12 Bizarre True Stories Behind Famous Band Names
Picking a band name has got to be a pretty hard thing to do. Once set, it will label you and all your actions for the rest of your career. If you get tired of it you won't be able to simply toss it out the window on a dusty desert highway--at least not without repercussions. Music critics agree that this is one way in which a band name is a lot like a sack of kittens.
Today, in honor of our article's sponsor 311 (whose name came from a naked encounter with Omaha police) we examine how some of the most famous bands in the world got their names. We'd have opened it up to less famous bands, but it turns out most of those are named after semen (and after about five hours of wading through that, the research department got kind of prickly).
The boys in Pearl Jam have floated a couple suggestions for the origination of their band name. It was either based on the famous peyote jam made by Eddie Vedder's great grandmother, Pearl. Alternately, it may have derived from the nickname of NBA star Mookie Blaylock. Or they picked Pearl because it sounded cool, and added Jam on the end, like musicians do when they're playing around musically.
Another version, as explained by Vedder himself, stems from how pearls are created. "The name is in reference to the pearl itself ... and the natural process from which a pearl comes from. Basically, taking excrement or waste and turning it into something beautiful." Aside from probably being a retcon, this represents a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of how pearl's are made, in that they don't shit in their mouths. Still, nice try Eddie.
Notable by its absence in any of these official explanations is how Pearl Jam is a euphemism for man marmalade, which is itself a euphemism for something else. We tend to believe Vedder's repeated denials of this explanation for the name's origins, if only because we think it's hilarious to think he accidentally named his band after spunk.
Depeche Mode is an English electronic band formed in the 1980s. Hugely popular around the world, they've had only modest success in the states, primarily because American's have generally been resistant to electronic genres, preferring simpler songs about being hot for teacher.
The name Depeche Mode translates to "Fashion Dispatch" in French, which is unsurprising, seeing as the band stole the name from a French fashion magazine. That sounds like another pretty good way to limit your appeal to the American audience, given how despised the French, fashion and reading are over here. However, after researching this a bit and examining what the French magazine industry actually has to offer, we've changed our mind: French magazines are awesome.
If you're not familiar with KISS, they are the rock band with the painted faces--sort of like a loud and unsettling circus.
Famously, rumors have circulated that KISS stands for "Knights In Satan's Service." The band has consistently denied this however, rightly pointing out that the band isn't comprised of agents of evil so much as ridiculous, ridiculous men. The true story, according to Paul Stanley, is that they chose the name KISS because it "just sounded dangerous and sexy at the same time." Kissing is generally considered one of the least dangerous activities ever invented (it's right after hand washing) so we're going to question Paul Stanley's explanation here. Kissing people ain't dangerous dude. Unless they're unwilling and either a cop or a karate instructor.
Chumbawamba are a post-punk anarcho-chipotle-barely-legal-electro-something-or-other band who've been around for decades. But they never bothered anyone until 1997 when they were responsible for a song that was incredibly popular but no one anywhere will admit to liking. Statisticians are still trying to figure it out.
The official explanation for the band name is that it's a meaningless word, a combination of syllables that sort of rhyme. However, in an early interview, band member Danbert Nobacon outlined a slightly more specific origination. In a dream, while needing to take a piss, Nobacon didn't know which door to use in a public toilet because the signs said "Chumba" and "Wamba" instead of "Men" and "Women."
Huh. Gender confusion is kind of an odd thing to base your band name on, or even admit to publicly. This is basically the band name equivalent of one of those noisy conversations at a bar where you're drunkenly confiding something to a friend when the music suddenly stops playing, and the room goes quiet, and you're there yelling "I SIT DOWN WHEN I PEE." And then the stares start.
An Australian pop band, Savage Garden had a brief spell of success in the late 90s when the world's appetite for "weeny, gutless music" was reaching its zenith. While researching this we were surprised to read they managed to sell 25 million records in their time. Really? Twenty-five million Savage Garden albums? You people know they're reusable right?
The name itself is a quote from an Anne Rice novel--Anne Rice being famous for her novels about vampires that were popular with guys that listen to Savage Garden. Taking a name from a literary work is a fine tradition (wait till you see our winner) but an Anne Rice novel? That's a little less rock and roll than calling yourself Goosebumps or The Babysitters Club.
Duran Duran are an English rock band who've made a billion songs in the last 25 years, none more important than the title song to View to a Kill, the most hilarious James Bond ever (it's the one with Christopher Walken attacking things in a blimp).
