Can you beat The Beatles? The challenges of choosing a good band name

 abc.net.au  6/14/2018 9:30:57 PM   ABC Radio Adelaide By Malcolm Sutton

Posted June 15, 2018 07:30:57

Musicians can be a fickle lot. They can be unpunctual, slack with returning phone calls and precious about criticism.

But if there's one area they can be some of the most frustrating people on Earth, it's in deciding a band name.

Having played in countless bands, I can safely suggest that the more experienced, talented and democratic your group is, the harder it is to decide on a name.

My last band, for example, had three different names for its first three gigs. In fact, by the third gig we simply went without a name because we couldn't agree.

One of the best ways around it is to have a guitarist who assumes some form of pseudo leadership and everybody just nods, smiles and agrees to prevent them having a hissy fit.

But seeing as this can potentially land you with a band name like Darryl The Pheromone-Oozing Axe Genius And His Servants, it's not always a good idea.

Are the arguments worth it?

If you think about some successful bands, the names they chose for themselves are rarely all that relevant.

The Beatles. Yes, its misspelling is a play on words derived from the beat movement, but for the throngs of young girls bouncing about with misguided fanaticism, it probably never crossed their minds that they were worshipping bugs.

Tool. Was it named after a spanner sitting innocuously on the ground after the band had just spent a night arguing about their name? Or did somebody call somebody else a tool and a collective agreement went through the rest of the band?

Queen. Without wanting to provoke a battalion of social justice warriors who might miss the point, Freddie Mercury was flamboyantly camp but hardly a princess prancing about in the desert in a shiny pink bus.

The point is, a band name quickly loses its literal meaning after the musicians get a few runs on the board.

Instead the names become synonomous with the music and, in the case of bands like Kiss, potentially a misguided fashion sense.

After all, few people fear being crushed under a collapsing sky of darkness on a Sunday when they consider the name Black Sabbath, but they might think of early metal and perhaps a bat in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And the Spice Girls? It's unlikely their fans imagined the aromas of exotic cooking while dancing the night away in clubs, and even less likely the merits of "spice" in Frank Herbert's Dune series, which was reportedly a metaphor for magic mushrooms.

Punters misguided by a bad band name

Despite this disconnect between music and meaning, veteran music writer Robert Dunstan said a well-chosen band name could play a role in its eventual success.

"Some bands choose their names really kind of flippantly and it comes back to haunt them," he said.

"There used to be a band called Free Beer, but they ran into difficulty with the hotels because when the hotels advertised them, it kind of suggested free beers.

"There was a band from Melbourne that recently came over to Adelaide to play who called themselves Private Function.

"But it put so many people off because they saw the name advertised and just assumed it was a private function and went somewhere else."

Mr Dunstan also recalled some friends who formed a band.

"Around that time in the late '70s and '80s, everyone was saying, 'Ah, the next big thing from England will be so and so', and so they took it upon themselves to call themselves The Next Big Thing From England.

"Did it work for them? Not really."

The Angels rebadged themselves for America

But settling on a band name might not even be the end of it, particularly when you discover it's already been taken.

"When the Angels went over to America, they had to change their name to Angel City because there was already a band working in the US called the Angels," Mr Dunstan said.

Some of the better band names, he said, included Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Steely Dan, "who took their name from a dildo in a William Burroughs book".

"The band name worked because no-one knew what it referred to, unless you did a bit of research," Mr Dunstan said.

"Then there's William Shatner's Pants, an Adelaide band. They only played a couple of times but it was a great band name.

"It's funny."

For fledgling bands doing their best to decide on a name and get on with the important part, i.e. making music, Mr Dunstan offered some advice.

Keep it short, catchy, with at least a little relevance to what the band is about and "easy to spell".

"A lot of bands go for a crazy spelling of their name, but in the days of the internet and autocorrect and all that, the names sometimes don't work as well as they should."

Topics: bands-and-artists, music, community-and-society, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, contemporary-art, adelaide-5000, sa, melbourne-3000, vic, australia

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