Sunday, February 9, 2014

10 Great Band Names That Don't Make Any Sense

The other night while I was watching American Idol for the first time this season, I realized four things:

1) Keith Urban is still my favorite Idol judge ever.

2) Jennifer Lopez isn't aging.

3) Harry Connick Jr. is trying too hard to be the new Simon Cowell.

4) If you're going to write songs with arch, complicated titles like "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)," which was performed by a cute guy and pretty decent singer who also did a great Barack Obama impersonation, your band had better have a name as cool and quirky as Fall Out Boy (after a character on The Simpsons, no relation to the family of bassist Pete Wentz's ex-wife, Ashlee Simpson).

The Odd-But-Strangely Poetic Band-Name Hall of Fame
  • Everything But the Girl
  • Killing Joke
  • Love and Rockets
  • Meat Beat Manifesto
  • My Bloody Valentine
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  • Psychedelic Furs
  • Sonic Youth
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Teardrop Explodes

Go all-out wacky, though, like "A Flock of Seagulls," at your own risk. It will likely lead to endless derision (much of it 30 years later, by your peers, in books like my best friend Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein's forthcoming Mad Love: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s) and, at best, a very limited engagement on the charts. "Space Age Love Song" and "Wishing" were as great as any hit singles launched by the early '80s new-wave movement, but AFOS is largely and unfairly remembered as a total joke.

The So-Bad-They-Aren't-Even-Remotely Good
  • The Deele
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Herman's Hermits
  • Kajagoogoo
  • Love Spit Love
  • Mike + the Mechanics
  • My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult
  • Scritti Politti
  • Shed Seven
  • Throbbing Gristle

Blame it on AFOS frontman Mike Score's hair all you want, but the frightfully coiffured Robert Smith never had a problem getting respect because he was smart enough to call his band "The Cure," which rolls right off the tongue, is bland enough to age well, and offends and perplexes no one.

Simple and Superb
  • Blur
  • Curve
  • Fuel
  • Gene
  • Lush
  • Pulp
  • Queen
  • Ride
  • Slave
  • Suede

Unlike "The Jesus and Mary Chain." I once went out with a guy in London who loved all the same bands that I did, with one exception. He was a devout Catholic, and every time he tried to give The Jesus and Mary Chain a chance, he felt like he was losing his religion. Alas, not every band moniker can be as lean and inoffensive as R.E.M. Here are 10 that, though less than concise or even fathomable, still sound like music to my ears.

Better Than Ezra It's a pity that people no longer give their children old-school names like Ezra and Percy and Philomena. Can you imagine a baby named Ezra?

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah I suppose one way to take the focus off a strange band name (which sounds like a line from "Little" Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips - Part 2") is to write a song called "The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth" and make it the centerpiece of your 2005 self-titled debut album.

I Break Horses You do what? "I Kill Your Love, Baby!" Yes, that's an actual song title from the Swedish duo's debut album, Hearts, which features the dreamy "Pulse."

Machine Gun Fellatio Every time I listen to the now-defunct Australian band's "Summer," I picture that deadly firearm in a most compromising position, cocked, loaded and ready to be swallowed.

Mazzy Star I have no idea what a mazzy star looks like, or even how to visualize the title of the duo's second album, Among My Swan. Yet I feel like I'm staring at so many mazzy stars shining whenever I listen to Mazzy frontwoman Hope Sandoval sing.

Nitzer Ebb According to the industrial-rock duo's Wikipedia entry, the founding members "shared an interest in witchcraft, talking to trees, and collecting runestones in Chelmsford and Little Badow." So why wouldn't they pick a name that sounds like a fictional bald Nazi villain who's gotta dance? Fun facts: 1) NE's Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy share the distinction of having been my first-ever internationally known interviewees when I profiled them in 1990 for the University of Florida's Independent Florida Alligator student paper. 2) Their 1991 album, Ebbhead, was one of the first that I reviewed for People magazine.

Panic! at the Disco Whenever I see this strangely punctuated band name, I think of the most uncommon band with the most common name ever, The Smiths, and that group's 1986 single "Panic," which includes the line "Burn down the disco" and ends with "Hang the DJ. Hang the DJ. Hang the DJ. Hang the DJ..." (repeated to fade). Panic! at the disco indeed! ("Panic at the disco" also was previously part of the lyrics of the 2004 song "Panic" by the band Name Taken, which, naturally, didn't include the exclamation point!)

Prefab Sprout It's an oxymoronic title indeed, but I wouldn't dream of calling a band behind such classic '80s alterna-pop as "Faron Young," "Appetite" and "Goodbye Lucille #1" anything else.

She Keeps Bees My friend Marcus, who introduced me to Machine Gun Fellatio via Australia's triple j radio station in 2010, took me to a bee farm in Melbourne the next day. Is that what you call the place where bees are raised? If I ever go back, I should recommend "Vulture" (from 2011's Dig On) as its official soundtrack. That song stings.

Tones on Tail What do you think? Just an excuse to get to the acronym TOT?

Honorable Mentions: ? and the Mysterians, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Foster the People, Ocean Colour Scene, Procol Harum, Romeo Void, Soft Cell, Swing Out Sister, Stone Temple Pilots, Three Dog Night

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