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
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
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.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes