

    • Gsegse Gegsew says:

      Then there’s the same guy writing “(Just LIke) Starting Over”. I guess that’s somewhat justified in that the couple Lennon sings about aren’t literally starting over.

  6. Csc says:

    (I just) Died in your arms tonight. Clarifying who died and at exactly what point in the evening.

  7. Conrad says:

    Jackie Wilson – (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher

    type 3?

    • Doug says:

      Which of course brings to mind “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When She Smiles)”.

      Or, if you prefer the Dexys version (as I do), “Jocky Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When She Smiles)”.

  8. In which category would “(Pride) In the name of Love” fall? It’s not explaining anything, nor adding vital info to the title, so 4?

    • Cuban X Senators says:

      I think there’s another category (which may or may not overlap some of Joe’s): the alternative title.

      I think “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) may actually be one if these. And “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss” may be too.

      Why they just don’t do the “or” song title trick, (such as “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”), I don’t know.

    • invitro says:

      OMG you got it backwards like Joe did. It’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”.

  9. robert magee says:

    I really enjoyed (this post). (It was) fun to read.

    thanks (Joe)

  10. Chris H says:

    I’m wondering if some of the parentheticals at the beginning of the song titles don’t have to do with sorting. Back in the days when you had to look through alphabetical lists, it might have made a significant difference in looking up a particular song. I think “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is an example of this.

    Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” is sui generis – the title everyone knows it by, followed by the title that only David Byrne uses in parentheses, just in case David forgets which song “This Must be the Place” was?


  11. Daniel says:

    No mention of the seminal ’80s band, Was (Not Was)? They were known for such hits as:

    Knocked Down, Made Small (Treated Like a Rubber Ball)
    (Return to the Valley of) Out Come the Freaks — a personal favorite, title-wise
    Out Come the Freaks (Again)
    Somewhere in America (There’s a Street Named after My Dad)

  12. Jeff says:

    I was always amused by the Stones’ title, “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).”

  13. Mike Dow says:

    Against All Odds (More Appropriate Song Title that’s not the Movie Name)

  14. Triston says:

    What about when songs have parentheses “in the middle”?
    “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine” by James Brown.
    And what of “(Nice Dream)” by Radiohead?

    The T. Rex song actually was “Get It On” in the UK, and they only changed it to “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” in the US because another song called “Get It On” by Chase was on the charts already.

    • Gareth Owen says:

      So, where does Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) fit into all this?

      • MCD says:

        I think there is a category that Joe didn’t really cover. There is the: Artist Named It This (Everyone is Going to Refer To It As This). I think “Good Riddance” and “Brass in Pocket” are prime examples.

        You might argue that lots of the other categories fall in to this as a certain degree, but I think there are ones firmly entrenched in this category. The song-writer gets to stick with there artistic vision of the title and the “record company” (are they still called that) gets a title that is recognizable.

      • wjones58 says:

        Funny story surrounding a sad event. When my first wife died, my daughter wanted to sing that song at the funeral. The program referred to it as “Time of Your Life”, but I seemed to remember that it had another title, so I kept asking folks until I was finally told that it was “Good Riddance”, and they didn’t think it proper to include in the program. So I got a well-needed chuckle.

  15. Fray says:

    I’m shocked (shocked!) that there has been no mention of:

    (Everything I Do) I Do It For You

  16. Phil says:

    Ditto on the story behind “Bang a Gong.”

    The most awkward placement of parentheses I can think of is the Spinners’ excellent “They Just Can’t Stop It the (Games People Play).” (On the 45–it’s just “Games People Play” on the LP.) Grammatical issues, too.

  17. Tom Wright says:

    Of course, if you mention “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, you have to mention the Black Eyed Peas’ remix, which was entitled “The Time (Dirty Bit).”

  18. Dave says:

    Brass In Pocket (I’m Special)
    Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)
    Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)
    December 1963 (Oh What A Night)
    The Fish (Shindleria Praematurus)
    Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie (A Man After Midnight)
    Happy XMas (the War is Over)
    I Got You (I Feel Good)
    I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
    Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman)
    Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)
    Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song)
    Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
    Oh Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)
    Puff (The Magic Dragon)
    Right Next Door (Because of Me)
    Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)
    Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
    Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
    (She’s) Sexy + 17
    (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
    You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)
    You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Dead & Gone)

    A related and also fun category of songs – those where the title does not appear in the song. A bit harder to do a search for!
    Black Dog
    Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
    A Day In the Life
    Baba O’Riley
    Big Log
    D’Yer Maker
    My Back Pages
    Positively 4th Street

  19. ralphdibny says:

    Tangential question: I’m an English teacher, and occasionally I ask students to read aloud in class. Some students will skip over anything in parentheses, and when I ask them about it, they always say that they were taught to read that way. I find this to be insane, yet it happens all the time, so it must be a common practice. Were any of y’all taught in this way?

