originally published June 22, 2013
How did the Beatles come to be called the Beatles? Well, the official story is this: “It came in a vision. A man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day forward you are Beatles with an A.’ Thank you Mister Man, they said, thanking him.” That’s the tale John Lennon told Mersey Beat back in 1961 – notably three years before he began experimenting with mind-altering drugs.
Of course the reality isn’t quite so surreal. They were inspired by the crickets, and even played as the Silver Beetles for a while, before deciding to co-opt the pun of having the word ‘Beat’ in their name. Ironic, since they fired their drummer shortly afterward.
The origin stories of band names can be a dicey topic – some names have multiple story origins, depending on who you ask, and others remain a mystery because the band members just like to mess with their fans. …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead was alleged to be a line from a Mayan ritual chant, but lead singer Conrad Keely let it slip that his band’s origin story was just a joke. My guess is that they just wanted to sound ‘dark’ and ‘deep’.
Anyhow, here are a few others:
The Ramones, perhaps the greatest awful band in the history of rock, took their moniker’s inspiration from the Beatles. Before you start combing lyrics sites, I’ll save you the trouble. When the Beatles were touring with Johnny Gentle back in 1960, they all adopted pseudonyms – not so much in an effort to keep the chambermaids from scouring their bathrooms in search of sellable pubic hair, but just because it was something to do. Paul’s new name was Paul Ramon.
Speaking of phony names, Bono once explained in typical Bono fashion where the name U2 came from. It came from an interactivity with the audience. Like… “You too!”
You know, I’m a fan of their music, but I am so tired of hearing quotes from Bono that prompt me to pull my eye-rolling muscle. Do you know how long it takes to rehab from that kind of injury? Just stop, Bono. We get it.
Prior to its infamous housing of only seven high-ranking Nazi criminals after WWII (covered here, roughly 430,000 words ago), Spandau Prison was known as one of the nastiest correctional facilities in Germany. The story goes that the term ‘Spandau ballet’ referred to the involuntary limb-jerking that took place when prisoners were executed by hanging. Whether or not that much is true (heh), local Berlin DJ Robert Elms saw the term written on the bathroom wall in a Berlin nightclub. And so an 80’s pop band had a name.
The electro-wizards known as Daft Punk used to record under the name Darlin’, which was the title of a single off the Beach Boys’ 1967 Wild Honey album. They received a crappy review in Melody Maker in the UK, who called their sound a “daft punky thrash.” Rather than be defeated by the review, they were inspired by it.
That is a government form with which citizens of the United Kingdom can apply for an Unemployment Benefit Attendance Card. Not a happy form to have to fill out, unless it inspires you to start a pop/reggae band. The form is also known as a UB40.
Harry Styles was texting his boy-band friends, and they unanimously agreed upon ‘One Direction’ as a name for their group. Wow, even their group’s name’s origin story sucks. Screw these guys.
That’s Leonard Skinner, the phys. Ed teacher at Robert E. Lee high school, who taught Ronnie Van Zandt, Gary Rossington and Bob Burns in the 1960’s. Skinner’s biggest pet peeve was when teenage boys would wear their hair long; it was against the rules, dammit. It seems a bizarre thing to make a stink over, but it was an antiquated time in a part of the country that was lagging a little behind, culturally-speaking. His students formed a band and poked fun at the teacher by naming their group Lynyrd Skynyrd.
When English rock band Warsaw sought to change their name to avoid confusion with the London punk band Warsaw Pakt, they found their grand idea in the 1955 Moshe Kohn novel House Of Dolls. In that novel, Kohn describes the alleged wing of a concentration camp in which Jewish women were kept to be used for the Nazis’ sexual gratification. Those wings were known as Joy Division, and thusly so was Warsaw.
If you have ever seen Jane Fonda’s strange 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella, then you may be familiar with the story’s antagonist, Dr. Durand-Durand. Simon Le Bon and his buddies certainly were, as they dropped the name-ending D’s and went on to become the wild boys known as Duran Duran.
The Rolling Stones lifted their name from the lyrics of one of the greatest chest-thumping blues numbers of all time, Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy”. Probably a good thing they chose that name instead of going by The John The Conqueroos.
ABBA’s name is actually an acronym for the band’s members: Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid. That’s either really clever or really lame. There’s no mistaking the face-slappingly dreadful origin story behind Air Supply’s name though. Lead singer Graham Russell saw it in a dream. Sheesh.
Yes, Steely Dan named themselves after a dildo. Specifically, after a dildo found in the William S. Burroughs novel The Naked Lunch. Chevy Chase also used to be their drummer, back before any of them were famous. Sometimes the world is just awesome.
The Pink Floyd Sound was singer/guitar player Syd Barrett’s suggestion when the band wisely wanted to change their name from Tea Set. He picked the first names of two Piedmont / east coast bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Eventually the words ‘The’ and ‘Sound’ were dropped, as were many tabs of acid on the band’s way to stardom.
Jumping ahead a couple decades, singer Darius Rucker named his band after two nicknames of his college buddies. ‘Hootie’ had a big nose. ‘The Blowfish’ had puffy cheeks. Neither of them were actually in the band.
The list of band name origins stretches on – Jethro Tull was named after an 18th-century agriculturalist, R.E.M. picked their name at random out of a dictionary, and the Velvet Underground was named after a book about sadomasochism. Some of the stories may contradict one another, but hey – it’s music trivia. You can’t expect musicians to remember everything clearly.