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March 25, 2005


Names for Bands

In today's Guardian there is an article that I think I could spend the rest of my life thinking about and never grow bored: "Branding the Band", about how bands' names affect their careers and success. As someone whose almost non-existent experience with actually being in a band consists of thinking up the perfect band name, rather than actually writing any songs or playing any instruments (names include The Fertile Turtles, Ha Ha Snowsuit, and Rhododendron,) I have long believed that a band's name is equally important as the music it produces.

The article reads like an essay version of an especially popular I Love Music thread. The author discusses the ways that a band name can work against an otherwise great band (Radiohead first worked under the name On a Friday,) and how an outstanding band name can lead to disappointment when the music doesn't measure up (he includes God is My Co-Pilot, who unfortunately "dealt in fairly unlistenable lo-fi tomfoolery rather than deicidal power rock.")

He goes into the great and eternal bands who achieved their status despite names that are sort of silly or rely on goofy puns, like The Beatles and U2. I would add R.E.M. to that list, as well as Guns 'n Roses, which I've always thought was too self-conscious and dippy a name for such a bombastic band. The rest of the band were obviously letting Axl indulge his ego, which interestingly is also the main reason the band eventually fell apart.

But my favorite part is where he discusses bands who have achieved perfect alignment in their music and their name. In these rare cases "you get a kind of etymological perfection that's somehow close to onomatopoeia." Bands he includes here are the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Happy Mondays, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Elastica, Suede, Motörhead (it's the unnecessary umlaut that does it, of course), Public Enemy, and "if only for the way it walks the line between fantastic arrogance and stripped-back simplicity," the Band.

In my list of bands whose success is surely due in large part to the perfection of their name, I would include Bikini Kill, Joy Division (tricky, but it somehow fits perfectly), Underworld, the Cocteau Twins, and the Dead Kennedys. (Jello Biafra's famous "Names for Bands" spoken-word piece should itself be part of this discussion. The man that came up with "Dead Kennedys" as his band name has obviously spent some time thinking about this stuff.)

There are also a few supernaturally lucky bands and artists whose own names are perfectly matched to their music, like Van Halen and Johnny Cash.

Well, I could go on all day.

Please add your commentary on notable band names, from great (Metallica) to disastrous (Archers of Loaf).

categories: Music
posted by amy at 11:39 AM | #

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Pet Shop Boys. Much as I love them, they have succeeded in spite, not because, of their name.

Posted by: cushie at March 25, 2005 12:31 PM

I take issue with the Pet Shop Boys critique promulgated by Cushie. Their band name is my favorite because it fits so perfectly with who they are, thier music, and the culture they coevolved with in the 80's. What else would you name a band that had two kind of effeminate gay dance hall boys from London who write lyrics like:

"I'm your puppet,
I love it.

And look at the two of us in sympathy,
And sometimes ecstasy.
Words mean so little, and money less,
When you're lying next to me.

But look at my hopes, look at my dreams.
The currency we've spent,
I love you, you pay my rent."

Back in the 80's I would see Neil Tennant every time I was in a pet shop looking for some food. Then I ran to the nearest club and danced all night.

Hey Cushie: Talkin' to Masha?

Posted by: Agent 0019 at March 25, 2005 1:12 PM

How about MF Doom, the hip hop star based on a character from the Fabulous 4 comics. He is also a damn good MC

Posted by: Mike Shemesh at March 25, 2005 1:40 PM

Hey look, there's some kitty litter: Sometimes, you're better off dead, there's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head. Think you're mad, too unstable...

Posted by: cushie at March 25, 2005 2:37 PM

The British Invasion bands have to be 90% responsible for the entire field of good band names:
The Who. The Kinks. It doesn't get any better than that.

Then, I think, band names got, like the music, bloated and stupid for a while, until punk showed the way: Television. The Buzzcocks. Gang of Four.

Even the 2nd and 3rd-tier punks had awesome names: Rich Kids. Stiff Little Fingers. The Damned.

And there ought to be another category for individual artists who picked great rock names, like Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders. And, heck, Elvis Costello.

Posted by: Alex at March 26, 2005 4:05 PM

I might add the category of "bands whose names are under dispute as to correct pronuciation" (Autechre, Nitzer Ebb, Gus Gus), and under that "bands who insist upon the pronounciation of their name which makes it sounds silly" (actually both Nitzer Ebb and Gus Gus). To the best band names, I might add Vladislav Delay and Aphex Twin, which are both nearly perfect. Plastikman might fall into the category of "you should have just used your own name, silly person",
because Ritchie Hawtin is actually cooler.

Posted by: Dylan at March 28, 2005 9:47 AM

Also, the relatively new category of bands who try to make their name ungoogle-able, prime culprits are !!!.

Posted by: Cushie at March 28, 2005 3:53 PM

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