Ruby: Who's that girl?

Kaiser Chiefs' new single is called 'Ruby'. Martin James remembers other great Rubies. And Julies, and Lucies, and...

From Lucy to Angie, Gloria to Jane, the history of popular music is awash with women's names celebrated in song. A quick glance at the bulging back catalogue of odes to womanhood reveals Marys by the dozen, a whole heap of Suzies and a rash of Carolines, Jackies and Lisas. But what of those other names? What about the ones that no singer ever serenades, the names that never get their cards marked? Where are the songs about Mavis, Moira, Mabel or Muriel? It's not just the Ms that get a short shrift. What about Deirdre and Beatrice? Or Bethany and Jade? Where are their songs?

This week the Kaiser Chiefs add to the cannon of rock'n'roll's significant others with the first single from their forthcoming second album. The women in question this time? Ruby. The latest in a long and distinguished line of Ruby songs, in fact. Ruby songs all too often depict their subject as a fiery tramp with more than a taste for the wild side and an unusual ability to break men's hearts. Ruby, it would seem, is the embodiment of rock's stance as the untamed outsider. This is exactly how Kaiser Chief's vocalist Ricky Wilson sees her.

"For me she is super cool, totally unapproachable, and doesn't know or even want to know your name," he says. "The tough nuts are the hardest to crack, but have the sweetest flesh. There was a girl like that at school, she said my name in a café once and I crumbled. I kissed her once and broke her necklace. It's funny how that kind of girl can make super-cool dudes like me into fumbling idiots."

So what was it that inspired the Kaiser Chiefs to offer yet another slice of Ruby song rather than wax lyrical about Mavis, Mabel or Muriel? "They all sound too reliable," argues Kaiser Chiefs' drummer Nick Hodgson, who wrote the "Ruby" hook. "Rock'n'roll women have got to sound brash and feisty - like Ruby, Roxanne, Rita and Sheila. Paul McCartney wrote 'Martha My Dear', though. She sounds a reliable type."

Of course, in the real world not everyone with the same name shares similar characteristics. But when placed into the context of popular music those lovingly repeated monikers lose any sense of individuality. So, Lucy is forever a lysergically enhanced hippie. As is her friend Jennifer Juniper, while Emma will always be a wannabe starlet, thanks to Hot Chocolate's song of the same name, and the otherwise sweet Jane will always be a hard-living teenage runaway. The clichés are inescapable.

Róisín Murphy, formerly one half of Moloko and now a solo artist, is another singer who has celebrated the legend that is Ruby on her 2005 debut album Ruby Blue. However, for her Ruby was less an object of lovelorn anguish than an expression of self-disgust. "Ruby Blue was a pseudonym for me in order to give myself a good talking to," she says.

As the father of a 10-year-old daughter called Ruby Blue, I have a personal interest in the name. But what drew me, and all those songwriters, to the name? Did we all fall for the same wayward connotations? Or was it simply popularity?

A quick look at the Government statistics on babies' names reveals Ruby to be last year's fourth most popular, which might explain why Kaiser Chiefs, a band who have immersed themselves in pop artifice, have embraced it so readily. If this is the case, then it is likely that Ruby will go out of songwriterly favour in the same way that names like Harriet, Ermine and Brenda all but disappeared following brief spells of popularity in 1950s music.

Fashion offers a simple answer but it doesn't explain the enduring nature of some names. Ricky Wilson reveals what is perhaps a more satisfying explanation when talking about the origins of Kaiser Chiefs' "Ruby". "This [the chorus] was one of Nick's bits. A true moment of inspiration. He 'says' he just sat at his magic piano and it spewed out of his gob. It kind of annoys me that he can do that. I spend days and days painfully crafting intricate and beautiful delights of metre, rhyme and verse-forms, and then Nick barges in, shouts 'Ruby' four times, and steals all the glory. I suppose that's why it all works so well. Also, usually with this sort of thing, it's the sound that the word makes that's more important than what it's saying."

Murphy agrees that it's the sound of the name that makes it work. "Ruby is such a passionate name," she says. "It somehow sounds solo, one ego, not a part of everything. But above all it's very poetic."

