Back in the early 80s I was roadying for a band from the Illinois Valley called The Jerks that had been originally called Hamburger and the Works. Now, Hamburger and the Works is a catchy name for a band, especially if you like your burgers with the works. On the other hand it might be a little hard trying to get that name on the kick drum.

 

Fate would step in one day or should I say one night when the band was playing some bar in Peru, Illinois and some patrons started yelling at the band that they were “a bunch of jerks” for playing the kind of music they did, which back then was a lot of New Wave covers like “Turning Japanese,” “Life Begins at the Hop,” “Bionic Man,” and “Starry Eyes.” The name stuck and shortly thereafter the band became The Jerks.

 

Whether it actually happened that way or if it is the stuff that makes an urban legend, have you ever thought about how your favorite band came up with their catchy, interesting, or esoteric name? Have you ever wondered about the origins of the names for bands like The B-52’s, Led Zeppelin, The Moody Blues, Ramones and Ultravox?

 

Perhaps some of you already know these—as some of these names are the stuff that urban legends are made of—while other names, at least the origins of these names just might surprise you. I’ve added some commentary and musical references (some a little esoteric, so you better pay attention because there will be a short quiz afterwards) to spice things up a bit.

 

 

DEEP PURPLE
In the “now isn’t this the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard” department, the name of this famous band was inspired by the song “Deep Purple” by Bing Crosby that was a favorite of Ritchie Blackmore’s grandmother.

 

 

DEF LEPPARD
While writing imaginary reviews of rock bandsfor his English class, future lead singer Joe Elliot came up with the name Deaf Leopard. Later the spelling was tweaked a bit to Def Leppard, perhaps an indirect homage to Led Zeppelin, not to mention a nice marketing ploy. Well, pour some sugar on me, that most certainly makes sense.

 

DEPECHE MODE
Some band names just sound cool, literally and figuratively, like Depeche Mode which was taken from French fashion magazine Depeche Mode which roughly translates as “hurried fashion” or “fashion dispatch.” Just can’t get enough of these band name origins can you?

DEVO
The origins of this band’s name is based on their concept of “de-evolution” – the idea that instead of evolving, mankind has actually been regressing given the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society. This notion of de-evolution all started out as a joke when Bob Casale was an art student at Kent State University in the late 60s and later became the genesis for Devo when he was joined by Mark Mothersbaugh and other members of the band.

Interesting, the title of the first album, Q: Are we not men, A: We are Devo was inspired from the movie Island of the Lost Souls (which was based on the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr. Moreau) and perhaps puts a little spin on this concept of de-evolution.

In this 1933 film, a mad scientist performs operations on wild beasts in order to make them more human and able to understand menial tasks. When the beasts—now half human and half beast—would not obey Dr. Moreau or act in an inappropriate manner, the doctor would crack his whip and challenge them:

 

Dr. Moreau:  What is the law?
Sayer of the Law:  Not to eat meat that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison):  Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau:  What is the law?
Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison):  Are we not men?
Dr. Moreau:  What is the law?
Sayer of the Law:  Not to spill blood that is the law. Are we not men?
Beasts (in unison): Are we not men?

If you can’t get no satisfaction from this explanation, I am sorry. I am through being cool.
 

DIRE STRAITS
Supposedly, the origins for this band described the financial situation they were in when they first formed. Well, that’s pretty much par for the course for any band that is just starting out. You have to admit though; it’s a catchy name for a band despite sounding dire.

A few years later, things definitely improved for the band and these sultans of swing proved it was money for nothing and chicks for free. And that too, is par for the course for what most bands want when they are starting out.

DOOBIE BROTHERS
Okay, we all know (or at least I hope we all know) that Doobie is slang for marijuana joint. Okay, now how many of you did not know that? Raise your hands. You should be ashamed of yourselves. Get this before they became the Doobies their first name was Pud. Good thing they changed their name. A Doobie will get you rollin’ down the highway but I am not sure a pud will.

DOORS
When it comes to choosing a name for a band you might want to try a literary one like the Doors who took their name from an Aldous Huxley book The Doors of Perception (1954), which had been borrowed from a line in poem by William Blake: “If the doors of perception were to be cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

 

 

Well, maybe that’s what it means to break on through to the other side even when coming up with a cool name for a band. It might have been the end for the Doors back in the early 70s following Jim Morrison’s death, but the music is never really over, is it?

DURAN DURAN
Who would have thought that a villain in the 1967 Jane Fonda movie Barbarella would become the name of a very popular band in the 80s? Has anyone ever seen that movie?

 

A couple of years ago they came out with a song “Electric Barbarella.” Guess the guys still had a thing for that movie, you know girls on film that sort of thing
BOB DYLAN
How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man or before you decide to change your name? The answer for Robert Zimmerman must have been blowing in the wind when he chose Dylan Thomas. It made him a legend.
EAGLES
One of the more popular bands of the 1970s to soar higher than other bands was without question the Eagles who were inspired by another ornithological band The Byrds, who soared high, eight miles high, to be exact in the 1960s and were a big influence on the Eagles (one of the original Eagles members was Bernie Leadon who had played with former members of the Byrds).
One thing about the Eagles, they never took it easy all through the 70s turning out one hit after another in the long run.
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN
How can you not like the catchy and cute name of this band? For years, it was thought that “Echo” was the name of the drum machine the band originally used on stage (but it still didn’t explain the Bunnymen part). Turns out Echo and the Bunnymen was one of a number of names band members bounced around—among them The Daz Men and Glisserol and the Fan Extractors—before Echo and the Bunnymen was decided upon. While those other names didn’t make the cut and were quickly on the chopping block, in the end they did it clean with the name they did choose.
 
