Friday, December 12, 2008

Band names

Band names have always been interesting to me. They can evoke emotions and compliment a band’s sound like the two were custom-made for each other. Some names are so interesting that they force you to listen to the band, sometimes with positive results. Some aren’t such a magic fit and spur annoying interview questions throughout the band’s career. Many names seem to come from popular culture phrases, random thoughts that just sound good or moments of enlightenment. Others are stumbled upon, stolen or forced by record company executives.

The Beatles spelled their name with an “a” because rock and roll was called “beat music” in England at the time. DEVO is supposedly short for “de-evolution.” AC/DC was inspired by an inscription on the back of Angus and Malcom’s mother’s sewing machine. Lynyrd Skynyrd was named after Leonard Skinner, a gym teacher some of the band members had in high school.

1960s psychedelic-rock pioneers the Grateful Dead picked their name randomly out of a dictionary, according to bassist Phil Lesh’s biography.“Jer [Garcia] picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary...[and]...In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, ‘Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?’”

Pink Floyd was originally called “The Tea Set.” The band later named themselves The Pink Floyd Sound after favorite blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Fans later abbreviated the band name to Pink Floyd, creating a perfect match for the band’s experimental sound.

The band “311” has caught much misdirected hostility for their numerical name. False rumors have spread that the numeral stood for the white supremacist group the Klu Klux Klan (K being the eleventh number of the alphabet; 3K). The band writes on their Website that 311 is the Omaha police code for indecent exposure, though they have given numerous ridiculous origins of the name throughout their 18-year career.

Chicago was originally called The Chicago Transit Authority, and their first album was released under that name. Soon afterwards, the band shortened their name to Chicago as they set out for their first national tour. The name was changed to better fit on marquee signs, according to the band’s Website.

Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns combined to form Guns N’ Roses, which was also the combined names of the bands’ founding members, Tracii Guns and Axl Rose.

Supposedly there are a lot of reasons behind the name Led Zeppelin, but to me it just looks and sounds cool enough to stand on its own without an explanation.

Marilyn Manson reportedly comes from the combination of actress Marilyn Monroe and serial killer Charles Manson. All original members of the band used this formula, with names like Madonna Wayne Gacy, Twiggy Ramirez, Ginger Fish, Daisy Berkowitz and Sara Lee Lucas.

From band interviews, drummer Lars Ulrich said a friend approached him to ask his opinion about a list of possible heavy metal magazine titles. On the list was the name Metallica. The drummer quickly recommended Metal Mania and kept the legendary name for himself with no remorse and no regrets.

Frank Zappa had joined The Soul Giants by 1964 and the band was playing clubs outside of L.A. Zappa renamed the band “The Mothers,” on Mothers Day 1964. Strictly commercial Verve Records later forced the band to re-title themselves “The Mothers of Invention” because “Mother” was short for an obscenity. Zappa was much more creative in naming his children Dweezil, Ahmet and Moon Unit and creating such song titles as “Hanook Rubs It,” “The Grand Wazoo” and “Zoot Allures.”

REO keyboardist Neal Doughty heard the phrase “REO Speedwagon” and decided to take the name for his band. An REO Speedwagon is a hefty truck built in the early 1900s that was sometimes used as a fire truck. The REO was named after its designer, Ransom Eli Olds, the founder of Olds Motor Co., which later became Oldsmobile.

The name of the country band Diamond Rio is apparently a misspelling of the Diamond REO truck company, which was formed by a merger of REO and Diamond-T merger.

There are always those clever musicians that devise a name to perplex their fans and annoy their critics by choosing a name like the String Cheese Incident, Disco Biscuits, Archers of Loaf, Hootie and the Blowfish or the Spock Baby Generation. And let’s not forget ironic rockers The Band, The Who, No Use For a Name and even better, The The.

No matter the inspiration, a band’s name can be entertaining and artistic in and of itself. But many of the best band names seem to pop up out of nowhere or naturally evolve to something that fits the band’s sound or image.

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