Ah yes, poetry. Songwriting eccentricities such as lyrical skill have mostly slipped away these days. Yet it's this poetic poise that provides what is perhaps the most satisfactory answer to the Bard's question "what's in a name?" Quite simply, some names sound better sung than others.

Dr Laurie Stras, senior lecturer in music at the University of Southampton, offers the following explanation: "The placement of vowel sounds and the way consonants are formed in the mouth are important when singing. 'Ruby, Ruby, when will you be mine,' sounds infinitely groovier than 'Tina, Tina when will you be mine'. The 'ee' will be nasal, the 'n' not rhythmically precise enough; whereas the 'oo' is further back and more relaxed, the 'b' can be placed wherever you want on the beat to create the desired effect (and affect). Similarly try 'Goodbye, Amy Tuesday' and it sounds really lame."

This goes some way to explain why Pink Floyd never begged us to "See Deirdre Play", why Lou Reed never sang about "Sweet Mavis" and why the Beatles didn't introduce us to "Jade Rigby". The vowel sounds and consonant shapes are plain wrong.

So, what are we left with? Well, a bunch of names that come in and out of fashion, carrying with them cultural baggage. Just now Ruby rocks. As does Laura and, somewhat surprisingly, Valerie. And what these names have all got in common is the simple fact that they sound great when sung.

Ruby scans nicely with "use me", "abuse me", "lose me" and, of course "do you know what you're doing to me?" And no amount of poetic licence will make Mabel and Beatrice do the same.

'Ruby' by Kaiser Chiefs is out on 19 February on Polydor

THE NAMES TO WATCH...

Ruby

"Ruby, Don't take Your Love to Town" by Kenny Rogers and "Ruby Tuesday" by the Rolling Stones, as sung by Mick Jagger are the ones that everyone remembers, but what about "Ruby's Arms" by Tom Waits, or "Ruby Baby" from The Drifters, Donald Fagen and Björk? Or "Ruby Blue" by Róisín Murphy? And 'Ruby' by Kaiser Chiefs?

Mary

Jimi Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary"), Scissor Sisters ("Mary"), Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary", Elliot Smith ("Pretty Mary"), The Monkees ("Mary, Mary") and The White Stripes ("Now Mary") are among the many who've sung "Mary" songs, while Mary Jane gets lyricised by Tom Petty ("Mary Jane's Last Dance"), Alanis Morissette ("Mary Jane") and The Vines ("Mary Jane").

Jane

Lou Reed celebrated with "Sweet Jane", Jane's Addiction followed suit with "Jane Says", while the Rolling Stones ("Lady Jane"), Nick Drake ("Hazey Jane" I and II), Bob Dylan ("Queen Jane") and the best forgotten Barenaked Ladies ("Jane") also offered odes to Tarzan's mate. David Bowie launched his career with "Liza Jane".

Julie

David Bowie ("Julie") at his worst gives Julie a bad name, but Fountains of Wayne almost save the day with "Hey Julie".

Jennifer

What to Donovan was a flower-powered heroine ("Jennifer Juniper") turned into a chemically addled cadaver ("Jennifer's Body") for Hole. "Jenny" has enjoyed the hook-line treatment from The Killers ("Jenny Was a Friend of Mine") and Jennifer Lopez ("Jenny from the Block").

Clementine

This Oz folk fave ("My Darling Clementine") has also starred in songs by Elliott Smith ("Clementine"), Mark Owen ("Clementine") and The Decemberists ("Clementine"). Recall them? No, me neither.

Caroline

The Beach Boys harmonised the name ("Caroline, No") Neil Diamond serenaded it in "Sweet Caroline", and Lou Reed lamented it with a tale of amphetamine abuse ("Caroline Says").

Lucy

Not the most popular name, but inevitably remembered for The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". And "Lucy's Hamper" by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, of course.

Judy

Elliott Smith (again) ("Punch and Judy"), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ("Judy Blue Eyes") and the one-hit wonder Boomer Castleman ("Judy Mae") all delivered bittersweet odes to Judy, but it's The Ramones' "Judy is a Punk" that is by far the best remembered.

Roxanne

The newly reunited Police may have saturated airwaves around the globe with this, but it is UTFO's old-school hip-hop classic "Roxanne, Roxanne" that has been covered most.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas