January 2, 2015

What’s in a Name? – #4

Bands Named After Movies (part one)
“For a golden girl knows when he’s kissed her / It’s the kiss of death from Mister Goldfinger!” You can just about hear the big, brash sounds of Shirley Bassey belting this tune right off the page. “Goldfinger” the song, and the Bond movie from which it is derived, are the epitome of 1960’s “cool.” Perhaps yearning to be associated with that sheen of “coolness,” a California band in 1994 got together and named themselves Goldfinger. They released a hit single “Here In Your Bedroom” and toured extensively with No Doubt and the (re-formed) Sex Pistols.

The film world has been influential in many facets of popular culture. Music and film have been virtually symbiotic, especially since the onslaught of music videos in the early 1980s. Nowadays, if a band is hard-pressed to come up with a “knowing” moniker for their outfit, they may look to an obscure film title or movie character to present themselves as a savvy, retro-hip, or counterculture rock unit. Incidentally, “Goldfinger” must be perceived as such a hip movie that another band named itself after the Bond classic. Honor Blackman’s character of Pussy Galore became the name of a punk outfit in Washington D.C. in 1985 whose “Dial M for Mother******” became a moderate underground success and whose lead guitarist went on to form the blistering Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

In 1956 director John Ford focused his lens on his favorite leading man, John Wayne, to create their most famous Western masterpiece “The Searchers.” The story revolved around Wayne, an ex-confederate soldier, riding for years, searching for his niece, Natalie Wood, who has been kidnapped by Indians. Two Liverpool lads by the names of John McNally and Mike Pender began performing at local pubs five years after the movie’s release and decided to honor the film by naming themselves The Searchers. Bringing two other musicians into their fold, The Searchers were ready to launch their career when The Beatles took America by storm. Several of their songs cracked the U.S. 100, and their cover of the Clovers’ “Love Potion #9” made it to #3 on the Billboard charts the week of January 16, 1965.

The rest of the 1960s consisted of bands who focused their branding efforts mostly on psychedelic and “Summer of Love”-sounding titles. A Lancaster, California musician, Don Van Vliet, would oftentimes think of fantastical movie plots. One of his brainstorms for a film, which was never made, was called “Captain Beefheart Meets the Grunt People.” Vliet decided to adopt this movie moniker and started a band called Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band in 1964. The group never had a successful single in the U.S. but broke onto the top 50 charts several times in Britain over the next decade.

As the 1970s rumbled in, two members from the rock band Free and one from Mott the Hoople joined to form a new group in London under the management of Peter Grant. A little-seen 1972 film directed by Robert Benton, and featuring Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown as two outlaw drifters — one carefree and one careful — told the tale of their light-hearted thievery as they headed across the Old West after the Civil War. Grant, having shepherded the image of Led Zeppelin, wanted to give his new band this film’s outlaw aesthetics, so, in 1973, Bad Company was derived from the title of its cinematic forebear. Bad Company’s macho lyrics and gritty guitar crunches put songs like “Can’t Get Enough” at #5 and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” at #10 on the U.S. charts.

In the 1930s depression era, immigrants traveled to the oilfields of Oklahoma to make a scruffy living from the rich black tea that bubbled from the plains and only seemed to benefit but a few entrepreneurs. These new arrivals were highlighted in both the folk singer Woody Guthrie’s biography and a film made on his life in 1976 called “Bound For Glory” which starred David Carradine. Around that same time, Bob Geldof of Dublin, Ireland must’ve felt some camaraderie spirit with these upstarts because he saddled his new band with their name, The Boomtown Rats. The Rats’ infamous best-selling single, ‘I Don’t Like Mondays,” based on the 1979 shooting spree of San Diego schoolgirl Brenda Spencer, was a number one hit in Britain and peaked at #73 on the U.S. charts.

Punk lover Susan Dallion was working as a waitress in Kent, England when she had a chance to sing with a hastily-assembled band at the “100 Club Punk Festival” in London in 1976. She refurbished her given name with a Native-American Indian slant, Siouxsie, and shortly after the gig, hit the club circuit with a backup band christened The Banshees. Their name was derived from the 1970 Vincent Price horror flick “Cry of the Banshee,” a film in which Price plays a magistrate witch-hunter whose family is cursed by a coven of witches. True to the meaning of the word banshee, which concerns a woman who wails to signal a pending death in a family, Siouxsie screeched her way onto British charts many times from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, with albums like her #12-ranked “The Scream,” and the band’s 1983 cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” which went to #3 in the U.K.

A mad scientist yearning to gain possession of the universe is eaten by a lava-lamp-like form that feeds off evil. The latest installment of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” opus? Not likely. The character played by actor Milo O’Shea, was featured in the sexy 1968 Jane Fonda space romp “Barbarella.” Duran Duran was his name and a band from Birmingham, England, that occasionally played gigs at their local Barbarella’s Club, pounced on the name for their group in 1978. Blasting off with the hit “Planet Earth,” the band conquered the cosmos throughout the 1980s with new-wave pop gems like “Rio,” “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “The Reflex,” and “Notorious.” Incidentally, Capitol Records, the band’s label, was the first major record company to introduce a single via the Internet in September 1997 with the release of Duran Duran’s “Electric Barbarella.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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