January 2, 2015

What’s in a Name? – #5

Bands Named After Movies (part two)
Just outside the wondrous, candy-coated environs of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida lies another, more malevolent, attraction town. It was here, in 1964, that ghosts of confederate dead rose up to attract “yankee” tourists visiting their burg for the sole purpose of chopping, crushing, and basically ripping apart these unsuspecting northerners in a loopy Herschell Gordon Lewis horror film (shot in the sleepy town of St. Cloud) called “2000 Maniacs.” A 12-member group of musicians in Jamestown, New York, led by singer Natalie Merchant, misjudged the number of crazies designated in the film’s title when they decided to name their band, 10,000 Maniacs, circa 1981, in honor of the classic. By 1982, the band had atrophied to six members and would go on to receive favorable college radio airplay. When they appeared on MTV’s “Unplugged” in late 1993, their cover version of the Bruce Springsteen/Patti Smith song “Because The Night” subsequently rose to number 11 on America’s charts.

During the spring and summer of 1989, it seems you couldn’t drive anywhere without hearing the ska-sounding rock of Fine Young Cannibals spilling out of your dashboard radio. The British trio signed to a record deal in December 1984, but it wasn’t until April 1989, when their song “She Drives Me Crazy” leapt to number one on the U.S. charts, that the band became well known. Their album, “The Raw & The Cooked,” also held America’s number one for 7 weeks starting on June 3rd, and the band’s follow-up single, “Good Thing,” bopped to numero uno in early July. Guitarist Andy Cox had heard of a film called “All the Fine Young Cannibals,” and the band had decided on the name in what proved to be a rushed decision, even though no one had seen the movie. Released in 1960, the film was a veiled biography on the life of jazz trumpeter Chet Baker and starred Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.

Originally calling themselves Death of Joey, brothers Jim and William Reid of East Kilbride, Scotland claim they heard a line in a Bing Crosby film, presumably 1945’s “The Bells of St. Mary,” which triggered their band’s name change. The sequel to Bing’s “Going My Way” featured Mr. Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley, a priest who helps out the Mother Superior of St. Mary’s parish, Ingrid Bergman. Thrashing, feedback-driven songs characterized much of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s output, formed in 1984, and the band was anything but holy with its lyrical drug references, club fights, and an unreleasable single called “Jesus Sucks.” However, a substantial number of their songs like “April Skies,” “Blues From a Gun,” and “Reverence” were able to crack the top 10 in the United Kingdom and had a cult following in the States.

Casting about for a worthy follow-up to his success in the role of the Count in 1931’s “Dracula,” Bela Lugosi signed on to a low-budget eerie thriller set on the island of Haiti. The film was called “White Zombie,” and it detailed the efforts of Lugosi, as the leader of a band of zombies, trying to steal a newlywed wife away from a young tourist couple. Robert Straker, alias Rob Zombie, had a love of these old B-grade-type horror films, so when he named his Black-Sabbath-like band White Zombie in 1985, the reference was understandable. Their album “Astro Creep: 2000 Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head” debuted at #6 on the U.S. charts in April 1995. In 1996, White Zombie was named the Best Metal Band by both Rolling Stone Magazine’s critics and readers, and their song “Thunder Kiss ‘65” was blasted for 4 hours at meddling photographers during Barbra Streisand’s July 1998 wedding to James Brolin.

Six Oscars were bestowed on the Bette Davis/Anne Baxter satirical film, 1950’s “All About Eve,” yet unlike the Broadway star of the movie, who ruthlessly climbed her way to the top, Julianne Regan and Tim Bricheno’s band of the same name, formed in London in 1985, did not reach such heights. With a mixture of folk lamentations and Goth bravado, All About Eve were revered by British critics in the mid-to-late ‘80s with songs like “Martha’s Harbour,” which cracked the UK’s top ten. By 1992, however, the show was over, and the band’s four members went their separate ways.

If you dialed a particular New York phone number in the mid-80s, you would be treated to a new song for that day. This brainchild Dial-A-Song idea was conceived by two musicians, John Linnell and John Flansburgh, who made up the offbeat, sardonic members of the group They Might Be Giants. Their name was based on a 1971 film of the same title, which starred George C. Scott as a daffy man in New York City who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes and is the patient of psychiatrist Dr. Watson, played by Joanne Woodward. They Might Be Giants never garnered a rousing success, but songs like “Don’t Let’s Start” were favorites in the indie/college radio circuits.

Slide guitar aficionados usually bring up the name of Ry Cooder as one of the all-time greats when it comes to this style of playing. Cooder’s influence was definitely studied by one Scottish band, in particular, a band that named themselves after a movie on which Cooder composed its soundtrack. The movie was 1984’s “Paris, Texas,” starring Harry Dean Stanton as an absent man trying his best to reacquaint himself with his wife and son. The band’s name became Texas, one of England’s favorite sons, with the personable Sharleen Spiteri as their lead vocalist. Formed in 1986, the band’s first single “I Don’t Want A Lover” reached number 8 on the U.K. charts in March of 1989. Their last two albums, “White on Blonde” and “Hush” both debuted at number one in Britain, and this band continues to churn out catchy, slide-guitar-driven ditties just waiting to be discovered by a big audience on America’s shores.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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