Wednesday, 1 August 2012
How Every AAA Band Got Their Name (News, Views and Music 155 Top 28!)
What difference does a name make? Arguably not much if you’re already a collector of a certain group, for whom the names on the album sleeves just become part of the furniture (All that fuss about The Beatles having such a strange name in 1962 and 63 had gone by 1964). But if you’re new to a group and keeping an eye out for one you might like then the name is probably the thing that will catch your eye first. Hence this weeks’ top five, extended to a top 28, dedicated to why each of our AAA bands got their names (we’re going to ignore those who used their real names as that’s just boring – though look out for a couple of pseudonyms that made the list). Now as I well know after writing 260 odd reviews and newsletters nothing about any of these bands are ever simple and there’s some dispute about some of these stories, What difference does a name make? Arguably not much if you’re already a collector of a certain group, for whom the names on the album sleeves just become part of the furniture (All that fuss about The Beatles having such a strange name in 1962 and 63 had gone by 1964). But if you’re new to a group and keeping an eye out for one you might like then the name is probably the thing that will catch your eye first. Hence this weeks’ top five, extended to a top 28, dedicated to why each of our AAA bands got their names (we’re going to ignore those who used their real names as that’s just boring – though look out for a couple of pseudonyms that made the list). Now as I well know after writing 260 odd reviews and newsletters nothing about any of these bands are ever simple and there’s some dispute about some of these stories, especially our 60s bands who often had their names ‘talked up’ during interviews for a bit of publicity. So where applicable we’ll list all the possible alternatives and invite you to select the one you agree with most. We’ll also be taking a look at some of the former names used by each band – and suggesting whether or not the switch was a good idea...
THE BEACH BOYS For at least a year the group soon to be known as The Beach Boys were officially known as The Pendletones, after the type of stripy surfers shirts you can see them wearing in just about every personal appearance between 1961 and 64. Some sites will tell you that the band were forced to drop the name after the company tut-tutted and talked about pressing charges, but actually its extremely unlikely anyone would have heard of them by the time of their name change in 1961. The truth is likely more prosaic: the band’s first song ‘Surfin’ was released with a limited pressing after the band were one of many to play ‘live’ in the offices of Mite Horgan’s ‘Studio Masters’, the local recording booth in Hollywood. Another group attending that day genuinely were called ‘The Beach Boys’ and the secretary, knowing nothing about either band, simply got the names wrong and switched them round. Horrified by the forced name change, the Wilsons and Mike Love talked seriously about cancelling the project and starting again – but to their surprise the record was a big local hit and the band began to get a following under their ‘new’ name so kept it. How lucky that other group was called something so suitable and not ‘The Landlocked Ladies of Love’ or something daft, otherwise their story might have turned out quite differently. Certainly ‘The Beach Boys’ has a longer shelf life as a name than being named after a shirt, although frankly even that name undersells what a pioneering, eclectic band they were to become.
THE BEATLES (AND SOLO) Legend has it that Lennon came up with the name ‘The Silver Beetles’ in honour of Buddy Holly’s band ‘The Crickets’ but that then-bassist Stuart Sutcliffe went one better and in what would become a typical Beatles pun-on-words added the ‘a’ to add the twist on ‘beat’ music (Holly, who came up with the name ‘crickets’ as a pun on them being the most musical insects, would doubtless have been amused). Other sources have quoted the fact that Marlon Brando rebel rocker film ‘The Wild Ones’ has a female motorbike gang called ‘The Beetles’ – but this seems less likely to me, as the Beatles weren’t big on motorbikes or on films and as tough Liverpudlian lads are unlikely to have named themselves after anything so girly (even a motorcycle gang!) The story did do the rounds at the time though – hence, most likely, why The Searchers took their name. Officially, of course, Lennon’s story was that the name was given to him ‘by a man on a flaming pie who said ‘you are Beatles with an ‘A’ and we were’. First appearing in editions of Merseybeat, the local music magazine of Merseyside long before any outsiders heard of the band, the fact that Lennon spent so long talking about the band name shows how much fuss there was about this ‘unusual’ moniker back then. The band were formerly known as The Quarrymen after Lennon (and Sutcliffe’s) high school, but was understandably changed when the band left. As for solo Beatle bands, The Plastic Ono Band was deliberately conceived by Lennon after a work of Yokos where an audience was asked to listen to a band that weren’t there – the noises of the exhibition and what was going on inside their heads was ‘the band’. This idea suited Lennon who hated the idea of having to form another ‘Beatles’ and be tied up in another band for years, as it meant he could leave the line-up as flexible as he liked. Years later in 1980 Paul McCartney quoted his made-up band as ‘The Plastic Macs’ in a video for ‘Coming Up’ in honour of his former bandmate (Lennon was so impressed with the song it brought him out of retirement!) ‘Wings’ was conceived by McCartney in the very unglamorous surroundings of a London maternity hospital in 1972, where his wife Linda was having slight difficulties in the birth of the family’s third child Stella (born by Caesarean). Pacing the floor of the canteen and trying to take his mind of his current situation, Paul says the word ‘Wings’ suddenly floated into his head and he liked the image as being both ‘heavenly’ and ‘uplifting’. Legend has it Stella was born at the instant the name came to him. ‘The Travelling Wilburys’ were named after a throwaway joke between George Harrison and Jeff Lynne during the recording of the fomer’s ‘Cloud Nine’ album in 1987. Whenever something went wrong with the recording the other said ‘don’t worry, we’ll bury it’, George’s Goonish humour turning the phrase into ‘will burys’, a mysterious gremlin type race who loved making mischief in mixing desks. When the Wilburys got together the following year and were looking for a name George suggested ‘Trembling Wilburys’ as a joke. Lynne then changed the first word to the definitive ‘Travelling Wilburys’. The five then cooked up some shaggy dog stories for the sleeve of their first record, recounting the ‘journey’ of the ‘perambulating wilburys’ and their evolution to the present and the fact that each of the musicians were given their own names, all children of the esteemed Charles Truscott Wilbury Senior.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN This band was named by chief songwriter Stuart Murdoch after a children’s book and TV series made in France that should more properly be called ‘Belle et Sebastiane’. The theme of the show was basically a French version of Lassie, with Sebastian a young boy saved from difficult circumstances by his faithful canine companion. There’s no direct link between the band and the TV show but they did all have to write off to the estate of authoress Cecile Aubry for permission to use the name. Incidentally various links to the TV show do crop up on several B+S songs, particularly in their early days, such as the title of ‘Dog On Wheels’ ‘I Love My Dog/Car’ and the last episode of the series, where the faithful Belle is put down for attacking another boy (who was in turn attacking her master) is very similar to the last few albums B+S have released, about betrayal guilt and love. As far as I know the band never had another name.
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD Dick Clark famously introduced the band to the American public by saying they were named ‘because they own the Whole of ‘Buffalo’ and half of ‘Springfield’. Actually the band were named after an American steamroller company – no I’m not making this up! – who happened to have a vehicle with ‘BS’ plates positioned right outside the band’s window. Famously the band – who knew each other independently years before – met up in a traffic jam where Stephen Stills and Richie Furay spotted a hearse in the queue going the other way and knew it must belong to their eccentric friend Neil Young. There might well have been a steamroller in the queue somewhere too!
THE BYRDS The Byrds all had a ridiculous lot of names before manager Jim Dickson finally came up with the one that stuck. As a trio McGuinn Crosby and Clark were known as the ‘jetset’ (after McGuinn’s mania for planes) and later became known as ‘The Beefeaters’ (as after The Beatles anything with a British name sold by the bucketload). At least one of these names is a bad idea – I’ll leave you to decide which one! As for ‘The Byrds’ the name came about because of the band’s desire to have a name connected with ‘flight’ in some way and the mis-spelling came about partly because ‘birds’ were English slang for ‘girls’ and in honour of the mis-spelt ‘A’ in Beatles. Incidentally there was a band called ‘The Birds’ from London, who’d started a good 6 months before The Byrds used their name their first time – former Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood was in the line-up – and some people say that the mis-spelling came about because the latter band sued. That’s not actually true – neither band had heard of the other until ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ was riding high in the charts.
CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG Well, one entry where the name is obvious you’d think. Actually CSN had several names in the pipeline, including most famously the ‘Frozen Noses’ (a drugs reference it won’t surprise you to hear), mainly because it was so deeply unusual to have a name like this rather than a group ‘label’ in 1969 (although Peter Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel got there first). The reason for the name was that after the ‘pressure’ from being in bands previously (respectively The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies) all three wanted a much ‘freer’ arrangement where they weren’t in danger of wearing the same shirts and speaking unitedly in press conferences. For a time, though, they weren’t sure what to call themselves and were set to be ‘Nash, Stills and Crosby’ before working out that ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ trips better off the tongue.
DIRE STRAITS I love this story, though some have cast doubts on whether it’s true or not. Knopfler brothers Mark and David both went to a private boarding school in Newcastle and, by most reports, were less than enamoured by their schooling. One day their headmaster called them both into his office and said that if they didn’t change their ways they would be in ‘dire straits’ in adulthood (ie in difficulties). Not wanting to prove him wrong they named their band ‘Dire Straits’ in his honour. Other reports have the band coming up with the name during a boozy late night discussing names with, among others, Simon Cowe – the guitarist in fellow Geordie band Lindisfarne. Perhaps both stories are true, a suggestion prompting the memory of the name for Mark.
GRATEFUL DEAD Again there have been some doubts about the true story of how the Dead got their name, but one things for certain: the band were all set to be The Warlocks for years before their first record. However Jerry Garcia heard in late 1966 that another band had beaten them to it and reluctantly told the band they had to change it. While there have been bands called the ‘Warlocks’ since (notably in LA in 1999) there’s been no record of one around in the mid 60s, so Garcia might have got it wrong. Legend has it that the band opened the dictionary at two random places to get two random names. However, it seems more likely to me that, as historians of folk literature, the band already knew that a ‘Grateful Dead’ was a Medieval form of poem whereby a person does a good deed for a dying man and gets helped by him from the afterlife (basically where the Western idea of karma comes from). It’s certainly a name that suits the band, however weird it sounds at first, and is a lot more suitable than the band’s first moniker, ‘Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions’ (yes the band that pioneered psychedelic were a jug band in their first incarnation!)
THE HOLLIES The founding members of The Hollies will disagree to their dying day about who thought of the idea first and where exactly they were, but what is known is that somewhere around Christmas 1962 the band played a gig at a site with holly festooned on every wall. The band had actually gone without a name for some time, the band having been merged from two separate bands doing the rounds on the Manchester beat scene (‘The Dolphins’ and ‘The Fentones’) and needed one in a hurry when the site manager (whichever one it was) said he had to introduce them as something. The name was accepted because, like contemporaries The Beatles, it was a play on words on band idol ‘Buddy Holly’ (though the fab four had gone for aping his backing band The Crickets). And which one of them said the name first? Well it can’t be Hicks or Elliott as they weren’t in the band back then. Clarke, Nash and original bassist Eric Haydock have all claimed to have come up with the masterstroke – and for all we know original drummer Don Rathbone might have said it too. THE
HUMAN LEAGUE The band that started out as a duo called ‘The Dead Daughters’ and were best known for their spiky treatment of the Dr Who theme tune had come a long way by the time of their first record. A longer lasting name was ‘The Future’, which was only dropped by the band because they’d already gone round all the record companies they could think of asking for an audition and figured a new name might make them think they hadn’t been rejected by them already! Avid science fiction fans, the band came up with the ‘Human League’ name from the very technical and complex game ‘Starforce: Alpha Centauri’. In the game the ‘Human League’ are an Earth colony trying to escape the pull of the planet’s empire and open new frontiers, a rather fitting name for the band. Incidentally when founding members Ware and Marsh left the band in 1980 to form ‘Heaven 17’ they took that name from a futuristic rock group mentioned in both novel and film of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (although technically they should have been called ‘Heavenly 17’).
