Do You Use Quotation Marks or Italics for Song and Album Titles?

by Liz Bureman | 40 comments

Are you making any playlists for the new year? I love music, and when I write about a song or album, I know when to use quotation marks and when to use italics. Do you? Are song titles italicized? Let's discuss. 

I love music. I've been teaching myself to play guitar, and I can stumble my way through four or five songs without wanting to poke holes in my eardrums, but my main appreciation for music is when other people play it. I'm an avid Spotify user, and I take a lot of pride in my ability to make kickass playlists. One of my girlfriends has even given me the green light to create her hypothetical wedding reception playlist.

Not everyone writes out the titles of their favorite songs or music albums regularly, so it's no surprise I sometimes hear people ask, “Are song titles italicized?”

The answer is no.

Here's how it works:

Song Titles in Quotation Marks

Song titles are always surrounded by quotation marks, like *NSYNC's “Bye Bye Bye,” or “A Whole New World” from Disney's Aladdin.

Anytime you write out the title of a song, you'll put that song title in quotation marks according to standard grammar rules. Think of a song as a shorter work like a short story. Short story titles are always in quotation marks. 

Album Titles in Italics

Musical album titles, on the other hand, are always italicized. For example, while I will openly admit to loving Journey's power ballad song “Faithfully,” I think pretty much every song on their Greatest Hits album should be sung at karaoke nights across the country.

When you write out an album title, you'll put it in italics.

It may help to remember that the music album is a longer work, like a novel. Titles of books are also written in italics in most major style guides. 

Are Song Titles Italicized in Classical Music?

Classical music isn't typically arranged into an album, per se, but the general rule still applies. The shorter songs and movements would be in quotation marks. If it is a full length longer composition, like a full sonata, concerto, or opera then use italics for titles indicating the full work.

For example: The aria “Der Hölle Rache” is probably the most famous piece in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute

Other Italics Questions

Of course, lots more media have titles than just songs and albums. There are books, short stories, podcasts, TV shows, episodes . . . the list goes on and on. Want more italics advice? Check out our ultimate title-writing guide for answers to all your italics conundrums.

Do you have any tricks for remembering when to use quotes and when to use italics? Tell us in the comments.

PRACTICE

Imagine your favorite musical artist or group is discussing the set list for an upcoming show that has the potential to go viral. What will they play to appeal to fans, old and new?

Take fifteen minutes and write about the hypothetical conversation the ladies of the group had in determining the songs they would play for the show. Post your conversation in the Pro Practice Workshop, and leave notes for other writers brave enough to publish as well. Not a part of a writing community yet? Join us!

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Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

40 Comments

  1. Marla

    It was blowing up a
    storm when we started to practice, but that don’t stop Effie.  He thinks you gotta play no matter what.  If the tornado sirens go off down in town and
    one of our old ladies calls to tell us so, he’ll say, “Ya’ll can go get in your
    fraidey holes if you want to.  Me, I’m
    playing my fiddle.”

    Well, you can’t go to
    the storm cellar with your tail between your legs, so we stay, me and Vander
    and Larry, even though Larry, who plays the washtub, lost his house in the
    tornado of ’96 and he shakes when the sky rumbles.  And then Effie’ll start in on some song like “When
    The Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” just to put his spin on how things might turn
    out if a twister does find us.

    So we’re playing, me
    on the bass, and we’re looking out the window, where you can see the sky
    turning the color of a two-day bruise, and Larry’s sweating and Vander’s got
    his eyes shut like he does when he plays mandolin, and Effie, truth be told, is
    a flat-out bully.  So he’s getting the show
    list together and acting like everything’s business as usual.

    “I think we should
    start with “Sitting On The Front Porch,” he says.  Crowd pleaser, every time.  And then, “Baby’s Little Shoes.” And then “Walking
    With Clementine” for the old folks.  We’ll
    finish with “God Bless the U.S.A,” since the veteran’s home is bringing a bus.

    Lightning is hitting
    closer, the sky like the Fourth of July. 
    Larry’s done sat down, turned all pale as fresh milk.  Larry’s a big man.  He can’t button his overalls up all the way
    on the side, so when he doubles over and then falls out of the fold-up chair,
    none of us knows what to do.

