Rock ‘n’ wrong
A taxonomy of terrible band names
Terrible music is only one reason to avoid a band. A bad look is another: just as snakes have fangs, porcupines have quills and skunks emit a noxious stink, “directional” haircuts and shirtless bass players are nature’s way of telling you a band is dangerous to approach.
Other turn-offs? Overwrought, inane or selfconsciously “deep” lyrics. Shameless musical bandwagon-jumping. Faux-moody band pics on album covers. And, of course, a crap name.
Really, a bad band name is unforgivable. After all, how hard can it be to come up with a halfway decent one? You sit around in the rehearsal room with your band mates, pleasantly befuddled by the intoxicant of your choice, and you roll out possibilities until you hit upon a short-list of four or five possible names that don’t suck. You sleep on it, then vote on a winner. Congratulations! The Snug Condoms are now ready to book their first gig. It’s instructive for any band choosing a name to contemplate the mistakes of those who’ve gone before. And there are so, so many mistakes. So many, in fact, that it’s possible to group them into categories of crapness.
There are Caps Lock band names (INXS, U2, UB40, MGMT, D12, DMX, P.O.D.), law firm band names (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Seals & Croft), pin-in-atlas band names (Boston, Kansas, Chicago, Europe, Berlin, America), too-clever-by-half band names (The The, The Band) and a menagerie of wilfully misspelled critters (Ratt, Phish, Snoop Dogg, The Byrds, The Monkees and the really rather good Beatles).
REALLY, A BAD BAND NAME IS UNFORGIVABLE. AFTER ALL, HOW HARD CAN IT BE TO COME UP WITH A HALFWAY DECENT ONE?
There are rappers who were possibly too busy selling crack to attend English class (Ludacris, Fabolous, Ginuwine) and bands for whom only half their name is a mystery, such as Hoobastank. There’s a long and sorry history of dubious phonetic names, thus giving teenage spelling bee drop-outs of every decade something to scrawl on their pencil cases; principal offenders include early hard-rock illiterates Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe, ’80s synth-poppers Nu Shooz and Tori Amos’ first band Y Kant Tori Read.
There are names combining random word and irrelevant number (Blink 182, Level 42, Sum 41, Heaven 17, Haircut 100, Tree 63, Eiffel 65, Front 242), a crowded category that also includes those twin boils on the buttocks of mainstream pop, Maroon 5 and Matchbox 20. And there are the gibberish compound names someone mistakenly thought were hilarious: we’re looking at you New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Crispy Ambulance,
SPLIT ENZ – A NAME THAT ETERNALLY EVOKES SMALL-TOWN HAIR SALONS THAT SMELL OF PERMING SOLUTION, HOT HAIR DRYERS AND CURDLED AMBITION
Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, Half Man Half Biscuit, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Test Icicles.
There are names that feature annoying little rhymes or alliteration (Bananarama, Oingo Boingo, Scritti Politti, Wang Chung, Showaddywaddy, Milli Vanilli, Mr. Mister, Haysi Fantayzee, Chumbawamba, Kris Kross) and insufferably cutesy baby-speak names (Kajagoogoo, Goo Goo Dolls). Amazingly, Goo Goo Dolls were previously called the Sex Maggots but reconsidered after a club owner demanded a better name. “It's the best we came up with, and for some reason it stuck,” singer John Rzeznik once admitted. “If I had five more minutes, I definitely would have picked a better name.” Motto? Take five more minutes. Hell, take 10.
American corporate rock acts are particularly fond of excruciating present participle/noun names (Chasing Amy, Tripping Daisy, Breaking Benjamin, Counting Crows, Killing Heidi, Bowling For Soup, Taking Back Sunday, Scouting For Girls), all of which leave me Reaching For Bucket. In this category, the gold medal for lameness must surely go to Smashing Pumpkins, a name suggesting some dear old grandad on a violent sherry-fuelled rampage through his cucurbit patch. Original bass player D'arcy Wretzky once admitted to the Washington
Post this was “a stupid name, a dumb bad joke and a bad idea". True, true and true.
Equally despicable are names formed by a shotgun wedding between two unrelated words: Foghat, Coldplay, Silverchair, Supertramp, Badfinger, Switchfoot, Godsmack, Audioslave, Razorlight, Nickelback, Aerosmith. To which we can only reply: Warmnappy, Catsick, Cheesewhiff, Polishturd.
Then there are the names that give you an unpleasant physical sensation, and you’re not even sure why. Is it too personal to share with you the fact that the names Death Cab For Cutie, Prefab Sprout, Sixpence None The Richer, Johnny Hates Jazz and Poi Dog Pondering make my sphincter constrict whenever I hear them? It is? My apologies.
And let us not forget the Wilfully Offensive name, a category all but sewn up by hardcore punk and metal bands (Cradle Of Filth, Forest Of Impaled, Fecal Corpse, Imperial Sodomy, Pungent Stench, Circle Of Dead Children, SpermSwamp, Panty Christ), though honorable mention should also go to Texan alt-rockers Butthole Surfers, British industrial band Throbbing Gristle and Seattle-based ‘experimental rapper’, MC Vagina.
The indie rock sector, meanwhile, groans under the weight of band names that are overlong, overly pretentious and/or weirdly punctuated: Panic! At The Disco; Bodies In The Gear Of The Apparatus; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah; Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly; Does It Offend You, Yeah?; the heroically terrible A Cat Born In An Oven Isn’t A Cake and the so bad it’s almost great Sorry About Your Couch. It seems some poor fools saddled themselves with a crap name when they were just goofy college kids playing for beer money, then found themselves selling millions of albums. Now old and embarrassed in their mansions, I imagine they deeply regret calling themselves after two guys in the school choir (Hootie & The Blowfish) or their old gym teacher (Lynyrd Skynyrd).
Sadly, here in New Zealand, we punch above our weight in the crap names game. For every ripper local band name (Proud Scum, Disasteradio, Sticky Filth, Los Hories) there have been a dozen that pong to high heaven (The Knobz, Letterbox Lambs, Mailbox Skipole, Claire’s Un Natural Twin, Betchadupa, Elemeno P, Chainsaw Masochist, Fatal Jelly Space, Mainly Spaniards, Say Yes To Apes, The Electric Confectionaires). New shockers join this list every year around Rockquest time. Worst of the lot is surely Split Enz, a name that eternally evokes all those small-town hairdressing salons that smell of perming solution, hot hair dryers and curdled ambition.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Bands can avoid manky monikers by simply visiting www.bandnamemaker.com, a site that randomly generates primo group names. I went there just now and came away with gold, and I’m not even a musician. Nameless bands should feel free to help themselves to Pointy Existence, Stress Goon, A Box of Women, Poo Clone, Session Of Swan or Refused Furniture.