Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is that the name of the SONG or the BAND?

Driving around glancing at my Sirius radio, I ask myself that question at least three times a day.
To me, band names are as mysterious as final novel titles.
Here are some interesting bands and the background of their names:

Joy Division:
Within Nazi concentration camps, the "Joy Division" was the group of prisoners consigned to the fate of being used for the guards' sexual pleasure. The name perfectly captures the band: cold, frightening, deadly serious, with a formal detachment. It also suggests the misery of their cannon; the destruction, the division, of joy. .

Aphex Twin:
When one twin of a pair dies during childbirth, the surviving one is known as the aphex twin. Richard D. James was an aphex twin (just like Elvis Presley). Creepily enough, his dead brother was also named Richard James (see the cover of the Girl Boy EP). It also has a striking, futuristic ring.

...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead:
The name perfectly captures the stampeding, visceral experience of this band. They set the bar high with this name, and the vaulted clear over it with “Source Tags & Codes”. The ethic of grandiosity suits them well. See: Source Tags & Codes.

Before you balk at this choice, know that Smoosh is comprised of two sisters who were ten and twelve years old when they made their record. Freakish young age is their major drawing point, and the name shrewdly calls attention to that. And how harshly can one criticize such a band when they're called Smoosh? As one reviewer put it, it'd be "like kicking a kitten".

Elliott Smith:
The great songwriter was given the name Stephen Paul Smith. Claiming it made him sound “too much like a jock”, he choose Elliott instead. This fact alone reveals that Elliott was more of a self-made man, a successful creation, than his obvious emotional sincerity implies. “Elliott”, typically used as a last name, suggests his literacy, and “Smith” suggests his everyman quality.
It’s two ladies singing over electronic music – a perfect fit of a name. By referencing the Roxy Music song, they show they know how to party better than your average girl/robot group. See: Light & Magic.

Manic Street Preachers:
Like Richey James’ lyrics, their name sounds cluttered but reads fantastically on the page. It is a faithful reflection of their sound (or their sound was a faithful fulfillment of the name's promise). Their masterpiece’s title, “The Holy Bible”, fits in with the motif. If they were manic street preachers, this dense, frenzied, political/psychotic concoction would indeed be the sacred text.

One has to admit that, despite the irony of “Oasis” being attached to perhaps the most stale sounding major rock band to emerge in the early 90’s, the name really is inviting and ought to have belonged to a better band. It does reflect a certain monolithic confidence fitting of the Gallaghers, however. See: Don't Look Back in Anger.

Openly admitting you rock softly… it’s a good thing. It’s brave. See: Great Divide.

They took a cue from their heros in Joy Division, and chose a name that sounded cold and bureaucratic. The “I” and “l” in the name form visual pillars of stability around the name. It sounds just familiar enough, but still alien. The implicit “fock you” to the police that comes with their co-opting of the international crime-fighting organization’s name is a nice bonus.

Written in all capitals, the name is like their music: angular, concise, centered. It’s a name (originally belonging to a forgotten UK Christian rock band) that seemed destined to belong to a great band. Like a number of successful artists (Supertramp, The Smashing Pumpkins, Master P, Queen, Super Furry Animals, The F*cking Champs), there’s the age-old invocation of a triumph, or excellence, which always seems to bring good luck.

And if you like the really weird ones. ENJOY.
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