    “I ain’t doing
    mouth-to-mouth,” Effie says, while the rest of us are trying to right him. 

    Larry comes to soon
    enough, just as the hail starts.

    “My new truck,” he
    says, and shakes his head. You know when people say you’re green at the gills?
    Well, Larry is.

    All our trucks are parked
    outside, and all of ‘em are getting blasted. 
    I see my old Dodge, the one I’ve had since May left me, the hail, big as
    cotton bols hitting it, and it makes me sick.

    And then I remember Effie’s truck.  His is
    in the carport.  Well, sure it is, I
    think.

    Vander, who preaches
    every other Sunday over in the Cavanaugh bottoms, says, “Shit fire,” and hits
    the wall.  We are in the town hall of
    Rudy, a little Craftsman house donated by Mayor Giles Walker’s family when he
    passed, and the photos of the veterans shake when he does it.

    The rain flashes down.  Pounding everything, soaking through my back
    windshield that was shattered by the hail.

    “Mercy sakes,” is all
    I can say.

    Larry stands up,
    grabbing my arm to do it.  He’s about as
    wide as he is tall, and he’s near about pulls me down.

    “I’m off like a prom
    dress,” he says, “so don’t try to stop me.” 
    And then he turns to Effie.

    “You’re about as
    helpful as a boar with teats,” he says, you know that? You act like you’re the
    bread and butter of The Frog Bayou Boys.” 
    He points to me.  “But Columbus
    here, he might not play as good as you like, but he’s the one got the news
    folks out here to do that story calling us the best band in the River Valley.  And he books every show, and when you get
    drunk, let’s just be honest here, when you get drunk, you can’t play worth
    shit.”

    Effie came after
    Larry.  Effie’s a little action figure of
    a man, but he fights mean, and it took Vander and me to stop him.

    We were holding Effie
    by his scrawny arms, and he was kicking, his cowboy boots flying off the wood
    floor, so that we were mostly holding him up.

    “You are a liar and a
    snake,” Larry Brammel.  “A liar and a
    snake.  You’re going to go straight to
    hell with gasoline drawers on, and when you do, I’ll play my fiddle on your
    grave.”

    Vander stepped in.  “Ya’ll cut it out.  Nobody’s dying,” he said.  “Effie,” he said, and pointed, “you and Larry
    need to quit showing your butts. That show on Saturday pays $100, plus they
    feed us.  We ain’t had a show like that
    since we played that Red, White and Bluegrass gig for the rich ladies who
    wanted to dress up in thousand dollar boots and wear tight jeans and drink beer
    in front of their husbands.”

    And then Vander bowed
    up, like I never seen him do before.  “And
    Effie, we ain’t playing “Walking With Clementine.” The old folks can do without
    it for one dang night.  I wrote my own
    song and I want to sing it.  It’s called “She
    Broke My Heart And Stole My Wallet.” That’ll get ‘em going,” Vander said. 

    I’d known Vander
    thirty-two years, and that was the first I’d heard of his songwriting.  His new girlfriend, the one who brought over the
    Mexican casserole when Vander’s wife died, was likely the inspiration for this
    new tune.

    Word was, she was
    over in Branson now, hooked up with a cowboy singer who wore a Bolo tie and
    colored his hair.

    Effie face was
    red.  He looked hotter than blue blazes,
    like he might catch fire at any minute.  And
    then he backed down, his shoulders falling. 
    He looked at all of us, me and Larry and Vander, and then he said, “Fine,
    that’s fine with me.  I been carrying you
    ya-hoos for way too long.”

    Larry cuffed him on
    the arm, and then they shook hands, and the rain fell, and the thunder roared,
    but nobody moved for a minute. 

    Effie had a bottle in
    his fiddle case, and he went to get it.  “Ain’t
    nobody driving till the rain stops,” he said. 
    “And that includes you, Larry.”

