Great Moments in Musical Punctuation

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You may have heard recently that a certain Shawn Carter has officially jettisoned the hyphen from his stage name — he’s Jay-Z no longer, and is instead going by plain old Jay Z. (In fact, he made the change two years ago, but it’s taken this long for the world to notice.) It’s the most fuss anyone’s ever made over a hyphen in the music industry — a place where the rules of grammar and punctuation aren’t exactly observed with religious devotion. This tendency has led to much amusement over the years. Here are some of the more notable moments in musical punctuation, for better or worse.

The umlaut

The most rock ‘n’ roll accent of them all, beloved of Mötörhead, Blue Öyster Cult, Mötley Crüe, and, of course, Spin̈al Tap. It’s so ubiquitous that it gets its own Wikipedia page!

Godspeed You Black Emperor

You’ll notice that the title of this page is missing an exclamation point. The reason for this is that the position of GYBE’s signature punctuation always seemed more like a basis for negotiation than anything else. It started at the end of their name (Godspeed You Black Emperor!) and then moved into the middle (Godspeed You! Black Emperor)for Yanqui OXO and beyond. Apparently it was something to do with the translation of the title of the Japanese film from which they took their name.

ADULT.

You can’t get more definitive than all-caps and a period, can you?

R.E.M.’s “Wolves, Lower”

The myth of Michael Stipe as enigmatic mumbler was cemented by this early track, a curious retelling of the Red Riding Hood myth that features one of music’s most enigmatic commas. The verses refer to “wilder lower wolves,” so why the wording is reversed in the title is unclear, and will most likely remain so given Stipe’s propensity for remaining tight-lipped about his lyrical decisions. It wouldn’t be the last time he’d mess with punctuation, either — see also Lifes Rich Pageant and “Feeling Gravitys Pull,” for instance.

!!!

Of course. It’s generally pronounced “Chk Chk Chk,” but according to the band themselves, it can be any three repeated sounds.

ABBA

I’m referring to the backwards B, which made ABBA’s name perfectly palindromic. Sadly, it doesn’t exist in any language on earth beyond ABBA-ese, nor in unicode, so it lives on on the band’s album covers alone.

Sunn 0)))

Yes, yes, it’s a brand of amplifier beloved of the doom metal overlords, not just a wacky experiment in punctuation. But even so, how many other bands can you name with three closed parentheses in their name? It’s refreshing — the humble parenthesis is everywhere in song titles, but it gets a raw deal in band names.

Absent question marks

The Libertines’ “What Became of the Likely Lads.” Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To.” Et cetera. Et cetera. This trend probably started with Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced, and depending on who you ask, it may signify either a certain ultra-cool blank detachment, or just the fact that the band couldn’t be arsed with grammar class.

Florence + The Machine

It’s that damn plus sign, and the way in which both Florence and her record company insist that it gets used instead of an ampersand or just plain old “and.” If you’re going to deliberately mess with punctuation, there has to be a reason.

Will.I.Am

The actual worst. Also, the way his name is formatted means that most browsers treat it as a hyperlink, one that takes you straight to his website. Pure. Evil.