January 2, 2015

What’s in a Name? – #8

Bands Named After Songs and Albums
Somewhere out there amongst the dingy nightclubs and smoky bars somebody’s band is laying down snarling rock chords and kickin’ backbeats under the name “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Chances are, there’s several house bands at hotels on lonely highways known as “Freebird.” I’d wager there’s probably a Beatles’ cover band tuning up right now somewhere on the globe that plays under the name “Octopus’ Garden.” For inspiration in naming their groups, many musicians have looked to their rock heroes and chosen something from their oeuvre to name their own band. The following list of recording artists turned this method of lifting notable lyrics, song titles or album names when choosing a moniker for their own group.

Two of the earliest known rockers to champion this method were The McCoys and The Pretty Things. The McCoys were a quartet of teenagers from Union City, Indiana, who formed in 1963 and toured around under the name Rick and the Raiders. Opening for the Bang Records’ darlings, The Strangeloves, in 1965, Rick and the Raiders were given the opportunity by The Strangeloves’ producers to record a song which had been first released by the R&B group called The Vibrations in 1964. The tune was “My Girl Sloopy.” Since Paul Revere and the Raiders were becoming a household name in the mid-60s, Rick and the Raiders needed to change their name. Their leader, Rick Zehringer had once taught a bandmate how to play bass by riffing on The Ventures’ 1960 song “The McCoy.” Released as a Dolton Records’ single, on the B-side to the number 2 smash “Walk, Don’t Run,” “The McCoy” was typical Ventures formula, a guitar-driven instrumental. The producers, overseeing Rick and the Raiders’ recording, loved the name McCoy, and soon the band changed not only its group moniker, but also the lyrics to that Vibrations tune they’d been hired to record. It now became “Hang On Sloopy,” and during the week of October 2, 1965, it went to number one on the Billboard chart. The McCoys continued recording for Bang Records, and Rick Zehringer, enamored of the gun design on the record company label, tweaked his last name to Derringer. When he went solo in the mid-70s, Rick Derringer released the notable rock anthem “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.”

Across the Atlantic, around this same time in 1962, Dick Taylor was a student at an art college in Kent, England with another lad named Keith Richards. Both teens loved the blues music that was trickling in from the States, and they played in a group with a guy named Mick Jagger. When Keith and Mick went on to form their own group, a globally-famous band named after a Muddy Waters song (as covered in the “Bands Named After The Blues” article for this column), Taylor quit music for a while to study at a more prestigious art college. Soon, however, he formed his own rock ‘n’ roll group. For band name inspiration, his group chose the song of another R&B icon, namely, a tune of Bo Diddley’s. In 1955, Bo had written and released a single for Checker Records called “Pretty Thing.” It’s opening lyrics said, “You pretty thing, let me buy you a wedding ring, let me hear the choir sing, oh, you pretty thing.” Taylor and his bandmates, now called The Pretty Things, released their first album in 1965, and it contained four Diddley cover songs, including “Pretty Thing.” Although they garnered some success in Europe, especially with the song “Don’t Bring Me Down” (later covered by David Bowie), they never really made a dent in the American market. By the late ‘60s the band moved away from their blues roots and got lost in the musical haze of psychedelia.

In 1968, two English bands, Roundabout and The Iveys, were playing club gigs under these monikers, but their names would soon change. Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord had both played in several local bands before Chris Curtis, a former drummer for The Searchers approached them to join his new band, Roundabout. Within months, Curtis had departed Roundabout, and Blackmore and Lord forged on with the group. After a debut live performance in Tastrup, Denmark, the band shuttled back to England by boat, and while on-board, an interviewer asked them what their name was. Blackmore, sensing a need to distance himself from what Curtis had started, reportedly blurted out “Deep Purple.” The reference was allegedly to an old song Blackmore’s grandmother once liked. The song “Deep Purple” begins with the verse “When the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls…” and ends with the line, “…and as long as my heart will beat, lover, we’ll always meet, here in my deep purple dreams.” Blackmore and company would not pattern their writing after such innocent ditties like this, however. The Deep Purple sound was the forebear to all things heavy. Their 1972 album “Machine Head” defined and crystallized their high voltage sound, and the single “Smoke On The Water” went gold, hitting number 4 on the U.S. chart in July 1973.

The Iveys, on the other hand, were a gentler, more acoustic quartet of musicians. Having been discovered by Paul McCartney in 1968, the band was signed to The Beatles’ Apple label, and began work an album called “Maybe Tomorrow.” At the last moment, the LP was withdrawn, and Paul had them work on songs for a film entitled “The Magic Christian.” During this period, Apple felt the band should change its name, and after drawing up several lists, Neil Aspinall, a manager at the label came up with the title Badfinger. The reference was to an old John Lennon song. As he mentions in “Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger,” Lennon “was playing the piano and he had a bad finger so he called the piece he was playing ‘Bad Finger Boogie’ (which evolved to become ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’).” Under this new designation, Badfinger went on to release several smash hits, including “Day After Day,” “Baby Blue,” and “No Matter What.” The group fell apart after the suicide of its guitarist, Pete Ham, in 1975, and after a brief resuscitation in the early ‘80s, Badfinger, lost its second member, bassist Tom Evans, to suicide in 1983.

In 1971, a band formed on Canvey Island in Essex, England under the name Dr. Feelgood. Actually, they evolved from the Southside Jug Band to The Fix to The Pigboy Charlie Band, and finally, to the aforementioned medical moniker. The band was notorious for covering many rock ‘n’ roll tunes by early legends like Chuck Berry, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson. They also liked jamming on the songs of early British bands, especially those of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. It was from this latter band that the four members of Dr. Feelgood cripped their name. In 1964, Johnny Kidd and The Pirates released a single that reworked the Italian song “Santa Lucia” into an English counterpart, renaming and issuing it as “Always & Ever.” On the B-side to this single was the song “Dr. Feelgood.” Dr. Feelgood, the band, played the U.K. circuit throughout the years and scored a few hits on British soil, but they never truly were afforded much notice outside of those environs.

However, a song Dr. Feelgood wrote in 1974, in turn, became the name of a popular Swedish group in the mid-‘80s. The song told of an obsessive lover who follows his girlfriend around, watching her with other men. By the song’s end, the lover is going away on business, but he tells his girlfriend, “I don’t want no more of your tricks, I’m gonna get some concrete mix, and fill your backdoor up with bricks.” He was saying this to his girl named Roxette. Guitarist Per Gessle and vocalist Marie Fredericksson, both fans of this single, teamed up in 1984 under this name, and by the end of that decade, had become as big a Swedish phenomenon, if not more so, than fellow popsters ABBA.

Far from the land of pop, Judas Priest defined the leather and chains aspect of heavy metal for generations of headbangers to come. Formed in late 1969, the band went through a personnel shake-up in its formative months until it settled into its trademark hard-rock, speed-guitar status as a quintet led by former lighting engineer, Rob Halford. The early incarnation of this group decided upon its name as a result of being fans of the Bob Dylan song, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.” The tune provides a morality tale about wanting more than what you bargained for. A mysterious Judas Priest, possibly Death himself, tempts his friend, gambler Frankie Lee, into seeking “eternity,” a house at the end of the town’s road, which inevitably leads to Frankie’s death. Certain parents in the mid-‘80s felt the band, Judas Priest itself, had called their own boys to death when two Nevada teens shot themselves while listening to the group’s 1978 album “Stained Class.” The charges of subliminal enticement within the songs were eventually dismissed in 1990.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

Comments are now closed.