    And then we sat down,
    and passed the bottle until Vander started singing.  “I loved a girl from Minnesota.  Loved her with a passion true.  And then stole my dad burn wallet, took it out
    and followed you.  You must be a handsome
    cowboy.  You must look like Johnny
    Cash.  But when I find my little Cindy, I
    will tell her that she’s trash.”

    We were laughing
    then.  And Effie brought out his fiddle,
    and I picked up my bass, and Vander his mandolin.  Larry drug out the washtub, and we got back
    at it, the Frog Bayou Boys, just as good as new.

     
     

    Reply
    • Yvette Carol

      Wow, Marla, if you’re not from those parts then you’ve got one wild imagination, girl! Well done, and then some. The phrasing, the way you used the anarchic terminology, and even the names were spot on, perfect. Beautiful!

    • Marla

       Thank you, Yvette.  I can’t take credit.  I live with these people and these voices.  It’s like music to me.  We get teased A LOT but I wouldn’t trade the dialect or the cadence for anything. 

    • John Fisher

      I love this!!!  The gig, the music, the attitudes.  And the dialogue is genuine county-folk!  Good work, Marla!

    • Marla

       John,

      You’re so nice.  I love the music we have in the South, the twangy, ball-your-eyes-out stuff that connects us all and makes us feel less alone.  And I know men like these, I’ve heard them play, so writing this was easy.

      Marla

    • Mariaanne

      Great writing Marla. I agree with the others you really have that dialect (which I’m also familiar with) down pat.  

    • Marla

      Thank you, Mariaanne. Where are you from?

    • Mariaanne

      I live in Lynchburg Va now but was originally from Norfolk.  The accent you are writing sounds like an Appalachian accent to me. Where are you from?

    • Charmaine T. Davis

      Mariaanne, I live in Lynchburg, too! We have two crit groups here and would love for you to join us. Email me at charmainetdavis at yahoo dot com.

    • Marla

       Arkansas.

    • Mariaanne

      Charmaine – I can’t believe it.  Will you please email me?  mhvest@yahoo.com.  I’d love to join you.  When and where do you meet?  

  2. Marilynn Byerly

    I had a playlist for my wedding that included  “One Day My Prince Will Come” and “If You Wish Upon a Star.”  Since I’m still single, it’s “The Impossible Dream.”

    Reply
  3. Toby Rogers

    It depends if you’re writing for American or British publications. In the US, song titles are always “Jumping Jack Flash” but in the UK they’re often ‘Midnight Rambler’. It’s caused me no end of headaches writing for both.

    Reply
    • Mariaanne

      They punctuate dialogue differently in the UK too don’t they?  I think the way they do it makes more sense actually but I don’t like to think about it too much or I get confused. I imagine it’s hard to write both ways.  

    • MSH

      Agreed. The UK punctuates more logically. I had points knocked off of college papers for employing that punctuation, & tried to defend it with no success. Ha! Punctuation Wars – my kind of rebellion!

    • Eric Foster

      I’m in the US. In high school, I got marked off for spelling aluminum as “aluminium.” The teacher actually asked if I was British.

      Ten years later, I’d still argue I was technically correct.

    • MSH

      sorry so long to reply. Yet, after recent happenings, I can only hope that we can just get back to debating language. God Bless us All. Thanks for replying Eric Foster!!

  4. Bronson O'Quinn

    Does also apply to other works that have a part/whole relationship? I’m thinking specifically of “short stories” and The Collection They Come in or “poems” and Chap Books.

    Reply
  5. John Fisher

    I can’t make any italics work in this application, so I’ll indicate italics with [i] at the beginning and at the end of each title I intend to be italicized.

    My practice:

    The state-of-the-art bus pitched only slightly with the dips and rolls of Interstate 35 — not like those death-traps they used to ride in the ’40s and ’50s — on the way up to Fort Worth and Billy Bob’s.  He walked down the aisle toward his stateroom with the practiced sea-legs of an old salt, noticing that his harp-player, Mickey, had gone to sleep and was droolin’ in his lap. 

    “HEY MICK YOUR FLY’S OPEN!”  he barked in that sargeant’s voice he could assume on a moment’s notice.  Mickey jumped awake and then amiably shot him the bird.  He laughed in his baritone voice and walked on into his quarters. 

