And what our collective unwillingness to insist these bands legally change their
names before we’ll listen to another note says about us as a nation of enablers
When I was in sixth grade this new restaurant opened up a few towns over and everyone was excited because there was almost nothing else in the area except Friendly’s, a well-known purveyor of inedible slop. So my parents slicked back our hair and loaded up the Impala wagon for the grand opening of The Mis Steak. It was covered with balloons. Laughing families shook hands in the lobby, coming and going. Our waitress was poured into her uniform like a perky butter pat. Dad ordered a second beer. There were free cupcakes. Mom left a big tip and said we’d be back soon.
Of course, the place went out of business in about six weeks. The Mis Steak had been doomed even before the workmen finished lowering the sign into place. Friendly’s is still there. Moral: names matter.
In tenth grade I spent innumerable study halls making lists on the backs of failed chemistry tests. What should I call my band? It gnawed at me. The perfect name was like the Houses Of The Holy Grail-proof I could conquer the world with nothing but the admiration of girls in halter tops and the buzz of an out-of-tune E string. The name couldn’t be too funny (Beastie Boys) or too metal (Megadeath). It couldn’t be too arty (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) or too swishy (pretty much the indefinable space that lies between Wham! and Wham UK! ) If it offended on some level, that was a plus, but it couldn’t be a novelty like Brian Jonestown Massacreorpolitical like Reagan Youth, since those references would age poorly over the arc of my meteoric career. Which, as it turns out, was more haircut than reality. By college I’d given up searching for the perfect name in exchange for the perfect way to drop Dostoevsky into party conversation. But despite being a failure, that experience did bring one side benefit: my current certification by JD Powers & Associates as West Coast Arbiter of Band Names That (Just Might) Suck. It’s a cushy position. I’ve found most people enjoy cheap jokes being made at their favorite band’s expense.
Four Arbitrary List Rules:1. Nothing too obscure. There has to be a reasonable chance of exposure to your average Clear Channeler. No local dirt rockers or Finnish performance Goths. 2. Some bands have truly stupid names which are so integral to the national lexicon they are beyond reproach. Think what Pink Floyd sounded like to the first zonked hippie who crawled out of his yurt to hear Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 3. Let’s stick to the rock-alternative-punk-pop axis. Sure, Philly doo-wop quartets called themselves tedious things, and certainly Buxtehude is the most ass-play sounding of all classical composers, but if only for brevity’s sake, they get a pass. 4. Finally, it should be understood that the purpose of this list is not to remark on the quality of the music of any of the bands, just the aesthetic resonance of their handle. Anyone who wants to stand up and defend the mind-blowing chops on the first three Beaver Brown Band records is welcome to do so, but it doesn’t change the fact that they remind me of the moldy Playboy the kid next door used to hide in the woods behind his house.
THE LIST OF THE DOOMED
22. Vampire Weekend
We live in a vampire world. From True Blood to Twilight, to Tom Cruise slowly draining Katie Holmes, the national vampire obsession is never ending. Twenty years ago Vampire Weekend would have been fine, even pleasingly nonsensical, but now it’s the equivalent of naming your band The Han Solo Experience in 1978, or The Titanics in 1994, or Jeff Probst’s Safari Jacket in 2000. It’s the worst example of aural product placement since Lionel Ritchie’s last single My Toyota Drives Just Fine. Suggested alternatives: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy Weekend, Ringwraith Fortnight, Thank God It’s Cannibal Friday.
21. Nickleback, Matchbox 20, Sum 41, Five For Fighting, 24-7 Spyz, Third Door Down, Timbuk 3, Spacemen 3, Level 42, Sixpence None The Richer, Third Eye Blind, UB40, Maroon 5, Old 97’s.
Rock and Math were born to go together like peanut butter and veiled references to Leviticus. No good band has ever had a number in their name, with the possible exception of Nine Inch Nails. It’s the hip-quotient difference between a skull-plastered Ford Econoline and a turd-yellow Kia, between a thrashed fifties Stratocaster and an endless bassoon solo, between publicly calling your blank-eyed girlfriend “sexual napalm” and playing drums for Napalm Death. Suggested alternatives: Try something with Sleepy, Spooky, or Jethro.
20. Pantz Noyzee
Somehow existing in that rare gray area where The Unfortunate Z and Creatively Dull As Spackle meets Men In Leg Warmers. Suggested alternatives: Pants No More.
19. Counting Crows
A name perfectly encapsulating the desperate, wheedling need that is the band’s musical output. Or the ability to translate maudlin lyrics into dates with the cast of Friends. And maybe a reach-around from Schwimmer. Apparently a few years ago some kid found one of Adam Duritz’s dreadlocks lying in the gutter at the corner of Sunset and La Cienega and sold it on eBay for a dollar. Suggested alternatives: Counting Crabs, Ignoring Calories, Tallying The Minutes Spent Trying To Forget The Melody Of “Mr. Jones”.
