misleading album titles and the stories behind them

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…