Many rock band names are fairly obvious. They take the name of an object, or an animal, or the name of their front man… and done. The Doors, The Eagles, The Dave Matthews Band, Warren Zevon… the list is extensive for a reason. Then there are the ones which have become well-known, such as Duran Duran being named after a character from the film Barbarella.
Then there are others. There are a lot of rock bands, and many of the best names have already been claimed. Nobody wants to release their hoped-for hit single to college stations under the name of The Escape Club only to have a radically different band named The Escape Club hit the top-40 charts two months later.. and to subsequently lose the rights to their band’s name. (This happened.)
So, bands try to come up with original names. Sometimes they succeed… depending on your measure of success.
Among the most famous oddly-named bands is Toad the Wet Sprocket. As strange as the name might be, it’s not completely original. The band took the name from a Monty Python skit from their Contractual Obligation Album:
That’s the sort of dedication that led to Kal-El Cage and Harley Quinn Smith… one can only hope that the band are still Monty Python fans, because they tied themselves up with the comedy troupe for life. (Although at least they named themselves… If Nick Cage’s son hates Superman or Kevin Smith’s daughter hates Batman, they’re the ones who have to live with it, not their parents. Frank Zappa, I’m looking at you.)
Then there was Derek W. Dick, lead singer of the band Marillion. The band clipped the title of a Tolkien book, The Silmarillion, in the popular quest to find something distinctive. But Dick wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted a distinctive nickname, and “Dick” was certainly not desirable, not like “Sting”. But, by the same token, he wanted something that nobody else would choose… so he picked “Fish”, a name only Abe Vigoda could love.
The closest they came to a US hit was the song “Kayleigh”, which broke the top 40 but not the top 10. In the UK and throughout the world, though, the band acheived significant success. Too much, in fact, as Fish thought the band was losing touch with its roots. He broke away to seek success as a singer/songwriter… only to discover that his timing could have been better.
Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors was released in 1990. In 1989, however, a band had started getting notice with self-produced albums and was signed by a major label, Elektra, in 1991. Their name? Phish.
And then there is what I admit is my favorite odd band name of all time: Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, often shortened to Carter USM. Les “Fruitbat” Carter reportedly was granted the additional “USM” nickname from a song title lifted from a British tabloid headline. It didn’t become the name of the band, however, until the fledgling band broke up because of Les’ tendency to miss practices and even gigs because he was chasing after young women. After breaking up, a gig was played without Carter, with the new name Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. After Fruitbat returned and amends were made, they kept the band name.
Their songs were full of Britishism and meant something to people from London and its environs. To everyone else, well, they seemed to be ranting emphatically about something amidst the guitar-heavy dance tracks and experimental singles.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite band name, odd or not?