When Dolly Parton debuted her latest single, “World on Fire,” during the Academy of Country Music Awards on May 11, Nate Smith was aghast.
RCA Nashville was set to release his single with the same name to radio four days later.
“What are the odds of that?” Smith asks. “That’s crazy to me.”
The odds of two different songs with the same title being worked to the marketplace at the same time are not that large, though the likelihood that a title has been used before is pretty good:
• Chris Stapleton’s “White Horse,” the top debut on the current Country Airplay chart, uses the same two-word moniker as a 2008 Taylor Swift single and a 1984 pop single by Laid Back.
• Gabby Barrett’s “Glory Days” shares its name with a Bruce Springsteen classic and a recent Chapel Hart single.
• Parker McCollum’s “Burn It Down” mirrors the title of a 2012 Linkin Park single that topped Hot Rock & Alternative Songs. Jason Aldean also launched a Burn It Down Tour behind the similarly titled “Burnin’ It Down,” and back in the ’90s, Marty Stuart’s “Burn Me Down” and Clint Black’s “Burn One Down” were fairly close.
• Meanwhile, the July 26 death of Sinéad O’Connor, best known for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” occurred just nine days after the release of Mickey Guyton’s properly spelled “Nothing Compares to You,” featuring Kane Brown.
Using the same title isn’t a sin, as “Glory Days” co-writer Seth Mosley discovered early in his career. His first hit was The Newsboys’ “Born Again,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Christian chart in 2010. It came a year after Third Day reached No. 3 with its own take on “Born Again.”
“You can write the same title five different ways,” says “Glory Days” co-writer Emily Weisband.
Actually, five is a low number. There are nearly 300 songs with the name “Glory Days” in the Songview database, an online catalog of titles represented by performing rights agencies BMI and/or ASCAP. The index also features over 330 songs named “World on Fire,” more than 650 called “Burn It Down” and more than 50 titled “Nothing Compares to You.” Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night,” in fact, is one of at least 1,000 songs with that moniker.
“I guess if everybody else has been trying to do it, maybe we were on to something,” “Burn It Down” co-writer Hillary Lindsey reasons.
Whether or not a title has been written before hinges in great part on the familiarity of the phrase. Songwriters tend to lean toward songs that feature common language. Thus, the everyday phrase “Change of Heart” -— associated with hits by The Judds, Cyndi Lauper, Tom Petty and Eric Carmen — appears nearly 800 times in Songview, while the Joe Nichols semi-novelty “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” is the only song with that title.
The age of existing hits with a particular title can influence whether a phrase gets reused. Springsteen’s version of “Glory Days,” for example, was a hit in 1985, a full 15 years before Barrett was born. When the title came up in the writing room, she didn’t know about the Boss’ version, and nobody told her about it, either. The live-in-the-moment plot she and her co-writers developed is distinctly different from Springsteen’s nostalgic take on it.
Similarly, the writers on Carrie Underwood’s “Dirty Laundry” had little or no awareness of Don Henley’s 1982 anti-media take on that title. And Old Dominion’s current “Memory Lane,” a title that appears more than 900 times in the Songview database, has not been a top 20 title since Paul Whiteman’s Pennsylvanians took it to No. 1 in 1924. And Brothers Osborne’s first top 10 single, 2015’s “Stay a Little Longer,” came 70 years after Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys recorded a Western swing hit with the same name.
“Shit, if you know the Bob Wills song, then more power to you,” T.J. Osborne said at the time.
Still, standard titles — such as “Georgia on My Mind,” “I Will Always Love You” or “Your Cheatin’ Heart” — are mostly out of bounds.
“There are some that when you hear it, you would never touch it or you look like assholes, like ‘Yesterday,’ ” says “Burn It Down” co-writer Liz Rose.
Titles and basic ideas cannot be copyrighted — it would be unrealistic to ask writers to avoid “Without You” (a hit for Badfinger, Keith Urban and Dixie Chicks) as a title, or to not address a widely familiar topic such as heartbreak, simply because those subjects had been broached before.
It would also be difficult to referee disputes when more than one version of a title emerges at the same time. When “Day Drinking,” for example, became a hit for Little Big Town in 2014, it was one of several songs with that title that had circulated around Music Row simultaneously. That sometimes happens when specific themes become popular and multiple songwriters attempt to capitalize on the trend. It could, however, derive from something deeper.
“Some people say that being creative, it’s just out there in the universe, and you have to just be open to it to let it flow through you,” Lindsey notes. “I believe in all that stuff. I haven’t dove all the way into all that stuff, but I believe it.”
That title, “I Believe It,” has already been written more than 150 times, and it has yet to become a hit.
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