Our generation’s least clever reference to toking up. Puts the listener in mind of floppy Dr. Seuss hats, microwave tamales, scented candles, relationship discussions conducted on two sleeping bags zippered together, and unidentified couch-spills. I’ve never heard any of their songs and am fairly confident I never need to. Suggested alternatives: A job folding thongs at American Apparel.
17. Live, Bush, Oasis, Lush, Low, Train, Muse, Jet, Shins, Vines, Hives, Killers, Korn, Toto
Indistinguishable one-word band names may seem fine individually, like rogue piranhas, but as a group feel like an insidious, soul-killing, Orwellian trend. Someone snaps their fingers and suddenly everyone in the cafe realizes they’re wearing Che Guevara T-shirts, but aren’t sure whether it’s ironically or not. Panic ensues. Fair trade coffee spills. An abandoned laptop keeps playing The Jetson’s theme. The day is saved when a barista quickly orders in a gross of Johnny Cash XXL’s. Suggested alternatives: Commodify My Icons. Or maybe just Icon.
16. Prefab Sprout
Evocative of the metric tons of cabbage-y gas they eventually had to pump into Biosphere II to fertilize the plants and aerate the research teams. Suggested alternatives: Smell The Tofurkey Glove.
15. Mudhoney, Faster Pussycat, Spiderbaby, Motorpsycho, Vixens
Having one band named after a Russ Meyer movie? Fine, we’ll let it slide. But two is unforgivable, and five is a sign of the D-cup Rapture, during which the saved will ascend to heaven while listening to the free verse poetry of Kitten Natividad. Suggested alternatives: Roddy Bottum and The Mondo Topless, Beyond the Valley of The Anatomically Accurate Doll Parts, The Immortal Mr. Teas Experience.
14. Asia, Europe, Chicago, Boston, Berlin, Beirut, Kansas, Bay City Rollers, Utah Saints, Manhattan Transfer, The Bronx, Ankgor Wat, Hanoi Rocks, Alabama, L.A. Guns,Georgia Satellites, Black Oak Arkansas, of Montreal, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Taking some sort of sub-textual cred from a location seems just plain lazy, the same way that naming your son Brooklyn or your heiress Paris dooms them to an early twenties paparazzi-and-Vicodin tailspin. Like British Intelligence finally getting their hands on the Enigma Machine, the fact that a high percentage of these bands are keyboard-and-mullet driven supergroups should begin to crack the code. Suggested alternatives: Stick with thieving from Greek mythology.
13. Thelonius Monster
Never make fun of, or trade in on, the man who wrote Crepuscule With Nellie. Monk is musical truth and Monster is a downtown junkie giggle. The totality of the karmic shit-hammer due to descend upon this band is frightening. Suggested alternatives: Go away.
12. Collective Soul, Soul Asylum, Soul II Soul, Soul Coughing, De La Soul, Warrior Soul, Liquid Soul
If you have to announce you got it, you don’t. Suggested alternatives: Collective Arrhythmia, Arrhythmia Asylum, Arrhythmia II Arrhythmia, Liquid Arrhythmia.
It’s true there are many similar names that qualify at this spot, but there’s just something so sadly acid-torched, suede-fringe, and homemade-yogurt sounding about Hawkwindthat it manages to transcend an entire sub-genre. The noble hawk. The whisper of a gentle wind. Separately, these ideas epitomize creative honesty and musical rigor. Unified, they represent a commitment to recycling. The Hawkwind concept is the sum of everything wrong with seventies guitar extravagance: Middle Earth lyrics, forty-minute solos, sixty-piece drum sets, leg bandannas, foam Stonehenge, etc. Suggested alternatives: Emerson Lake and Duritz, Chawking Crowswind
10. Limp Bizkit
The scars from the dawn of rap-metal will never heal. A true nadir in American culture-that brief insidious moment in which this band, and the dyed goatee movement in general, was granted a semblance of musical legitimacy. “Pulling A Bizkit” is now street slang for that sense of regret that sets in before your new Velcro tattoo is even dry. “No, dude, it’s cool. It looks just like….a strip of Velcro.” Suggested alternatives: D’urst, Fred’sLimp Speedwagon, Flaccid Bizkit Overdrive.
Ah, David Coverdale. You sort of have to love his willingness to embrace his stature as the walking Romance Novel Cover of rock. But here he’s just gone too far. The beyond-dimwitted genital allusion is deserving of ridicule enough. Especially considering the neutered brand of hair metal they larded the 90’s airwaves with. Throw in Tawny Kitaen air-humping a Jaguar, plus David’s creepy, permed-uncle vibe, and you’ve got a solid #10 on any self-respecting list. Suggested alternatives: My Caucasian Penis, Such Penis As Is Mine Reserves The Right To Be Used In Reptile Metaphors, The Queasy Leather-Pants Smell Of My Backstage Penis, There’s A Party In The Groupie Van And Me And My Snake Are Coming.
8. Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
We still haven’t recovered from the old self-anointed bohemians, have we? I mean the people who couldn’t get into the back room at Max’s Kansas City. The people who actually bought Basquiat paintings. The people even G.G. Allin wouldn’t throw his shit at. Who says we need new ones? The naiveté of Edie’s lyrics combined with the band’s Industrial Cappuccino sound is a snapshot of a particular strain of ‘90’s dot-com malaise. Suggested alternatives: Mort Susskind and The Old Napkins, Pathet Lao and The New Communards, Ear Pain and The Delivery Vehicle.
When you name your band after a character from the “Amok Time” episode of Star Trek you’re pretty much screwed from jump. The intersection of arcane Trek knowledge and ‘80’s synth pop would seem like a natural, but only if that intersection occurs in the corner of the rec room where the Commodore 64 is stashed. Suggested alternatives: Th’pent, D’sposible, A’tLeastNoVocorder.
6. The Goo Goo Dolls
Pretty much saddling a decade with the unwanted mental image of a vinegary baby crap. Suggested alternatives: Steel Leather Fist, Muscle Wrestle Chainsaw, Golf Golf Beer.
5. Chumbawumba, Scritti Politti, Oingo Boingo, Bananarama, Kajagoogoo, Dishwalla, Milli Vanilli, Ebn Ozn, Nitzer Ebb, Mr. Mister, Enuff Z’nuff
Alliteration+unnecessary rhyming+neon overalls=a sophomore year of rampant forehead acne. Suggested alternatives:The By, The At, The On, The Up.
Quick, you have two choices: 1. You’re backstage at The View, somewhere between Joy Behar and the craft services table, wearing nothing but a falafel Speedo. 2. You’re at a bar, you’ve just met someone you’re really attracted to, and you have to work Weezer into the conversation three times before they remember they have an early meeting and split in a cab….time’s up.
3. And You Shall Know Us By The Trail of Our Dead, Godspeed You Black Emperor, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Neutral Milk Hotel, They Might Be Giants, Death Cab For Cutie, Everybody Was In The French Resistance…NOW.
There was a while after Raymond Carver’s story collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? came out when almost every other book title tried to emulate his genius sense of off-beat rhythm and unexpected tension. Suddenly commas were everywhere, irony abounded, and a cribbed sense of post-modernism ruled the day. It still hasn’t completely dissipated. So it should come as no surprise that Ray’s stylistic blip has crossed over into music. These are the sort of bands whose name-defenders always say “But, they got it from the first season of Dr. Who!” or “But they got it from Breakfast at Tiffany’s!” neglecting the fact that no matter how hip the source (yes, that means you, Toad The Wet Sprocket), coolness is not automatically conferred. Hey, Steely Dan is the name of a dildo in Naked Lunch, but it still manages to work nicely context-free. Suggested alternatives: They Might Be Turgid And Unlistenable, And You Shall Know Us By Our Trail Of Pretension, We Were Promised Relevance, Remainder Bin You Plodding Emperor, Death Stab For The Aggressively Twee.
2. The Darkness
Very, very scary. Like the screen name of a serial killer who digs Billy Idol’s early stuff. Like soaking in a pentagram-shaped hot tub. Like having your bedroom haunted by a pale, Depression-era child only you and Morgan Freeman can see. Dare you listen to this band? Are you willing to risk exposure to solos that may cause you to speak fluent Aramaic? Suggested alternatives: The Comfy Sofa, The Lite Mayonnaise, The Customized Huffy Ten-Speed, The Newly Fabreze’d Turtleneck.
1. Hootie And The Blowfish
Without question the worst band name ever. It absolutely owns each of the Four Hallmarks of Aural Misery: 1. Unforgivably cutesy, 2. Ultimately meaningless, 3. Unwarranted self-satisfaction, 4. Unmistakable hints of dorm room horseplay. It evokes the smell of someone else’s pizza. It says “I once broke up with an otherwise terrific girl because she kept whining But I love Hootie! every time I ripped the disc out of the changer and tried to Frisbee it across the quad”. Suggested alternatives: A Merciful Slide Into Cultural Oblivion, the same dark, forgotten crease where Poi Dog Pondering nurses The Dandy Warhols at its milk-less teat.
BONUS EXTRA CREDIT: The worst band with the best name:
I tend to have a soft spot for the universally loathed. I always think, yeah, sure, but can they really be that bad in person? Maybe they just need a quiet place to sit for a while and someone to listen who doesn’t want anything from them. For a hypothetical all-male band, Hole is offensive and moronic. For a band fronted by an aggressively non-apologetic woman in a ludicrously macho industry, Hole is a courageous post-feminist statement. It’s short, fearless, entendre-laden, and satisfying. It’s a big middle finger to a bunch of head-banging gropers who, after fifty years of gleeful misogyny, truly deserve it. Unfortunately, in Courtney’s case, Hole seems depressingly prescient. And that song about cake is really hard to get out of your head. If they were a bit less abrasive, and Courtney were, say, PJ Harvey instead, Hole might be the single best band name ever.