EURYTHMICS
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, who had been in the modestly successful band The Tourists in the mid and late 70s, formed a new band in the 80s, which was named after a dance technique Eurythmy Lennox had studied as a child. The band would go onto achieve worldwide fame during the 80s. Oh yes, sweet dreams are made of this.

FAITH NO MORE
This San Francisco-based band was originally called Faith No Man. However, after guitarist and vocalist Mike “The Man” Morris was kicked out of the band for his dictator-like behavior, the band changed their name to Faith No More because “The Man” was no longer part of the group. That was an epic move. I guess the band cared a lot about their reputation, not to mention their name. On the other hand, I am sure that Morris must have thought the band was sticking it to him.

THE FALL
Another band to get some inspiration from the literary world for choosing their name was The Fall who obviously were inspired by the novel of the same name by Albert Camus.

 

The Fall formed in 1976 and are still around today. In fact, they have released 27 studio albums during this period. Obviously for being around this long they have not fallen from grace.

FASTBALL
Not many bands would want to claim the origin of their name derived from a porno film, but that is how Austin rockers came up with the name Fastball for their band. The band had tossed around a few names like Star 69, Magneto, and Starchy before they settled upon Fastball, the name of a porno flick (yes, there was a baseball theme) that could best be described, as guitarist Miles Zuniga described as a “raunchy Bull Durham”. Fortunately, the band members were not out of their heads when they chose this name. Yes, they found the way.

 

FOGHAT
Sometimes coming up with the right name for a band doesn’t always have to be a slow ride, but instead takes just a little brainstorming. Right before Foghat came out with their first album in 1972 (which incidentally was produced by legendary guitarist, songwriter, and producer Dave Edmunds) the band still hadn’t settled upon a name. Two names—Brandywine Track and Hootch—had been considered, but were rejected. In another one of those rock and roll legends, the band agreed upon Foghat a nonsensical word that guitarist and vocalist Dave Peverett had made up in a childhood game with his brother. Nonsensical or not Peverett was no fool for the city when he came up with that name.

 

FOO FIGHTERS
Dave Grohl’s band the Foo Fighters was inspired by a World War II term “foo fighters” that meant unidentified flying objects. Far be it for anyone to throw a monkey wrench into the works as it were with this explanation, but don’t you think foo fighters sound a little silly? I mean later those unidentified flying objects would become UFOs.

 

FOREIGNER
British guitarist Mick Jones, who started the band in New York in 1976, came up with the name Foreigner since three of the founding members including Ian McDonald, Dennis Elliot and himself were British and the other three members, Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi were Americans. There must have been some urgency though in choosing the right name befitting this lineup of future jukebox heroes.
 

GANG OF FOUR
There’s been some dispute about the origins of this post-punk band’s name. Some have argued that it refers to four Chinese Communist officials who rose to prominence during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution others have argued that it refers to the “Big Four” Structuralist Theorists (including Claude Levi-Strauss).

Did I mention there’s going to be a quiz after this essay has been posted?

There’s even a rumor that upon hearing of the name Gang of Four, a friend of the band remarked, “it’s a good thing because there are four of you.”

Regardless of the origins of this bands name, they always delivered the goods—musically that is—and they were never damaged. (Yes, it is another obscure reference/pun to one of their songs titles. You’ll get extra points if you come up with the title. And no Googling!)

GOLDEN EARRING
This Dutch band was formed in The Hague in 1961 and had originally called themselves The Tornadoes; however, there was another group with the same name. So, the band changed their name to Golden Earrings, which was taken from a song originally sung by Marlene Dietrich in 1947, and a hit for Peggy Lee the following year. The band later dropped the “s” on earrings and became Golden Earring, the band that would give us one of the great rock and roll songs of the 70s: “Radar Love” in 1973. Although it might have appeared they have dropped off the radar screen and gotten lost in the twilight zone, the band is planning another world tour next year.
GRAND FUNK RAILROAD
Contrary to the band’s name, they did not play funk. Instead it was meant to be a pun on the Grand Trunk Western Railroad that went through their hometown of Flint, Michigan. Not to cause any commotion or loco-motion with their name, these Michigan rockers, we’re better off with Grand Funk Railroad.

GRATEFUL DEAD
The band was originally the Warlocks, but there was another band with the same name so you know how the rest of the story is going to go.

According to one account, Jerry Garcia was supposedly to have taken out a dictionary, open it up and his finger landed on the definition for “grateful dead” – “the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial.”

The Grateful Dead or Grateful Ghost refers to a series of Old English folk tales with the same basic theme. A traveler enters a village and finds the villagers desecrating, or refusing to bury the body of a dead man because he died owing creditors money. The traveler pays the dead man’s debts and sees to a decent burial. Later in his travels the man is saved by a mysterious event, which is credited to the dead man’s grateful spirit—hence, the Grateful Dead.

Good for Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band for coming up with such an interesting name for their band. They obviously were “grateful” because after that the band kept on truckin’.