When it comes to band monikers, there's a fine line between cool and fool. Just ask the guys in The Hype. Kevin Courtneytraces the history of the band name
WOULD you buy an album by a band called Johnny & the Self Abusers? Would you queue up to see The Hype at Slane Castle? How would you greet the news that The New Yardbirds were getting back together (minus their drummer, who died in 1980)? How do you view the Seymour v Oasis spat? Would you remember seeing The Hi-Numbers, the 'N Betweens, the Mullanes 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 Out Out? The what?
Looking at the sorry state of band names these days - and listening to some of their even sorrier songs - you'd be forgiven for thinking musicians sit around all day rearranging unconnected words into unlovely permutations when they really should be writing decent tunes. And, hearing good bands with bad names such as The View and The Twang, you can only conclude they were so feverishly busy making great 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 no-mark 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 stand the test of time? It might sound funky now, but in 10 years' time will you have grown out of that name? Does your name reflect the kind of music you play? Is it easily remembered? Can DJs pronounce your name on the radio?
"If you want to be the next Rolling Stones or Genesis or The Police, you have to think about how your name will resonate with people. What are the connotations of the name? What does it bring to mind?"
De writes a regular blog about business branding and development on www.krishnade.com. She says a band's name is its brand, and needs to be thought out as carefully as the songs or the CD cover. And, as the Internet becomes the first line of contact between band and potential audience, it's important to check these basics: 1) can the name be easily googled, and 2) is the domain name for the band available. You don't want to spend a fortune printing up the T-shirts only to find your chosen domain name is already owned by a cistern manufacturing company.
But, says De, there's no formula for picking a name, and even the most incongruous name could suddenly straddle the world's media like a colossus.
"Look at YouTube. That's a very successful website name, and you wouldn't have thought Coldplay would be an internationally famous band. But what they've got to back up the name is a great product. It's not just about the name; you need good marketing and promotion, too."
Ultimately, she says, your name has to be something you really believe in. "It has to be a name you can be proud of, that you are passionate about."
It was all so much simpler back in the good ol' days of rock'n'roll. Then all you had to do was pick an everyday word, such an animal species or a type of car, put a definite article in front of it, and watch your record zoom up the hit parade. If you wanted, you could tack it onto your own name with an ampersand - eg Buddy Holly & the Crickets - thus ensuring that you got more of the glory than the other guys in the band. And if your name was a pun on the kind of music you played, then people might think you were as cool and clever as The Beatles.
As minds exploded in the 1960s, so too did the lexicon of band names . In what was seen as a radical move verging on the subversive, the definite article was dropped, and colourful, seemingly unrelated word combinations began to emerge. Pink Floyd, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane and Procol Harum were some of the less spaced-out names from the psychedelic era.
As guitars got louder, drums got weightier and concepts got heavier, bands needed names with more mettle, that would strike fear into the hearts of teenypoppers and casual listeners. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep all denoted hard rock with a pseudo-satanic, cod-mystical edge, and became standards for a generation of beardy, bedenimed blokes to rally round.
Traditional names came back into vogue when punk swept away the hoary old guard. But instead of animals or household appliances, bands plundered the dictionaries and encyclopaedias for bodily emissions, sexual perversions and - quite possibly - rare tropical diseases. The Germs, The Nipple Erectors, the Slits, Throbbing Gristle and The Sic Fucks were just some of the more colourful names to spew out in this new musical explosion.
And then came the 1980s, and a laissez faire attitude that opened up a whole new world of band-naming - or simply opened a can of worms. Nothing was forbidden in the quest to find a distinctive (and often distinctly silly) name - not names of countries, cities and states (Japan, Berlin, Texas); fictional characters from films, books and comics (Heaven 17, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins); political writings and manifestos (Scritti Politti, Art of Noise); and even classical dance styles (Eurythmics). Only a handful of sensibly named bands such as The Smiths held firm against the prevailing tide.
In the 1990s, almost as a backlash to the cheesiness of the 1980s, band-naming was stripped back to one-word basics, as evinced by such Britpop bands as Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede and Verve. We're ordinary, no-nonsense lads with no time for pretentious, fancy-pants rubbish, these bands seemed to say, although one or two of them were probably lying.
In the Noughties, The Strokes led a new charge of the definite article brigade, although the decade has so far seen more than its share of odd band-naming trends. Recently, a few bands have laid claim to the possessive pronoun, as in My Chemical Romance. It's no coincidence that these bands attract a self-obsessed kind of fan. Long-winded names, thought to have gone the way of 1980s girlrockers We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It, have staged a comeback, and you will know them by the trail of letters that just seem to go on and on.
Often these are shortened by their fans, as in Trail of Dead - can't be too long before Clap Your Hands Say Yeah are shortened to the punkier and more user-friendly The Clap. I'd definitely buy an album by that band.
How the !;%)@#*! do you pronounce that?
The name to drop in trendy circles, but you have to make a "chk, chk, chk" noise to do that, which instantly cancels out your cool.
The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Often rendered as TAFKAP, Squiggle or simply the Artist Formerly able to Sell Millions.
à;GRUMH . . .
Belgian industrial electro act who have languished in glorious obscurity for two decades. Go figure.
Rendered as a Prince-style squiggle, this band had a minor hit with Doot Doot, but had slightly more success as Underworld.
A band sits around the practice room trying to think up a name, and the best they can come up with is the logo on their amps. Doesn't bode well for their songwriting ideas, does it?