What's in a (band) name?

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 12:53 08/02/2013

So, yesterday, over at Off The Tracks I posted one of the Five Albums I'm Loving Guest Posts - this one by Julian Hanton, Kiwi-born, London-based Travel Channel presenter and globe-hopper. His first pick was the band Monkey Swallows The Universe. They are no longer around but they left some good music.Monkey Swallows The Universe

Within minutes of posting Julian's picks I received an email from someone telling me that they loved the band Monkey Swallows The Universe, were grateful for the reminder, and that they only checked the band out in the first place - seeing them live at one of their earliest gigs - because of the name.

If we love the music then a bad name is irrelevant. Or the bad name becomes the talking point. How many people rushed to Alt-J's defence last year, raving that the band's music was great despite the stupid name? I don't have an answer - but I imagine the number to be rather high. As people rushed to share clips of the band online last year the usual comment was to ignore the name but concentrate on the music.

We like to think that it's about the music - only and always. But who are we really kidding. Ourselves it seems. Because there are times when it's about anything else but the music - some cool person told you about the music, or some guy or girl you like likes it, or you got a free ticket to the gig and that set you off, or it seemed suitably obscure and people took notice of you, or you were trying to step out of line at home, or hoping to annoy your parents, or reacting to your flatmates who only listen to the feelers and Zed, or finally shrugging off a childhood that included trips in a Renault Espace singing Do Re Mi, or escaping the influence of the church in favour of The Church, or reading Pitchfork for tips (is that still a thing?), or because you attended Camp A Ho-Hum (I think that's what it's called?) or because you were drunk and your head was swimming and when you woke up feeling like a mule had kicked you there was a tune in there somewhere, or because Bailterspace were so loud the songs circled in your brain for days, or because someone made you a mixtape, or, for some other reason entirely...

Point is it becomes about the music - but it doesn't always start that way.

And one perfectly acceptable reason to want to hear someone's music is because you like the name of the band; you think it funny or clever or interesting - or all three - or because it's downright stupid and holds a clue, maybe, to the puerility of the content. I think we covered that yesterday with My Dick.

So, some band names put you off the music - but just as often there have to be band names that turn you on to the music, that at least make you curious.

I don't always like those Brian Jonestown Massacre-styled names, but I have to admit that hearing the name Camper Van Beethoven made me want to hear Camper Van Beethoven (alright, knowing that they had recorded their own track-by-track cover of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk helped). They're not my favourite band, not a band I listen to very much at all even, but the name is what got me there. It tickled the fancy enough for me to fancy a spin of some of their tunes.
Camper Van Beethoven's Tusk
And there are others: The Flaming Lips, Ween, The Grateful Dead, TISM, My Bloody Valentine (a reminder to check out Jeremy Taylor's excellent piece about MBV earlier in the week) and The Dandy Warhols is a small list of bands that I like, or liked - and the reason I checked them out in the first place was because their name pointed me to their music; their name hinted, perhaps, at what the sound might be, made me curious...in the case of The Grateful Dead it was a very misleading now. I checked them out because I figured they would be a very heavy band. They are not.

So what about you? You didn't check out Tame Impala because they were called that now did you? Same with Alt-J and Foals. These are, at best, ordinary names. But in two out of three cases at least these are rubbish band-names.

What about Squirrel Nut Zippers? Does that sort of name make you sure the band is rubbish, or curious to hear them? Some band names are a warning to move on swiftly, just keep flipping through the section, just keep scrolling on the iPod's wheel (*cough* They Might Be Giants, *cough* No Doubt, *cough* Fat Freddy's Drop...).

And some band names make you want to hear the music; make you almost imagine the music before you have heard it.

So, just as someone was pleased to be reminded of Monkey Swallows The Universe, there must be a band name you think of as the reason you started listening to the music - maybe the group went on to be your all-time favourite, perhaps it was just a passing fad. But let's get a list going of the best band names in terms of the ones that make you want to hear the music; the ones that have you curious as to what the sound is.

What's in a name? Often it contains a hint of the wonderful music to come. Sometimes it's misleading, (I still maintain that The Mint Chicks is a horrific name, but I did like some of the band's music). Godspeed You! Black Emperor

So your examples below please of bands you were turned on to - or decided to check out - simply because the name was funny, weird, silly, interesting - or all of those things combined.

I'm off to see one such example tomorrow: Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I wanted to hear that band because of the name. What sort of music did a band called that make? I had to know. Their gig should be amazing. Fingers crossed.

And here's a list of some interesting - often horrific - band names.

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