You can spend years crafting a piece of art that represents complex thoughts and emotions. Then you have to sum up all that complexity with a clear, concise title with no more than a handful of words. What a pain in the ass. It should be snappy and catchy, too? Damn it! And something that rolls off the tongue with ease and fluidity? Son of a bitch!
Not everyone can nail a title on the first shot, which means there's bound to be some famous things that ran through some exceptionally shitty titles before they landed on the one that worked. And there are! Here's five entries of proof, starting with ...
#5. House Was Once Called Chasing Zebras, Circling the Drain
You've got a shitty title on your hands when it requires people to drown in med school debt just to attain the knowledge needed to understand it. House, the show about the doctor who could solve the most vexing medical cases but couldn't heal himself, began life as Chasing Zebras, Circling the Drain.
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"Why?! Why did we have to get picked up for a full season?!"
That absurdist nonsense is medical slang. "Chasing zebras" refers to medical cases where symptoms of a rare illness present themselves as a more common illness. Like Foreman says in the pilot episode: "If you hear hoof beats, you think horses, not zebras." "Circling the drain" is exactly as it sounds: patients on the verge of death.
That title perfectly described House: doctors who are attempting to diagnose the undiagnosable. It also sounds like the title of a Salvador Dali painting, or a doctor show starring Dali himself, where all his cures involve rearranging people's guts into surrealist shapes that his underlings don't understand, but they don't want to look stupid, so they just nod in agreement.
"The mangled gallbladder with a lady's face represents ... his lymphoma? No! His disconnect from a post-industrial society!"
House may ultimately have been the boring choice, but at least it wouldn't mislead people into thinking they were going to watch an Oscar-baity documentary about a man who has lost control of his life but rediscovers himself as he hunts pinstripe ponies.
#4. The Original Title of Robinson Crusoe Was Too Long to Fit in This Entry Heading
Robinson Crusoe isn't a great title in itself. If you added a plus sign in the middle, it'd be a good name for a hip ad agency in Seattle run by people with thick rectangular glasses.
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It's too bland for a book about a castaway who gets into some serious shit with cannibals and mutineers. Still, it's infinitely better than the infinite title Daniel Defoe originally published his book under. If you're reading this article out loud because you have brain problems, take a deep breath before you start reading the title:
The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates
That damn title ate a third of this article's word count. Every time you think it's going to end, it runs you down with more title. It's the Return of the King of book titles. That title should come with volunteers who hand you cups of water as you struggle through that word marathon. And it spoiled the entire book. That's like if The Sixth Sense was called This Guy? Oh, Yeah. He's Dead!
Here's what the title looked like on the cover of the first edition:
The words start off big, then get smaller and smaller, like the cover is simulating how your interest fades away as you continue reading the title. Raise your hand if you've ever seen a title with a Doppler effect. Cram it, you liar! This is the first and only one. It's written like it's meant to be read aloud by someone passing by on a motorcycle.
#3. The Original Title of License to Ill by the Beastie Boys Was Really Offensive
Def Jam/Columbia, David Gamboli
It's #219 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and it was the best-selling rap album of the 1980s. "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)," "No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn," and "Brass Monkey" were all massive hits off of the album, and all three are still being played to this day. It's without question one of the most influential hip-hop albums ever. I wonder how much of that acclaim the album would have had if the Beastie Boys' License to Ill had kept its original title: Don't Be a Faggot.
Given the tone of some of the songs, the original title seems fitting. Here, watch the video for "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" and tell me that doesn't look like a bunch of 1980s frat guys itching to shotgun a beer and beat up queers, because that's the definition of a good Friday night when you're stupid:
The title may have come from the mind of producer Rick Rubin. Rubin wanted the band's image to be pretty much what you see in the video above. Their label, Columbia Records, was not run by people missing a ton of chromosomes; they refused to release the album under its original title. They forced Beastie Boys manager Russell Simmons to force the band to change the title. That's way too much usage of the word "force" to describe an act that should have been effortless.
The suits protect from the gay menace.
The band changed the title to a play on a classic James Bond reference, and boom -- best-selling rap album of the 1980s. The Beastie Boys have since apologized "for the s---ty and ignorant things we said on our first record." Rick Rubin later went on to produce pretty much every popular album ever, all while hoping no one ever again brings up his gross proposal for an album title.