JEFFERSON AIRPLANE/STARSHIP The official reply to how the band got their name? ‘We took the J from Jefferson, the E from Egg, An F from banana’ etc. The band couldn’t tell the official fan story of where they got the name (inventing daft names for blues singers in a band competition, guitarist Jorma coming up with the accepted winner ‘Blind Lemon Jefferson Airplane’) because that sounded daft. And they couldn’t really give the most likely source of their name, which was California slang for an improvised roach clip for marijuana – commonly a match that had been doctored to hold grass too small for the fingers to hold. Chances are the true story was a little of all three. Paul Kantner then named the ‘Starship’ when he was looking for a good collective band name to go with his solo ‘Blows Against The Empire’ project. A concept album about a bunch of hippies stealing a spaceship intended for spreading capitalism across the galaxies and using it to spread instead, it seemed like a natural progression when the band reformed fully in 1974.
JANIS JOPLIN (Big Brother And The Holding Company) Janis’ first band was already inexistence long before she became their lead singer and talking point. The band got the name from George Orwell’s novel 1984 where ‘Big Brother’ was the all-seeing corporation watching out for subversion and rebellion (something the band were full of!; the fact the phrase now most commonly means a godawful reality TV show where people argue with each other for hours is very sad) The ‘Holding Company’ part of the name is more obscure, but was probably a psychedelic joke about how such a disorganised hippie establishment could act like a ‘holding company’ full of stocks and shares and suits.
THE KINKS Ray Davies hated the name ‘The Kinks’, which was forced on him by managers Granville and Collins because they wanted to come up with a name that had a ‘shock’ factor and was short enough to stand out in small print at the bottom of concert posters (Wace says it was a friend of his who invented the name). Ray himself recalls it as something publisher Larry Page said on first seeing the group and that they looked ‘a bit kinky’ with their long hair and leather suits. For years previously the band had played as a drummerless trio of Ray, brother Dave and schoolfriend Pete Quaife under alternating names including ‘The Ravens’ (which is what the band were still called when signed by Pye) and ‘The __ Quartet’, with the name of whichever band member had got the gig filling in the gaps!
LINDISFARNE Like The Hollies, Lindisfarne were two local performers joined together: a folk-rock group called ‘The Brethren’ and a singer-songwriter named Alan Hull. Seeing as the band were all local to Newcastle the band decided to name themselves after the ‘Lindisfarne’ island just off the coast of their home city. No one is quite sure who came up with the name and exactly why, but Lindisfarne has big resonance with locals, being one of the earliest known colonised sites of Great Britain and famous for its monasteries where some of the UK’s earliest Christians came to pray. Personally I think the band should have stuck with their original mid-60s name ‘The Downtown Faction’, which is a classic 1960s invention!
LULU Lulu was born Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie which, as her manager Marion Massey put it, was an awfully big name for such a wee girl to have (Lulu was all of 15 when her first single ‘Shout!’ was released). After an exhausting day trying to think of a suitable name, Massey is legendarily meant to have leant back in her chair and declared ‘I don’t know what the hell to call you – but you’re a real lulu of a kid!’ The name then stuck, partly because of Lulu’s resemblance to the title character in the cartoon strip ‘Little Lulu’, published in the Saturday Evening Post, whose ‘Just William’ type escapades were a big hit in the 1930s.
THE MONKEES The name ‘The Monkees’ actually existed even before the four musician-actors had been hired for the TV series. Like most things early Monkees it was coined by creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schenider, two TV executives a good 30 years younger than most of the staff working at Colgems, figured that they wanted their new group to be up to mischief and ‘monkeying around’. The ‘ey’ at the end was altered to ‘ee’ in honour of The Beatles and the mis-spelling of their name. THE
MOODY BLUES The Moodies must have been named after something as psychedelic and hippie as they were, right? Erm, wrong, they were named after a local beer! The original Denny Laine-era of the band were named in 1964 as the ‘M&B Five’ in the vain hope of getting sponsorship from local Birmingham brewery Midland and Butler (whose logo was M&B). The hoped for sponsorship failed to materialise, but the band already had a small following so kept the M and B initials, calling themselves ‘The MBs’ and ‘The MB 5’ for a while. The final name came, not from the Elvis song ‘Moody Blue’ but from the Duke Ellington song ‘Mood Indigo’, the band altering the shade slightly so that they became ‘blue’.
OASIS Noel Gallagher must thank his lucky stars that the band changed their name from ‘The Rain’, even if the band were at first named after a classic Beatles B-side (Noel wasn’t actually in the band during this early period). The final name came from brother Liam, who had ‘borrowed’ one of his brother’s posters from an Inspiral Carpets tour (where Noel was roadie) for his bedroom wall. One of the gigs the band played was the Oasis Leisure Centre in Swindon, with the word ‘Oasis’ written in giant letters. Incidentally there had already been a previous band called Oasis in the 70s, a shortlived supergroup including Beatles discovery Mary Hopkin as a singer, but the band never got into legal complications or were forced to change their name, unlike some of the bands on this list.
GILBERT O’SULLIVAN Gilbert was actually born Raymond O’Sullivan but didn’t think his first name was very rock and roll (something we’d better not pass on to Ray Davies or Ray Charles!) His first manager Mike Smith (formerly of The Tremeloes) came up with the name, which really is a play on words of the Victorian writing team the hilarious Gilbert and his rather more sombre writing partner Sullivan (I’d love to have got Gilbert’s take on The Coalition!)
PENTANGLE A ‘pentangle’ is a five-sided star that’s meant to have special mystical properties in ancient English witchcraft. The band have said that they used the name because they were a quintet (with each ‘point’ needed to make a ‘whole’, or perhaps suggesting that all five members of this folk supergroup were already ‘stars’) and that the image crept up in a lot of the traditional songs they were singing (especially John Renbourn’s favourite traditional folk song ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, which sadly the band never recorded).
PINK FLOYD As all good music lovers of the 60s and 70s know, Pink Floyd was named by Syd Barrett after his two favourite blue players Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.; Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of either of them – today they’re only remembered because they gave this band their name! What’s more intriguing is some of the names the band played under before this, including the Architectural Abdabs (both Roger Waters and Nick Mason were architectural students at the time), Sigma Six, The Meggadeaths, Leonard’s Lodgers, The Spectrum Five and The Tea Set. This last name was the one the band favoured most but to their horror they met another band called The Tea Set at one of their first professional gigs and were forced to change the name. For a time the band were known as ‘The Pink Floyd Sound’, an interesting twist in that it puts the emphasis on the uniqueness of their music many years before the laser lights shows and flying pigs made them such a visually exciting act.
ROLLING STONES Most people assume the band were named after the famous Dylan song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, but that song came out a fair time after the band’s first single ‘C’mon’. Both artists got the name from the same place however: blues singer Muddy Waters. Brian Jones was a big fan and had to come up with a band name at short notice when placing an advertisement for a gig with the magazine ‘Jazz News’ (a sign of the times – rock was so dead and buried there were no magazines to place their ad with!) He’s meant to have been on the phone staring at his record collection when a Muddy Waters track title named ‘Rollin’ Stone’ caught his eye. The song is based on the old English phrase ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’ and is about the importance of moving on and not standing still. Prior to the name the band had just been ‘guests’ of Alexis Korner’s band ‘Blues Incorporated’, playing the occasional set alongside their heroes. Fans have also long assumed that the famous rock magazine Rolling Stone is named after the band – it isn’t, its named after the Dylan song instead!
THE SEARCHERS Merseyside’s second most popular band, the Searchers took a leaf out of what they thought the Beatles had done (naming themselves after the female bikers in ‘The Wild Ones’ film) and named themselves after a John Wayne cowboy film released in 1956. I’ve never actually seen the film (why watch cowboys and indians when you can listen to them in the Buffalo Springfield?) but from what I’ve read of the plot synopsis (aging cowboy heads West to look for his missing niece) it doesn’t seem the most obvious starting point for a rock and roll band. That said, Buddy Holly – who seems to keep cropping up on this list – loved the film and wrote ‘That’ll Be The Day’ after the ofte-spoken catchphrase in the film. As ever with The Searchers there’s something of a dispute about who thought up the name: guitarist Mike Pender claims it was him, second guitarist John McNally claims it was original lead singer Ron Woodbridge; drummer Chris Curtis and original bassist Tony Jackson kept quiet about the matter.
SMALL FACES Despite their often uncontrollable egos, the teenagers who made up the original Small Faces had a great sense of humour too. In mid 60s Mod slang a ‘face’ is a trendsetter, the ‘hip’ kid who sets all the fashion and yet looks cool whatever they’re wearing. The Small Faces longed to be seen on this level and yet their small height (barring original keyboard player Jimmy Winstun) meant they were somewhat overlooked as fashion icons. Some bright spark – probably Steve Marriott although most sources aren’t too sure – put the two words together and hey presto, a self-ridiculing trend-setting band was born! We’ve remarked before about the duality of a band who wanted to be taken seriously whilst writing knock-off novelty songs that sold millions – that schizophrenia is all in the name too (it should have been this band that made ‘Quadrophenia’!) They dropped the ‘Small’ from their name when the band split and they brought Rod Stewart in to replace Marriott: at 6” he was hardly ‘small’ unlike his predecessor!
CAT STEVENS/YUSUF Cat’s changed his name so many times down the years it’s probably a long time since somebody called him by his real name ‘Steven’ (‘Georgiou’ being his real surname). Cat only changed his name for recording purposes, figuring ‘no one in their right mind would ask for a record by somebody with that name’) and figuring that animals were all the rage in the day in both the UK and US. Looking for a good one he remembered a girlfriend who once told him he had eyes ‘like a cat’ and the name stuck. His name change to Yusuf officially occurred in 1977, although it was part and parcel of a slow conversion to Islam that Stevens had been following since the mid 70s (when his brother gave him a copy of the Qu’ran shortly after Stevens nearly died in a freak accident that saw him drifting out to sea). In the Muslim religion Yusuf is the Western equivalent of Joseph, the character in the Qu’ran Stevens identified with most, as well as meaning ‘peace’ (‘Peace Train’ being the song perhaps most identified with the singer).
10CC Erm, err, we feel a bit like Eric Stewart on Multi Coloured Swap Shop right now, asked to reveal the story behind the name and sensibly saying ‘we’ll tell you about it off air’. Let’s just get it over with quickly shall we? Original manager Johnathan King came up with the name, reportedly in a dream, based on the statistic that 9cc was the average power of a male human ejaculation. 10cc, being cheeky, added a 1 to the name. Not the best idea given what King became famous for later in life...Things could have been worse though: before Graham Gouldmann joined the band the trio in 10cc were called ‘Hotlegs’!
THE WHO Perhaps the most suitable band name on this whole list, given the ‘orrible ‘oo’s concern with identity, confusion and self throughout their long career, starting with their very first single ‘I Can’t Explain’ back in 1965 (although to me the band have always sounded like they deserve an exclamation mark at the end!) For a long time, however, the band alternated between that name and the very 60s, very mod-ish ‘The High Numbers’ and even released a single under that moniker which sadly ended up charting in the low numbers (the band sensibly dropped the name because of bad puns like that one!) Prior to that the band were known as the ‘Detours’. Most fans assume it was the band themselves that came up with the name – actually it was Pete Townshend’s art student room mate of the time Richard Barnes who came up with the idea.
NEIL YOUNG (Crazy Horse) Finally, Neil Young is a given – it’s his real name folks – but the naming of Crazy Horse is a bit more interesting. Under Danny Whitten’s tutelage they started out as an a capella doo wop band named ‘Danny And The Memories’ before getting into rock and roll and turning into ‘The Rockets’. It was Neil’s idea to re-christen the band Crazy Horse, an Indian name that made sense given Young’s preoccupation with all things Indian (during the Springfield years he played ‘Indian’ to Stills’ ‘cowboy’). A native American war leader who longed for peace, it’s the perfect name for Neil to come up with, even if the name doesn’t necessarily suit the band themselves, who really are more of a stubborn but beautiful kick-ass mule. Wow aren’t names important! And that’s that until we see you for yet another issue of, erm, what’s that thingy called? Erm, anyway, whatever it is we’ll see you then!