(2010 Aug 27) The Times publishes: What’s in a band name The Who or oOoOO?

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(2010 Aug 27) The Times publishes: What’s in a band name The Who or oOoOO?

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Original article (behind a paywall):
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/what ... 8wrfhbzh93

Written by Bob Stanley
August 27 2010
Click to read
What’s in a band name The Who or oOoOO?

Why do so many group’s monikers sound as if a cat has sat on the keyboard? What was wrong with being called the Jam?


Get ready for the unpronounceables. According to the influential website Drownedinsound.com, a rash of underground groups have given themselves mind-boggling names such as †‡†, Gr†ll Gr†ll and twYIY<ght>ZoNe.

The site has christened the noise that they make Witch House because of the music’s haunting, unsettling use of slowed-down samples: typical is Seaww, by the recklessly phonetic oOoOO, which sounds like Foreigner’s Waiting for a Girl Like You on an erratic life support machine. You might hear the Witch House acts and think of them as a spooky extension of last month’s hip micro-genre Chillwave, or you might think it’s time to pack it in, leave Dalston, and move to Belsize Park with an iPod full of Joanna Newsom and Fleetwood Mac.

Whether it’s because they want to mess with Google or just impress hieroglyphics students, these new acts will have to go some in the awkward stakes to beat the early Eighties duo Freur — at least, their name was pronounced Freur. Until their record company insisted on something with letters in it, they were simply a hand-drawn squiggle that would have made them ungoogle-able. Out on their doodlin’ own for a good eight years, they were later joined by Prince when he decided that Warner Brothers were treating him like a slave, and another decade on by !!!, a Warp Records act who let it be known their name is Chk Chk Chk. Because of British embarrassment it wasn’t really an issue — asking for their records felt like asking for a Sex on the Beach cocktail, so no one ever brought their name up in conversation.

Groups have used similar names to mark out territory since the early Fifties and the dawn of modern pop. The Orioles were a vocal harmony group, straight outta church, whose main selling point was a lead singer called Sonny Til. Til had a high, emotional voice, apt to fly off into what would soon be called a “soulful” direction. But this was 1948, a decade and a half before soul became a screwed-down genre, and girls screamed for Sonny.

The Orioles — with hit singles such as Too Soon to Know and Crying in the Chapel — got big, and before you knew it other doo-wop groups were in for a piece of the action by naming themselves after birds.

Now, it’s one thing to say you can sing like a nightingale, but the Ravens (Riot in Cell Block No 9), the Crows (Gee) and the Penguins (Earth Angel) all scored massive hits as they had far sweeter voices than their ornithological namesakes. It only occured to me a few weeks ago that the Housemartins — a name I’d always poo-poohed as weedy and straightahead indie — is probably a tribute to the “bird” groups, albeit in a very English manner.

Chaffinches and wagtails aside, band names tend to be cyclical. Since punk gave us the Clash and the Jam, as well as lesser new wave lights such as the Jags and the Look, the definite article has signalled an urgency to get back to three-minute- no-overdub basics — hence the Strokes and the Libertines a decade or so back.

Almost inevitably this tends to be followed by disdain for the “the”. Recently Editors, Battles and Foals have carved out a trend inadvertently started by Manchester’s Doves. They’re the Blur, Pulp and Suede of our time, in brevity if not cultural impact. Britpop snorted at definite articles. Pulp had been around since the Eighties, but their one-syllable name made them perfect for the mid- Nineties scene — well, that and the fact they weren’t writing songs called Dogs are Everywhere any more. When Britpop became a real commercial force, along came bandwagon jumpers with off-the- peg names. A single word name with a hint of swinging London equalled Menswear, Rialto and Pimlico — third division acts all.

Still, at least they picked their own names. It’s rather shocking to discover than neither Blur nor Radiohead came from the bands’ mouths. The former were called Seymour, after a J. D. Salinger novella which, with an arched eyebrow, certainly nods to their literate oeuvre; the wishy-washy, post-baggy Blur doesn’t come close. Radiohead originally played gigs in Oxford as On a Friday which, granted, sounds more like a Nick Heyward B-sides’ collection than a combination of post-rock and polemic to shake the world’s financial centres. For a group of such gravitas to cave in to their record label, who suggested the name Radiohead after a middling Talking Heads album track, is slightly depressing. Apart from anything else, it’s an awful name. How could they?

