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The Pickled Priest Wastes Valuable Time #001: Our 50 Favorite Guided By Voices* Song Titles

In this new feature, we take on projects that sound fun initially, but then inevitably turn into a time-sucking nightmare later on. Today, we spiral down the endless black hole that is Robert Pollard's song catalog, which teems with roughly 3,000 random, beer-fueled titles, to find our fifty favorites. That sounds futile enough to qualify as a waste of valuable time, doesn't it? To paraphrase the scene in The Social Network where the Harvard president rebukes the Winklevoss twins for bitching about Mark Zuckerberg, "[You did this] instead of doing what?" The answer, we're sad to admit is, "Any other remotely worthwhile human purpose." But what's done is done, so here's our list.

It should be noted that the Pollard song titles we love the most aren't always the goofiest or the flashiest. Sure, "Mosquitoes Dropped Their Javelins" is short-term amusing, but doesn't it seem to be trying a little too hard? I'm already tired of it. Same with "I Invented the Moonwalk (and the Pencil Sharpener)." He pushed it too far there, clearly. We don't like when humor doesn't know when to call it quits. Others may disagree. One thing is for sure, and that's the reality that every Pollard completist will have their own personal favorites, many not on our list. All we can offer is our not so valuable time (which we will never get back) and our threadbare rationale.

*Guided By Voices and related Robert Pollard projects included




50 "The Golden Pickle"

This one is obvious. It has the same name as the award given annually to the best pickle-themed blog.

From: GBV / Suitcase 2: American Superdream Wow

49 "3 Year Old Man" / "50 Year Old Baby" (tie)

Two songs released twenty years apart, but they could feasibly be about the same person. I like that idea.

From: GBV / Devil Between My Toes; GBV / From a Compound Eye

48 "After the Quake (Let’s Bake a Cake)"

If the gas is still working, why not?

From: GBV / Suitcase Three

47 "The Gasoline Drinkers"

This is a real thing according to the reality show My Strange Addiction. It wouldn't be the first time other people's personal tragedies have been exploited for a great song title. There's something about it that makes you want to investigate further. If this was a book, I'd read it. A movie, I'd see it. A painting, I'd stare at it.

From: Circus Devils / Gringo

46 "Father’s Favorite Temperature"

I'm temperature obsessed and I am a father of two temperature-obsessed sons, which is no coincidence. My answer, in case you're wondering, is invariably 67-degrees. Cool enough for a light blanket, warm enough to go barefoot.

From: The Takeovers / Bad Football

45 "Cinnamon Flavored Skulls"

At some point in the future, some famished zombie from the Walking Dead is going to stroll into a Panera, and they had better be prepared.

From: GBV / Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft

44 "Crucified by the British Press"

The British press has actually been surprisingly kind to Pollard's avalanche of output, perhaps because he often sings with a faux British accent, but the song clearly isn't self-referential anyway. In reality, the British music press is, if anything, way too forthcoming with misplaced praise, with a long history of toasting the latest shiny object instead of offering up anything that resembles responsible criticism. Still, the Pickled Priest loves a good old fashioned crucifixion, so here it is in the Top 50.

From" Circus Devils / Laughs Last

43 "Larger Massachusetts"

I like the concept of tiny Massachusetts (the sixth smallest state by area) dealing with a "size matters" inferiority complex. I can hear the awkward discussions at the plastic surgeon's office now. Are we talking, like, Texas big?Or can I put you in something mid-sized like an Iowa? Pollard eventually closed the sale in his lyrics, "The medium-sized world is making a comeback."

From: Robert Pollard with Doug Gillard / Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department

42 "Love Hate Relationship With the Human Race"

Put your hands in the air if you're feeling this way right about now. Strangely, years later Pollard came back with the defiant "We Won't Apologize for the Human Race" on GBV's Let's Go Eat the Factory, so it looks like he's cycling through his emotions like the rest of this stupid planet we live on.

From: Circus Devils / Gringo

41 "May We See the Hostage?"

Just send the hostage down the purple slide and we can end this right now

Speaking of sequel songs, this one could be related to another Circus Devils song, "Playhouse Hostage." The title seems to be a savvy, albeit unnecessarily polite, negotiation tactic. The logical next step when Ken loses his mind and takes Barbie hostage in her pink bedroom.

From: Circus Devils / The Harold Pig Memorial

40 "Imminent Fall From Grace"

This song was written prior to the 2016 election, but it has a factual specificity (a rarity for Pollard) that seems to foretell our impending political doom. That said, we're not here to talk lyrical content, just titles, and this one is Psychology 101. Let's face it, most of us experience a rollercoaster of fortunes, so it's natural to look over our shoulder even when things are going well because, as the saying goes "When you're happy, the world is breaking someone else's heart." Note: Morally impenetrable, power-hungry narcissists do not have this sam realistic tendency and expect everything to go their way all the time at any cost.