  20. Richard says:

    I thought that parentheticals were also known as “the popular name of the song, usually sung during the chorus as opposed to the artist’s actual name of the song”. Examples:

    Absolutely (Story of a Girl) – Nine days
    Blue (Da Ba Dee) – Eiffel 65
    Hemorrage (In My Hands) – Fuel
    My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) – En Vogue

    • Tyson says:

      I think you’re missing a 5th category, where the original title was so poorly chosen that nobody knows what song you are talking about and they had to add parenthesis to clear it up. Some other examples mentioned above, but here’s mine:

      Escape (The Pina Colada Song)

      • Richard says:

        That also opens up an extra category. The parenthetical actual title… where the title of the song is never mentioned in the song itself.

  21. Ryan V. says:

    R.E.M had a lot of “talent” for this. “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” is still among my favorite songs.

    • Phil says:

      Something I wrote once when I listed my favourite R.E.M. songs while writing about my album collection: “Six songs, three with parentheses—Yes, I Was a Total R.E.M. Sap (And I Guess I Still Am, to a Degree).”

      (The other two were…never mind: there were parentheses in the titles, and I don’t want parentheses inside parentheses.)

  22. murr2825 says:

    I wonder which category “(Fourth of July, Asbury Park) Sandy” falls under?

  23. Mark Daniel says:

    Blow Me (One Last Kiss), that’s a good one. Not sure what category it belongs in, though.

    • Anon21 says:

      Category 1, I think; the non-parenthetical title comes across as an aggressive and insulting challenge, the full title makes it seem more melancholy (which better fits the tone of the actual song).

  24. MCD says:

    “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)” by The Clash

    This one can partially be explained by the fact “Stand by Me” was already taken and has been recorded hundreds of times.

  25. Ben Tilghman says:

    All these commenters before me and no one’s mentioned Spinal Tap’s smash “(Listen to the) Flower People” and its classic follow-up “(Again with the) Flower People”?

  26. Ben Tilghman says:

    Also, let’s not forget that Radiohead gave us Hail to the Thief, a whole album of paranthetical song titles:
    1. “2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm)”
    2. “Sit down. Stand up (Snakes & Ladders)”
    3. “Sail to the Moon (Brush the Cobwebs out of the Sky)”
    4. “Backdrifts (Honeymoon is Over)”
    5. “Go to Sleep (Little Man Being Erased)”
    6. “Where I End and You Begin (The Sky Is Falling In)”
    7. “We suck Young Blood (Your Time Is Up)”
    8. “The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold)”
    9. “There there (The Boney King of Nowhere)”
    10. “I will (No Man’s Land)”
    11. “A Punchup at a Wedding (No no no no no no no no)”
    12. “Myxomatosis (Judge, Jury & Executioner)”
    13. “Scatterbrain (As Dead as Leaves)”
    14. “A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll)”

    • Guest says:

      And then there’s Sigur Ros’s album () in which none of the songs have titles, implying perhaps that all the songs make long one parenthetical.

  27. Joseph says:

    My personal fav: “A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)”

  28. I’m almost embarrassed, scratch that, I am really embarrassed for this song, but in my defense, they were really big in Venezuela: Roxette’s “Fading Like a Flower (Every Time You Leave)”

  29. invitro says:

    My favorite one right now is “Sex (I’m A….)” by Berlin.

    My favorite type is this kind: “(Get A) Grip (On Yourself)” by The Stranglers.

    And this is a good one: “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”.

  30. Mike Doughty put parentheticals on six songs of a 12-song album, he explained just for fun because he always loved those titles.

    “Nectarine (Part Two)”
    “(I Keep On) Rising Up”
    “(You Should Be) Doubly (Gratified)”
    “(I Want To) Burn You (Down)”
    “(He’s Got The) Whole World (In His Hands)”
    “(When I) Box the Days (Up)”

  31. In Roger Waters’ “The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking” all the song have a parenthesis, albeit ’cause every song marks the time of the day and (the name of the song)

  32. Jefe says:

    Some of these parentheticals seem like they could be alternate titles.

    Maybe T Rex wanted to call it “Get It On” but someone thought “Bang A Gong” might be less controversial. And then both got stuck on there anyway.

  33. James says:

    Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) by Icicle Works was re-released as Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly). So they have it covered both ways.

  34. invitro says:

    Don’t forget that Tom Petty released an answer song to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” called “Make It Better (Forget About Me)”.

  35. Andy says:

    Gonna Date Myself With My (Parenthetical) Favorites:

    Alone Again (Naturally)
    Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)
    Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)
    Do It (Till Your Satisfied)
    Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)
    If Lovin You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right)
    It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion)
    Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)
    Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
    Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)
    Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)
    Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)
    What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You’re Gonna Get Drunk Again)
    Wish I Could Fly (Like Superman)
    You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)
    You Don’t Have to be a Star (To be in My Show)

  36. Matt Stephenson says:

    For my money, the absolute, no-doubt, inner circle hall of fame parenthetical song title is (I’ll Make You) Love Me by The Vandals.

  37. Herb Smith says:

    For most of these, the parentheses are put in for MARKETING reasons. Think about the U2 song: philosophically, they wanted the song to be titled “Pride.” But their record company promo-guy prolly said to them “Hey, I see what you’re aiming for. But you utter the word “Pride” just once, at the end of the song. Meanwhile, Bono is screaming “In the name…of love” over and over again, throughout the song. Anyone who walks into a record store is gonna say, “Hey, do you sell that song called “In the Name of Love?”