But I would say that. With my lifelong friend Pete Wiggs, we had the name Saint Étienne — after the stylish French football team of the Seventies — in the bag while we were still at school, years before we had ever attempted to programme a Roland 303. By the time that our first record came out in the long hot summer of 1990, football was fashionable after a decade of being equated with thick necks and ID cards. Perfect timing! Pelé and Eusebio, two bands named after legendary footballers, suddenly rose up from an indie morass on the strength of their names alone. Since then, there has been a French band called Aston Villa and a Leeds band who did somewhat better when they changed their name from Parva and half-inched a new one from the South African club side, Kaiser Chiefs.

Another extreme to veer off to in the wake of short, sharp names is the flowery and the elongated. The new romantics had no trouble in making themselves “other” — their way of distancing themselves from Thatcher’s Britain was by adopting a French name. It may be fashionable to ridicule Steve Strange, but this innovation can be safely pinned on his lapel; Visage’s 1981 hit Fade to Grey even included some whispered French on the intro. There weren’t many châteaus in Basildon, but that didn’t stop Depeche Mode following Visage into the chart within a few weeks.

Some genres pretty much demand a certain type of name. There aren’t many metal acts with a definite article. Allusions to the dark side are obligatory, whether its the occult (Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General, Angel Witch), dangerous substances (Anthrax, Poison, the catch-all Biohazard) or good old-fashioned death (Carcass, My Dying Bride, Megadeth).

The American comedian Doogie Horner has written a book called Everything Explained Through Flowcharts, which features a “heavy metal band name taxonomy”: he uncovers a bunch of groups named after William Faulkner references (As I Lay Dying, the Sound and the Fury, and the wince-inducing Corncob Rape) while his categories — “general spookiness”, “puns involving Hell”, “foreign”, “actually foreign” — are more fun than most of the names. Best of all is “adolescent poetry”, the embarrassing subset that includes Cradle of Filth, All that Remains and a Canadian “melodic death metal” act called Thine Eyes Bleed, whose singer was, shockingly, once in the very soft, suburban-sounding Acacia.

I’d guess that Acacia had nought to do with metal. Band names have tells — Pwin/\/\Teaks and //TENSE// may think that they are above categorisation, but you know that they won’t sound much like Bucks Fizz, just as you know that a band from the past six or seven years that has one word starting with a K (Kooks, Killers, Kills, Keane, Kasabian, Kooks, Koopa, Kubb) is guaranteed to be a variation on indie rock. Replacing an “s” with a “z” is a maddening shorthand for “street” that even children can understand. A graffiti artist in The Beano would have a name that ended with a “z”.

Say a name enough times — Engelbert Humperdinck, for example — and it doesn’t sound weird any more. The Beatles, lest we forget, is possibly the worst band name of all time.

You want to be called what?

Pink Floyd

Originally had a definite article (which hardcore fans still use). Named after Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, both Carolina bluesmen of the Piedmont school. Floyd’s colour coding was possibly responsible for the lesser known Orange Bicycle, Yellow Balloon and Krimson Kake.


Jon Anderson of Yes once complained that he couldn’t write a song about Accrington without his bandmates laughing. Let’s be honest, British place names just don’t have the exotic allure of New York City, Berlin, Beirut — or even Kansas.

The Beach Boys

Not their intended name (that was the Pendletones, after their stripy Pendleton shirts), but they were the first prosaically named act, followed in later years by the Band, the Pop Group and the short lived indie rockers, the Music.

Guns N’ Roses

The most successful of a crop of bands who combined hard and soft in their name — see also the Stone Roses and Smashing Pumpkins. Slash’s splinter group copped the same idea by calling themselves Velvet Revolver.

Ken Dodd’s Dad’s Dead

Into the realms of the irritatingly long name. The Reading band, Does it Offend You, Yeah?, closed most people’s ears before they’d heard a note. Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark pulled this trick off once; it won’t work again.
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