From: Ricked Wicky / King Heavy Metal

39 "Cohesive Scoops"

Pollard has countless titles in his arsenal that seem like they've been created using a GBV song-title-generator app. Each is amusing in itself, but collectively it can seem like even our hero is relying too much on a formula of his own creation. Even the most original thinker can fall victim to their own creativity. Which is why I like some of his more subtle titles, like this one. While I do not suffer from OCD, there are some things I like "just so" and I won't apologize for it. I like my barstools equidistant. I ensure my vines are tamed. I edit out the word "Explicit" from downloaded songs because I don't appreciate the forced morality. Sue me. Then again, there are other things I appreciate when properly executed, but don't expect to experience regularly. One of those things is the perfect ice cream scoop, let alone a series of perfect scoops all sharing one bowl or cone. So few have it mastered that you're better off turning the focus of your neuroses elsewhere. But when it does happen, revel in the moment.

From: GBV: Warf and Woof

38 "He Requested Things"

One byproduct of a good title is it can fire your imagination. "He Requested Things" has launched numerous scenarios in my mind, all viable. The big question here: What was the nature of his requests and to whom did he make them? Was it to a spouse? Did his compulsive neediness drive his wife mad over time? Were they perverse in nature? Or was he a persnickety restaurant patron used to getting his way? Did he require his ice cream scoops to be cohesive before he would put spoon to bowl? Unfortunately, most Pollard songs don't clarify things for you. In fact, the exact opposite it true.

From: Robert Pollard / Honey Locust Honky Tonk

37 "In Calculus Stratagem"

Before he became an indie-rock legend, Pollard was a school teacher, famously ending up in a classroom full of fourth graders where calculus was definitely not part of the lesson plan. But there are so few good "math rock" songs*, despite there being a genre dedicated to it, so I appreciate a title with some educational ambition built in.

From: GBV / Styles We Paid For

*A few math favorites: "Black Math" by the White Stripes, "My Mathematical Mind" by Spoon, "Neverending Math Equation" by Modest Mouse, "Emotions & Math" by Margaret Glaspy, and even Radiohead's "2 + 2 = 5" for laughs. And, it has to be added, Guided By Voices' very own "Math Rock."

36 "Mumbling Amens"

It burns!!!!!!

If you've ever set foot in a church, which I did weekly (by parental force) in my younger years, you know pretty much everyone in the place is going through the motions, mindlessly responding to the usual liturgy of priestly platitudes so they can get home for a sabbath agnostic slate of NFL football games. If you were a Lutheran, as we identified ourselves back then, "page 5" (preferred for its brevity) or "page 15" (despised for its length) of the hymnal were well known for their robotic call-and-response segments. I always wondered why we even bothered. At least we weren't Jesuits, I guess. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does the "Mumbling Amens" with the lapsed professionalism of the Catholics, who rotely rattle off their assigned lines like lobotomized cult members.

From: GBV / Warp and Woof

35 "Lithuanian Bombshells"

Similar to the Swedish Bikini Team, I suppose, but even more off the radar, tucked over in the Baltic states, just waiting to be discovered. Would also make a good name for a punk-rock band.

From: ESP Ohio / Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean

34 "Tour Guide at the Winston Churchill Memorial"

Scalping tix at the Churchill Memorial

Have you ever been unexpectedly smitten with someone out of nowhere? Sometimes it happens in the most unusual places at the most unexpected times.

From: GBV / Half Smiles of the Decomposed

33 "Optical Hopscotch"

The next time you go in to update your eyeglass prescription, tell your doctor you're suffering from "Optical Hopscotch" and see what they say.

From: GBV / Do the Collapse

32 "Everywhere With Helicopter"

Pollard's titling genius is in his word choices. If there was a Nobel Prize for song titling, he would surely be the inaugural celebrant. He knows just the right word to put in and just the right time to leave one out. Here, with great economy, he's created a pretty vivid, albeit exclusive, world for us to imagine.

From: GBV / Universal Truths and Cycles

31 "Picnic Drums"

Nothing says romantic riverside picnic for two more than a drum solo.

From: Robert Pollard / Mouseman Cloud

30 "Arthur Has Business Elsewhere"

Nothing turns someone into a bitch boy as quickly as leverage. It's a sad reality of the human condition. This title is significantly more palatable if spoken by John Gielgud, but even then it infers a class hierarchy that's a little too uppity for me. Still, if a title can trigger such a discussion it's got to be a good one.

