Rock ‘n’ wrong

A tax­on­omy of ter­ri­ble band names

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - Front Page -

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.

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