    Billy Bob’s.  Let’s see — that crowd likes the ’70s stuff off the concept albums, sprinkled ’round the edges with the early Nashville songs.  Let’s do, let’s do — he got his legal pad and licked the point of his stubby pencil — Let’s do “Bloody Mary Mornin'” and “Walkin'” from [i]Phases and Stages[i].  Follow that with “Hello Walls” from [i]And then I Wrote[i].  He sat before the big window and watched the country roll by, remembering.  Remembering. 

    The world was a different place when I got started.  I’m an extrememly lucky man, he thought.  All the close shaves — I could easily have gone the way of Hank.  All  the little one-horse planes I’ve flown in, I also could have had the same end as Jim Reeves, or Patsy, God love ‘er. 

    Gotta do “Crazy” tonight in honor of Patsy.  That’s another’un offa [i]And Then I Wrote[i].  Sold that’un for fifty dollars when my kids needed shoes, and I’d do it again too. 

    He picked up the old spanish guitar with the hole in it where his right hand had worn through the wood over the decades, and began to strum it.  Key of E.  Began to sing just a little bit, soft and low:  “In___ the twighlight glow I see__ her . . .”  And then stopped.  All those years.  All those songs.  All those changes.  Phases and stages.

    Yes, I’m lucky, it’s still hard to believe just how lucky.

    Gotta find a spot for “Blue Eyes” tonight too.  [i]Red-Headed Stranger[i].  

    Sometimes, he realized, I look in the mirror and that’s who I see.

    Reply
    • Marla

      Wow!  I love this.  The part about the hole in the guitar is gold.  And I love your main character.  I’d go hear him, in a heartbeat. 

    • John Fisher

      Thank you all for your kind comments.   The piece is about Willie Nelson, I just didn’t name him.  All of the album and song titles are real, as is the hole in his guitar;  just look closely the next time you see him playing on tv and you’ll see it.  I had a lot of fun writing this!

    • Joe Bunting

      I’ve always been amused by Willie’s “holy” guitar. He’s such a kook.

    • Joe Bunting

      I forgot DISQUS doesn’t allow italics. Sorry about that John. Way to make it work 🙂

    • Mariaanne

      That was really well done John.  It’s kind of sad to hear him thinking about old times but he seems to be a pretty happy guy overall.  I like the hole in the guitar too as well as the guy drooling in his sleep.  Gross but probably about right.  

  6. Joseph Dante

    Good article. Quick and to the point. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Jody

    Not kickass playlists if they have Journey in them lol…

    Reply
  8. kkk

    too badd

    Reply
  9. pay for essay

    It will really depend on how are you going to use those kind of quotations in your writing but I what I have observed, this kind of thing was being used by most writing especially if when they emphasized a title on their writing.

    Reply
  10. marcus

    I was going to ask about the title of a composition and the movements but after reading the program magazine I realized that italics are used for both.

    Reply
  11. LaCresha Lawson

    I think I have been doing that correctly. I was worried.

    Reply
  12. Luanna Pierce

    Her hand twisted the edge of her shirt as the smell of sawdust filled the air. The crowd’s noises dimmed, her heart beat louder in her ears and her palms dampened as she climbed the stage stairs. Though she had practiced long hours she was nervous anticipating singing “China Girl” from John Cougar Mellancamp’s, (italics American Fool italics), album.

    Reply
  13. DJ alt.rock

    You should try djing. It’s easy if you can already make a good playlist. If you’re already a good selector, all you have to do is pre-cue the next song in your headphones then drop it on the 1. Really easy stuff. You can buy the app, djay, for ios devices and log in with your spotify account for access to your playlists and stuff. We need more female djs.