From: GBV / Surrender Your Poppy Field

29 "Recirculating Hearse"

A creepy title that brings to mind a hearse working overtime for some unexplained reason. A provocative and disturbing image that's all too real in these days of endlessly repeating tragedies.

From: Circus Devils / The Harold Pig Memorial

28 "40 Yards to the Burning Bush"

Linus lights Charlie's Christmas tree on fire

Is this warning necessary? You would think a burning bush with a god hovering over it would be visible from 40 yards out. We know Moses was directionally challenged—I mean he spent 40-years wandering around a desert for Chrissake—so maybe a couple distance markers was a wise move. No Siri back then.

From: Robert Pollard and his Soft Rock Renegades / Choreographed Man of War

27 "A Trophy Mule in Particular"

Your assignment: make up a story that ends with this titular statement.

From: GBV / Earthquake Glue

26 "Flings of the Waistcoat Crowd"

This one is very Downton Abbey, with tales of ribaldry implied and imagined.

From: Robert Pollard / Kid Marine

25 "Long Live Instant Pandemonium"

Pollard will occasionally drop a straightforward title, and when he does, it often has some bite to it (witness song #42). Instant pandemonium in America is showing no signs of going away, thanks to a seemingly endless supply of nut jobs, fuck ups, and loose gun laws, so this dose of sarcasm is more social indictment than it is an attempt at topical humor.

From: Robert Pollard / Of Course You Are

24 "Ding Dong Daddy (Is Back from the Bank)"

This one sounds like it could be a Broadway musical number, perhaps cut from Annie at the last minute, or something an obnoxious Monopoly player might say after you land on Boardwalk with a hotel.

From: GBV / Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft

23 "Bottoms Up! (You Fantastic Bastard)"

Someday, perhaps at my retirement party or, OK, my funeral, I would be tickled pink if some attendee, ideally one nobody else in attendance can place, raised a glass to honor me with this robust toast.

From: GBV / Suitcase: Failed Experiments and Trashed Aircraft

22 "Gold Star for Robot Boy"

In the future, even our robots will need daily affirmations, and before you know it, participation trophies and the like will follow. So insidious and fragile is the human condition.

From: GBV / Bee Thousand

21 "The Birthday Democrats"

This would be a great title for a novel. If you see this on the shelf of a local bookstore, you'll at least want to read the dust jacket.

From: GBV / How Do You Spell Heaven

20 "Sir Garlic Breath"

Linda McCartney: Paul, brush your teeth, you have garlic breath.

Paul McCartney: That's Sir Garlic Breath to you!

From: GBV / English Little League

19 "A Big Fan of the Pigpen"

The power of a definite article on display once again. Without a "the" this could be Peanuts Gang-related. With a "the" it seems like someone who likes to get down and dirty themselves.

From: GBV / Bee Thousand

18 "Sleep Over Jack"

I like the idea of an endearing and ubiquitous neighborhood scamp who never sleeps in his own bed, instead showing up at random breakfast tables all over town, not officially invited anywhere but welcomed by all.

From: GBV / Half Smiles of the Decomposed

17 "Hot Freaks"

I love a short intriguing title that could mean anything.

From: GBV / Bee Thousand

16 "The Candyland Riots"

If you've ever played the most wholesome child's game ever created, you'll appreciate the irony of the sweet streets of Candyland being overrun by violent protesters. But what exactly are they protesting? Did a dentist move in next door to the Peanut Brittle House?

From: GBV / Tonics & Twisted Chasers

15 "Funnel Cake Museum"

Now this is a museum I might visit. By far, the most artistic of all the carnival snacks, the funnel cake is downright Jackson Pollock-y in construction—intentionally haphazard, you might say—but when dusted with a powdered sugar, undeniably artful. The masters of the craft should be celebrated and revered like the true artists they are.

From: Cub Scout Bowling Pins / Heaven Beats Iowa

14 "Holding Hands With Barry Gibb"

I wanna hold your hand

This is admittedly a Pollard rarity (so much so, I've never even heard it) but with a title this deliriously unlikely, it had to be here. Who? Why? Where? How? are all questions begging to be answered by the lyrics, but I guarantee you that Bob will provide no closure whatsoever. The genius here is the selection of Gibb brother. The title wouldn't work as well with Maurice's or Robin's name substituted. Barry is by far the funniest Gibb and the only one you'd really want to lock fingers with, gender be damned.

From: Cash Rivers and the Sinners / Loose Shoes

13 "Trick of the Telekinetic Newlyweds"

Pollard has a closet full of clever, sometimes over-clever, titles. Some are one-off chuckles like "Children of the Popcorn" or "Hippsville (Where the Frisbees Fly Forever)" and others have staying power, like "Trick of the Telekinetic Newlyweds." The first two seem like layups for a creative force like Pollard. But this one brings with it an air of intrigue, almost like a superhero movie before you discover, along with the protagonist, the secret powers about to reveal themselves for the first time.

