January 2, 2015

What’s in a Name? – #7

Bands Named After Published Works (part two)
As observed in part one of this column, several bands over the years have made allusions to critical or thought-provoking works of literature by naming themselves after their favorite books or plays. Some bands, of course, attempted to appear radical by selecting obscure, smuttier pieces of fiction as the reason for their namesakes. One wouldn’t be hard-pressed to say that the band, The Buzzcocks, probably culled their moniker from this latter category. The published work from which they discovered their name was derived from an article in a London magazine called Time Out. The piece was a review of a musical called Rock Follies that ended with the line “get a buzz, cock.” As obscure a reference as their name was, the Manchester-based punk band was notable for having shared the bill with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned. The band fostered a significant following with both teen boys and girls and produced a top 20 hit in the U.K. with “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have)” in 1978.

The Buzzcocks’ frontman Pete Shelley also helped name a new group starting out in the Manchester club scene, calling them The Stiff Kittens. Bernard Albrecht, Peter Hook, Ian Curtis, and Stephen Morris later settled on a different name, choosing a reference out of a WWII Nazi concentration camp account called “House of Dolls,” written by Karol Cetinsky. In this harrowing non-fiction narrative, Cetinsky described the travails of Jewish women who were kept in the camps for the purpose of pleasing Nazi soldiers on leave. Their select group was named the Joy Division. Obviously, more than one critic of the band felt they were exploiting a very delicate subject matter with their moniker, and accusations of Nazi empathy followed the band in several circles of discussion. It didn’t help matters when, after the suicide of their lead singer, the other members re-emerged in a subsequent, much more successful band, named with the Aryan-catchy phrase, New Order. Despite some of these drawbacks, Joy Division cracked the U.K. top 20 with the single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and their album “Closer” went to number 6, both achievements happening in the summer of 1980.

Steering clear of controversy, a quintet of lads from Aylesbury, England got together in 1978 with a purpose of bringing back progressive rock in an era of punk anarchy. Led by a guy named Fish, born Derek Dick, who wore elaborate face paint onstage, the group called themselves Silmarillion, after the J.R.R. Tolkien book of the same name. Tolkien’s creation contained many stories, but the primary plotline centered around the planet Arda and the two Simarils, gems that contained light, which were stolen by an evil Vala named Melkor. Okay, so we’re confused too. Just read the book. Fish and his mates truncated their name to Marillion for simplicity’s sake and proceeded to release a succession of hit albums over the 1980s in Great Britain. Although some of their work cracked the top 200 on the Billboard charts, the band’s greatest achievements occurred in the U.K. as 7 of their albums between the years 1983 to 1991 climbed to and sometimes debuted on England’s top ten chart.

After the release of two albums with the group The Human League, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware, two synthesizer maestros, felt the strain of having to tour left them drained and yearned for a creatively-different outlet. Striking out on their own, they brought singer Glenn Gregory into their fold in 1980 and formed a groovy electronic-dance outfit named Heaven 17. The source of literature they borrowed their name from was none other than the controversial ‘70s bestseller “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. At the Corova Milk Bar, famous hangout for Alex and his malevolent Droogs gang, a jukebox featured a band by the name of Heaven 17. Their debut single “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” pounded the dance floors in the United States and Great Britain. While their first three albums all cracked the U.K.’s top 20 charts, Heaven 17’s single “Let Me Go” played heavily in the States on MTV’s formative early year of 1983.

Uptempo hits of the ‘80s didn’t get any frothier than songs like “Something About You” and “Lessons In Love,” both of which were crafted by the four members of London’s Level 42. Formed in 1980, bassist Mark King sang lead while his keyboardist Mike Lindup chimed in with perfect harmony. The two singles made it to #7 and #12 on the U.S. charts respectively in the years 1986-87. The band members were fans of the hilarious sci-fi spoof “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” written by Douglas Adams. The book, which eventually expanded to a trilogy of novels, concerned a man named Arthur Dent, who in an instant, is plucked from Earth’s obliteration by his friend Ford Prefect, and the two travel the universe on hilarious misadventures. The strange band name came from the reference of 42 in the book, which answered the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

Science fiction once again figured in the name of a band in 1980, when a Liverpool trio of musicians took their moniker from a piece of fiction by famed author Frederick Pohl. Published in the February 1960 issue of Galaxy, the short story “The Day The Icicle Works Closed” inspired this rock pop group to adapt their name as The Icicle Works. Their debut album charted in the top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1984, and the band’s finely-crafted pop songs like “Love Is A Wonderful Colour” received favorable independent airplay on college radio. By 1990, after several personnel changes, the Icicles had melted and gone their separate ways.

“L’arte dei Rumori” was a manifesto ahead of its time in the 1920s. Written by Luigi Russolo to a “great futurist musician” by the name of Balilla Pratella, Russolo championed the notion of severing routine orchestral configurations and stylings of his day and instead try to “conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds.” He advocated the use of everyday noises like trolleys, autos, gurgles, and rainfall to be molded into a musical collage of sound. “L’arte dei Rumori” translates in English to The Art of Noise. In 1983, a group of experimental musicians decided to forge ahead with Russolo’s manifesto, and named their band in its honor. The Art of Noise incorporated buzzsaws, racecars, and other noisy ambience into a danceable beat-driven style of music that captured both the ear of the avant-garde and the club-hopper. The band won a Grammy for their instrumental take on the TV theme “Peter Gunn,” and incorporated animated icon Max Headroom and Welsh singer Tom Jones in their respective songs “Paranoimia” and Prince’s “Kiss.”

“Wake Up Boo!” was a hit on British radio in February 1995, and the album “Wake Up!” from which it was released hit number one on the U.K.’s charts. Who’s Boo? Why The Boo Radleys, of course. Darlings of American university students, with wide-ranging songs that touch on rock ‘n’ roll, Beatlesque melodies, reggae, cajun, and the kitchen sink, this Liverpool outfit formed in 1988 and took their name from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. In the book, Boo Radley is the mentally-ill next door neighbor of attorney Atticus Finch, who befriends Finch’s children, Scout and Jem. Aptly-titled “C’mon Kids,” their subsequent album unfortunately did not yield hit singles, but indeed, continued in their tradition of delivering seamless rock-pop from the land of the moptops.

As you can see, literature has played a significant role in the world of rock. And as Camus said, music need not be analyzed or reasoned. It should just make you feel something. Take you to another place. Help soothe some of your concerns and worries. We bid you adieu with the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infect the day,
Shall fold their tents like Arabs,
And silently steal away.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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