Duran Duran have acknowledged that they're named after a character in the Jane Fonda movie, Barbarella. For those of you that aren't huge perverts, Barbarella is an erotic science fiction adventure from the 1960s, assuming you'll allow us to use pretty loose definitions of "erotic" and "adventure."
However, if the band had dug a little deeper into the movie, they would have found a character eight billion times better to name themselves after: Dildano.
Dexys Midnight Runners
Dexys Midnight Runners were that band with the dungarees and the catchy hit "Come on Eilleen," which you'll recall is just about the 80siest song imaginable.
The guys had admitted to naming their band after the drug Dexedrine, the prescription stimulant which is also a semi-popular way to get out of your head for a spell. The "midnight runners" comes from the ability of Dexedrine users to dance all night. Interestingly, the band itself was completely clean and even banned alcohol from concerts. Why a completely clean band would name themselves after the positive effects of a drug is beyond us. If you were anti-drug wouldn't you play up the downsides of drug use? Dexys Freaking Out In The Toilets. Dexys Giving Backrubs to Strange Dudes Again. Dexys Just Barfed All Over my Members-Only Jacket. Etc.
MotÃ¶rhead is a British rock band whose success in the 70s and 80s helped redefine heavy metal. They have a bit of a reputation, too--MotÃ¶rhead's founder, Lemmy, has stated that his aim was for the group to be "the dirtiest rock n' roll band in the world." "If MotÃ¶rhead moved in next to you, your lawn would die."
While it sounds like a pretty straightforward band name, motor-head is actually the equivalent to the American term "speed freak," a slang term for an amphetamine user. Rumors about whether this implied members of MotÃ¶rhead participated in drug use have dogged the band to this day.
Everyone here at Cracked recognized the name, but we actually had to look up just why exactly we'd heard of Cheap Trick before. Oh that's right. They sang "The Dream Police."
Heh. Their drummer looks like a vacuum salesman.
And how did they come up with the name? Supposedly they were visiting a psychic's house and asked a Ouija board what they should call their band. Another, better band, Alice Cooper, has a similar story, which makes us wonder how often bands consult the spirits for such a critical decision. And spirits, if you're reading this, have you ever tried fucking with these bands before? Like spell out "Dink Fidgeters" or something?
Led Zeppelin was a British rock band who in the 70s repeatedly and flagrantly rocked the world so fucking hard that scientists can still detect residual vibrations in the Earth's mantle to this day.
The phrase "lead balloon" has commonly been used to describe an ill-conceived idea, or one whose failure is both predictable and inevitable. The name then allegedly arose when Keith Moon, after being invited to drum for the band, thought the idea would go over like a "lead zeppelin"--Moon evidently modifying the common phrase after observing that zeppelin's were quite large. Reportedly Jimmy Paige liked the phrase so much, he took it for the band's name. The decision to misspell it was made because they thought Americans would be stupid enough to mispronounce the word "lead." Running a Website with a functioning comments section as we do, Cracked.com officially has a hard time disagreeing with this theory.
More influential than successful, The Velvet Underground are often called one of the most important and influential groups of their era by whoever last updated their Wikipedia page.
The name stems from the title of an S&M book a band member found on a sidewalk in New York. The book itself describes the underground sexual scene in 1960s America. We're not sure what the sexual underground of the 60s looked like, but we're guessing the book was primarily comprised of mustache grooming tips and maps to funky smelling basements.
"It's me again."
Steely Dan were a jazz rock duo popular in the late 70s with people who are probably pretty old by now. When asked to name a single Steely Dan song, the closest any Cracked staffer could come was "the one with the notes."
Despite their under appreciation by snot-nosed punks like us, we can still appreciate the story of how they got their name, because it is solid fucking gold. The phrase is taken from a passage in the William Burrough's book Naked Lunch. Steely Dan is the nickname given to a giant steam-powered dildo. It gets crazier: as explained in the book, there's actually been an entire series of Steely Dans. Notably, the first one was crushed by an evil German bulldyke prostitute using her hoo-ha.
So, until a band becomes famous while calling themselves the Deep Fisting Shit Fiends, or perhaps Elvis Costello's Deep Fisting Shit Fiends, Steely Dan will remain the craziest band name out there. We congratulate the band on their success. If a representative wants to drop by our offices, they can collect their prize: a printscreen of this Webpage folded into a letter-sized envelope.
For more musical trivia (likely stemming from a combination of cocaine and hookers' asses), check out The 6 Most (Certifiably) Insane Tales of Rock Star Behavior and 5 Massive Hit Songs That Almost Didn't Get Released.
And visit Cracked.com's Top Picks to see how we got our name that had absolutely nothing to do with crack-cocaine until Jack took over.