From: Boston Spaceships / Our Cubehouse Still Rocks

12 "Game of Pricks"

I assume golf.

From: GBV / Alien Lanes

11 "French Horn Litigation"

The sign of a good Pollard title is how much it makes you imagine the possible circumstances surrounding it. How many scenarios can you pull out of your ass to explain this one? Since the tuba is the only instrument referenced in the lyrics (according to the Guided By Voices database, or GBVDB), I assume the diminutive French Horn simply had enough of the tuba steamrolling the other, more sensitive, instruments and decided to file suit.

From: Circus Devils / Sgt. Disco

10 "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory"

Pollard is the master of making up song titles that are nowhere to be found in the lyrics. In fact, most of his songs are that way. Upon seeing this title, you might think this will be yet another, but lo and behold the title arrives in the form of a bona-fide recurring chorus and Pollard delivers it with the regal reverence it deserves. The main question remains unanswered: Can there possibly be enough queens to merit a Directory? How many can there possibly be?

From: GBV / Bee Thousand

09 "Everybody Thinks I’m a Raincloud (When I’m Not Looking)"

The subtle execution of a well-played parenthetical cannot be understated. It can take the meaning of a song and flip it on its head within a few choice key strokes. Such is the case here. But if everyone is thinking he's a raincloud, why does it matter whether he is looking or not? What are they thinking when he is looking?

From: GBV / Half Smiles of the Decomposed

08 "Christian Animation Torch Carriers"

The power of one word in a song title on display. On their own, Christian Torch Carriers are not a crowd I want to hang with regularly, if at all. Who knows what sacred right they'll want to burn to the ground next? But toss in the word "Animation" and everything changes. Suddenly nothing is real and there's nothing to be hung about. From: GBV / Universal Truths and Cycles

07 "Haircut Sphinx"

Robert Pollard has an honorary PhD in song titling and he rarely lets us down, especially with this ode to the difficulty of expressing exactly what you want to your stylist without the benefit of a dog-eared fashion mag. Thankfully, the "Haircut Sphinx" is here to figure out the riddle. And I'm guessing you're going to end up with a perm.

From: GBV / Mirrored Aztec

06 "Burning Flag Birthday Suit"

Claiming this is Pollard's best four-word title, which I am doing at this very moment, is debatable. This Christmas, to each GBV fanatic I give a different choice. But I'll purport that the imagery here is so cryptically vivid (oxymoron alert) that it will be indelibly burned into your retina whether you know what it means or not. To me, it sounds like someone is shedding their allegiance to country in order to stand in the lightbath, as we all have to do eventually, naked as a jaybird, on our own merits.

From: GBV / Under the Bushes Under the Stars

05 "Twilight Campfighter"

Nothing beats a fireside brawl. Two drunk bodies rolling in the scorched dirt inches away from having their sleeveless flannel shirts go up in flames. If you're watching the action it lends an almost unbearable level of peril. Enter the Twilight Campfighter, a local legend around these parts, ready to take on any comers at sunset.

From: GBV / Isolation Drills

04 "Teenage FBI"

Once again, life imitates art

A stupid/genius concept that could bring down the country if mismanaged. What kind of cases would they take on? An Accutane cartel? Cinnabon smugglers? Sarcasm dealers?

From: GBV / Do the Collapse

03 "Kicker of Elves"

Workplace violence at its most deserved.

From: GBV / Bee Thousand

02 "The Brides Have Hit Glass"

One of Pollard's finest, and most lyrically conventional, songs, "The Brides Have Hit Glass" makes for an evocative title, seemingly equating one of the best days of a woman's life (presumably) to the worst day of a bird's life—-that ill-fated final flight into a giant office building window. Could those events have a common denominator? The more you consider it, the closer they get.

From: GBV / Isolation Drills

01 "14 Cheerleader Coldfront"

If you've ever been on the outside looking in during your high school days, you understand the whole social hierarchy thing all too well. The cheerleaders are often out of reach to most, with a cold response reserved for all but the most quarterbacky admirers (I'm stereotyping for effect). The pom pom squad, traditionally more approachable, are a world away from the varsity cheer squad. It's comparatively warm in their company for some reason. Anyway, this is a great meteorological metaphor from Pollard that always pops to mind when I think of great song titles. It's the song that gave me the idea for this time sucking activity and that alone makes this our favorite title in his 3,000 song arsenal.

From: GBV / Propeller


I'll be out in a minute, honey! I'm finishing up some very important work here!

Until we waste more time together soon...

Cheers (You Fabulous Bastards)!

The Priest


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