Many iconic rock and roll songs throughout history have included a color in the title, from The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” to Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Colors can evoke powerful emotions and associations for listeners, so it’s no surprise that musicians have frequently drawn on them when creating hit songs. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most famous and influential rock songs over the past 60+ years that have a color in the title.
Notable Examples from the 1950s and 1960s
Rock and roll exploded onto the music scene in the 1950s, bringing with it plenty of colorfully titled tunes. One of the earliest was Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” from 1956, a rocking ode to a brown-eyed lover. Another early rock color song was The Clovers’ 1959 hit “Love Potion No. 9,” which conjures up vivid images with its title.
The 1960s saw rock lyrics become more experimental and psychedelic, with many songs referencing colorful imagery and landscapes. Donovan’s 1966 track “Mellow Yellow” epitomized this trend with its lyrics about an “electrical banana.” The Rolling Stones also got into the color act with their 1966 single “Paint It Black,” which became one of their most popular and influential songs.
Major Examples from the 1970s
Rock music blossomed into new styles and subgenres in the 1970s, but color titles remained a constant. Several of the decade’s biggest hits featured colors, including “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones, and “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers Band. Elvis Presley scored one of his last big hits in 1973 with the provocatively titled “Burning Love.”
But one ’70s rock color song towered above the rest in both popularity and influence: “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. With its operatic textures and mystical lyrics, the six-minute epic single handedly transformed the scope of rock music. Queen also showed their knack for color titles earlier in the decade with 1974’s “Killer Queen.”
Continued Prominence in the 1980s and 1990s
The 1980s carried on the tradition of color rock titles in a big way. Hits like Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone,” Def Leppard’s “Photograph,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” incorporated colors centrally into their lyrical themes.
But the king of color rock titles in the ’80s was undoubtedly Prince. With songs like “Purple Rain,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “Little Red Corvette,” Prince created an entire color-coded musical universe in his lyrics. He also wrote songs for others using the strategy, such as “Manic Monday” for The Bangles.
Moving into the 1990s, notable color rock hits included “Black” by Pearl Jam, “Blue” and “Yellow” by Coldplay, and “Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. Weezer’s 1994 smash “Buddy Holly” also name-checked various colors in its lyrics.
Recent Examples from the 2000s and Beyond
The last two decades have proven that color titles still captivate rock and roll artists and audiences alike. The Red Hot Chili Peppers scored major hits with their singles “Scar Tissue” and “Californication” in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Rock band Jet landed international success in 2003 with their shrieking retro track “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” which prominently declares “I’ll buy you an emerald.”
More recently, the Black Keys have consistently utilized color references in their song titles over the last decade. Hits like “Tighten Up,” “Lonely Boy,” and “Fever” demonstrate they have color title construction down to a science. Other contemporary acts like Portugal. The Man (“Purple Yellow Red and Blue”) and Glass Animals (“Black Mambo”) have also jumped on the rock color title trend.
Based on the long lineage traced above, it seems unlikely that rock bands will stop incorporating colors into song titles anytime soon. The examples highlighted merely scratch the surface of the hundreds of color-titled rock hits throughout history. Clearly the winning formula of adding a color will continue captivating artists and listeners for decades to come.
Notable Rock Songs with Color Titles
|“Blue Suede Shoes”||Carl Perkins||1956|
|“Blueberry Hill”||Fats Domino||1956|
|“Long Tall Sally”||Little Richard||1956|
|“Blue Moon”||The Marcels||1961|
|“Brown Eyed Girl”||Van Morrison||1967|
|“Purple Haze”||Jimi Hendrix||1967|
|“Black Magic Woman”||Santana||1970|
|“Blue Jean”||David Bowie||1984|
|“Red Red Wine”||UB40||1988|
|“White Wedding”||Billy Idol||1982|
|“Black Velvet”||Alannah Myles||1989|
|“White Rabbit”||Jefferson Airplane||1967|
In summary, rock and roll musicians have made colorful use of color titles across every decade since the genre’s beginnings. From Chuck Berry to Coldplay, incorporating a color into a song’s name has proven a simple yet powerful technique to make the tune memorable and vivid for listeners. This trend shows no signs of fading anytime soon, so we can expect to be singing along to fresh color-coded rock hits for many years to come.