    Reply
  14. Kevin Gomes

    My first concert experience was of one that I would not easily forget, it was Summer Jam hosted by Hot 97. The concert had a majority of middle class rappers playing their hot singles. I came there for a select few: 50 Cent, Fabolous and Young Thug. The other performing artists were mainly for the female demographic, like Fetty Wap and Ty Dolla $ign. What I really enjoyed about this concert is they did not only play songs from this current generation, they reached out to other generations as well. The biggest example of this is seeing 50 Cent preform. He played hits from his Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album all the way up to his recent The Kanan Mixtape. I was going ballistic when I heard him preform a new track “I’m the Man” and decided to take us back to 2003 with “In da Club” immediately after. The artists I came for did not disappoint.

    Reply
  15. Jujubar Williams

    And if you are writing dialogue, I do not recall seeing two double quotation marks at end of dialogue. Maybe I am wrong.
    For instance, “Baby, you know I love Ted’s “Stranglehold,”” he fired back.
    I have seen a single followed by a double quotation at end of dialogue after the comma or period. So maybe that’s why the King’s English prefers single over double?

    Reply
  16. vbull4

    This saved my essay. Thanks Liz!

    Reply
  17. Rowanna Green

    Dear Liz,
    I was looking for some advice about quote/italics for song/movie/book titles and got totally side-tracked by your Journey reference. When I rule the world, I promise you will get your wish. Journey will be piped directly into people’s heads so they can all become happier and more well rounded. Tee Hee. Keep up the good work. 😉

    Reply
  18. Paige R Lieberman

    The Excavators play Brady Wilkenson’s 8th Birthday Bash!

    This past Saturday afternoon was Brady Wilkensen’s birthday party, and he could think of no better live entertainment than his father’s heavy metal band, The Excavators. When Brady suggested the idea, his dad felt honored, albeit unsure whether the mothers of his son’s 8-year-old classmates and friends would appreciate the lyrical content of his band’s hits, especially “Rotting Flesh” and “Glory Hole” off their latest album (i) In it for the Lingue Hall. (i)

    Instead of becoming the third grade parents’ worst nightmare, Mr. Wilkensen figured he’d tone things down quite a bit to become more palatable to the kids and their discerning parents. He got the members of the Excavators together, sure, but instead of “Rock My Grave,” the afternoon’s selections included “Punk Rock Teacher” and “All My Friends Headbang” off their pseudo EP (i) Songs for the Peanut Gallery (i).

    The party was to be held at Bringadown Hall, in a posh country club in the suburb where Brady and his family resided. Mr. Wilkenson figured that his band had better revamp their look for this gig as well. Instead of their usual studs and leather, the Excavators came to the party dressed in red t-shirts, jeans, and letter jackets that evoked high school in the ’70s.

    The band decided to even craft some improv tunes on the subject of the party’s goings-on
    and present them to Brady and his guests at the end of the show. “Pizza on my Face, What a Disgrace!” did so well among Brady’s friends that the Excavators decided to include it on their upcoming album, (i) Smells like Burnt Crust (i).

    Rather than the utter disgust that would have been sure to follow had the band performed its signature material, (i) Songs for the Peanut Gallery (i) was lauded by parents and children alike as a “too-cool-for-school crowd pleaser.”

    Brady bragged from that day forward that he had the coolest dad in town, and his 8th birthday party became the epitome of birthday bash success in the eyes of the entirety of Willten Elementary School’s student body, whether they’d attended the party or heard about it from a friend-of-a-friend’s brother.

    “Whew,” Mr. Wilkenson said to his wife when the party was over, “that was a good call!”

    Reply
  19. Rob

    Thanks Liz, good info!

    Reply
  20. HL Gibson

    Here’s my sentence in question: “They
    just ran out the back door singing it to the tune of ‘Row, Row, Row Your
    Boat’.” It is dialog, and according to what I’m reading, I should use double quotes around the song and at the end of the sentence. Correct?

    Reply
  21. chloe

    thanks for the help!

    Reply

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  1. Links of the week #32 « S. J. Maylee - [...] Liz Bureman at The Write Practice : Do You Use Quotation Marks or Italics for Song and Album Titles? [...]
  2. How to Write Funnier With Anachronisms - [...] gram­mar is impor­tant. So is sen­tence struc­ture and punc­tu­a­tion and all that great stuff. But it’s also impor­tant to…

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