    So Bono and Edge got together and said…”Well, I guess it wouldn’t kill us to have a hit song. Why don’t we compromise and put the hook in parentheses?”


  38. fred says:

    What? No mention of Sigur Ros? One of their albums is called ()

  39. JGF says:

    I should have known the artist behind #1 was Lionel Richie (Lionel).

  40. David says:

    While I am a diehard Rush fan so of course I would love this, but I think you will like it too: “Anagram (for Mongo)”. Here the parentheses are purely for Blazing Saddles fans and have nothing to do with the song (Which is a bunch of Anagrams).

  41. tombando says:

    Don’t forget: (Smells like)Teen Spirit by Kurt Gobang and co.

  42. […] Parenthetical Song Titles by Joe Posnanski. Posnanski explores the sketchy and legitimate uses of parentheticals in song titles – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction — with hilarious results. […]

  43. jarbrewer says:

    For an overly punctuated song title, it’s tough to top the Moody Blues
    THE AFTERNOON: Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)

    • invitro says:

      I am game for a “strange punctuation” round. The defending champion is of course “Paint It, Black”. A contender would have to be (a) even more strangely punctuated, (b) a classic and important song, that is (c) actually a great song.

      • Herb Smith says:

        The contender would also have to do what the Stones did by way of their weird punctuation: put the actual meaning of the title into question.

        As you might have heard, since this song was a hit at the height of the civil rights movement, many African-Americans were not thrilled at the seeming command given by Mr. Jagger.

        • invitro says:

          I had not heard that. I have always wondered why the comma is there. Wikipedia says only that Richards said that Decca added it.

  44. jim louis says:

    R.E.M. has a beautiful song on Green titled “(Untitled)”.

    Wilco has a song titled “Nothingsevergonnastandinmywayagain (Again)”

  45. Mr Furious says:

    Hopped in the car this morning to be greeted by Cracker’s “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” on satellite radio.

  46. Michael Calandra says:

    I never quite understood Billy Ocean’s parenthetical: “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)”

    • invitro says:

      Oh, come on, you understand it.

      When I was a young teenager and that song was new on the radio, I thought it was nothing less than a new kind of music, and Billy Ocean became my favorite artist. And this was in 1984, the year of Prince and Springsteen (whom were my #2 and #3 favorites). When he put out “Lover Boy”, wow, that just fed stuff, and I cheered for it to get to #2.

      Then he started releasing crap, that was obviously crap, that made the Top Ten anyway. Following the Top 40 is and was a fool’s game.

  47. murr2825 says:

    The creepiest one: He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss) by the Crystals. Definitely a different era.

  48. Paul Hamann says:

    Is there a math category? I submit this entry from The Human League:

    “Rock Me Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and Again (Six Times).”

  49. Byrne says:

    so given this list, Joe hasn’t listened to music since 1982, it appears.

  50. MK says:

    It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – AC/DC

  51. Jawa says:

    Laughed so hard at #2

  52. Pete says:

    Joe, you’re going to make the best crotchety old man ever.

  53. Yablo says:

    Buffalo Springfield: For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)

  54. David B. says:

    The Stranglers had a rare double parentheses title: (Get A) Grip (On Yourself).

  55. Steve V in Little Canada says:

    Well, Joe has obviously never programmed a computer in LISP… a language invented for LISt Processing (aka “Lots of Irritating Single Parentheses”).
    Now I think I’d better write a song in LISP, for Joe’s benefit!

  56. AMusingFool says:

    #2 used by Ballmer, in his farewell to microsoft.

  57. Ian says:

    My brother once wrote a song called “Go Away (Come Back)” just because the title looked funny.

    I think my personal favorite parenthetical title is an album track from Cheap Trick: “Go For the Throat (Use Your Own Imagination).” Both phrases are used in the chorus, and they’re both interesting in their own right.

    The Ramones had a b-side called “(You) Can’t Say Anything Nice,” and those parentheses always bugged me for their sheer pointlessness.

  58. […] Dave Letizia recently shared with the Style Invitational Devotees group on Facebook a post on Joe Blogs, the site of NBC Sports columnist Joe Posnanski. Mr. Blogs was expressing irritation about the […]

  59. […] Dave Letizia recently common with a Style Invitational Devotees organisation on Facebook a post on Joe Blogs, the site of NBC Sports columnist Joe Posnanski. Mr. Blogs was expressing exasperation about a […]

  60. Jeff says:

    In my opinion, there should be a fifth category: When an artist sings a word in the song a certain way so he/she puts the pronunciation of said word in the title. Examples of this category include The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow (Hey Oh) and Akon’s “Right Now (Na Na Na).

  61. […] Parenthetical Song Titles […]

  62. […] Parenthetical Song Titles […]

  63. Shane Riley says:

    I thought I was the only one who got riled up about song titles. Parentheses don’t bother me. What really gets on my nerves is a song title that is a question but without a question mark. Grrrr!

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