When it comes to band monikers, there’s a fine line between cool and fool. Just ask the guys in The Hype. Kevin Courtney traces the history of the band name
WOULD you buy an album Out Out? The what? by a band called Johnny & Looking at the sorry state of band names the Self Abusers? Would these days – and listening to some of their you queue up to see The even sorrier songs – you’d be forgiven for Hype at Slane Castle? How thinking musicians sit around all day rearwould you greet the news that The New ranging unconnected words into unlovely Yardbirds were getting back together (mipermutations when they really should be nus their drummer, who died in 1980)? writing decent tunes. And, hearing good How do you view the Seymour v Oasis bands with bad names such as The View spat? Would you remember seeing The Hiand The Twang, you can only conclude Numbers, the ’N Betweens, the Mullanes they were so feverishly busy making great and The Cranberry Saw-Us on Top of the Pops?
The above questions are purely academic, because Simple Minds, U2, Led Zeppelin, Blur, The Who, Slade, Crowded House and The Cranberries were shrewd enough to discard their original names and go for something with more commercial clout, that would trip off the tongue, look good on an LP cover and serve as an identifiable brand. Like that 1970s bubblegum band, Mud, they wanted a name that would stick.
Not all bands are so savvy. The rock world is stuffed with badly named bands who are doomed to cultdom by their unwieldy moniker, or bands whose names are so pedestrian, they get lost in the musical moshpit.
Some bands are so damn good, though, not even a crap name can scuttle their chances. Journalists recently received a promo CD of a hotly anticipated new album by a band called Sticky Romance. The name was actually an anagram, dreamed up to disguise the band’s true identity, just in case the CD fell into the wrong hands.
If you thought Sticky Romance was a rubbish name, unravel the letters and you might find the real name isn’t much better. Still, the album has shot straight to No 1 – good news for those four Sheffield lads, and good news for the growing number of acts seemingly locked in a battle to see who can come up with the silliest band name around. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? Cansei de Ser Sexy? The Shout Out Out music, they didn’t have time to think of a name, and instead just tagged any old moniker on as an afterthought.
As MySpace becames overcrowded, it’s getting harder to hit on a great band name that hasn’t already been taken. The Killers must have pinched themselves when no one stepped forward with a lawyer in tow, although the original Audioslave, a nomark UK band, must have scratched their heads in bemusement when Chris Cornell and the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine offered them a big wad of cash for the name. They did the sensible thing: took the money and ran with a different moniker.
If you’ve just formed a band, written a bunch of surefire hits, developed your fashionable drug habit but still haven’t found a name, there’s help in store on the Internet. Just visit www.bandnamemaker. com and pull a name straight out of cyberspace. Click the generator button to explore a vast database of words and come up with the perfect name for your band.
I hit the button and was offered Sniff Explode, Psychotic Priest, Thirsty Chimney, Anorexic Labia, Milking Probation and Popsicle of the Nutmeg. You can also put in your own word, which the generator will incorporate into the name. I typed in my own surname and came up with Skanky Courtney & the Parts. Look out for us at major festivals this summer.
Fads and fashions in band-naming are constantly changing, but there are a number of keywords which tend to recur, such as Blue, Gun, Kill, Eye, Drug, God, Dead, Stone, Jesus and, oddly enough, Fish. Bands want to convey a godlike quality, an epic vision, a sense of importance and a hint of debauchery and devilry beneath the handsome, sexually potent surface. Somehow, Gerry & the Pacemakers just doesn’t convey that combination.
There’s a world of difference between a deliberately silly band name and a deliberately oblique one. Cult bands such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, God Speed You, Black Emperor and the like didn’t just pull their names out of a random band generator. When a band picks a strange, inscrutable name, they’re sending a message out to potential fans: “We’re not just any old ordinary band. We’re clever, educated and avant garde, and our music won’t appeal to the Great Unwashed. You can trust us not to sell out, have a big cheesy hit record or duet with Madonna at Live Earth.” Either that, or they wanted to reduce the odds on their name being already taken.
Still, unless you want to languish forever in cultdom, it’s important to think about what you want your band name to convey, and what kind of audience you want to appeal to.
“It’s a bit like choosing a name for your baby. You’ve got to get it right, because you may be stuck with it forever,” says branding expert Krishna De. “Is it going to resonate with people, and is it going to