January 2, 2015

What’s in a Name? – #9

Bands Named After Songs and Albums (part two)
With over-amped guitar sounds and abrasive singing, the Velvet Underground cleared the path and encouraged angst-driven, grunge and garage acts of the future to strike out on their own with confrontational ideas. Over in England, Chris Difford, who was a big fan of the Velvet sound, was forming a band, with fellow guitarist Glenn Tilbrook, which, ironically, would wind up mimicking the far more melodious efforts of groups like The Beatles and The Monkees than the songs of the Underground. The group, having performed under the name Captain Trundlow’s Sky Company (Skyco for short), played in pubs around the London area in 1974. The Velvet Underground, meanwhile, had released their last studio album the year before. Actually, with founders John Cale and Lou Reed having departed the group, guitarist Doug Yule was trying to milk the band’s name under his own efforts. That last studio album he released, entitled “Squeeze,” was written completely by Yule and issued only in the U.K. on Polydor Records in February 1973. Most Velvet Underground devotees dismiss this LP as not being truly worthy to be considered part of the Velvet’s catalog, but for the sheer, offbeat nature of it, Difford wanted to name his own band after this record. Thus, Squeeze was born, and the group has had a long-lasting life entertaining pop-rock audiences worldwide. Even though they scored one of their highest U.S.-charting hits with the #15-ranked “Hourglass” in 1987, most retro-‘80s rock stations today tend to track the band’s 1981 song “Tempted” as the signature Squeeze tune most-requested by fans.

Although born to a vicar, Lemmy Kilmister certainly did not choose to use his musical talents towards angelic hymnals. Playing in various rock and soul bands throughout the ‘60s, Kilmister joined the progressive rock band Hawkwind as a bassist in August 1971. Originally slated to be a temporary member for 6 months, Lemmy stayed with the band for four years. As Hawkwind played its trippy space-rock to legions of fans, a mishap occurred in the spring of 1975. As the band was leaving Canada, having completed a series of concerts, Lemmy was detained in a jail after his amphetamine pills were suspected of actually being cocaine. Following 5 days of incarceration, he was released, not only from prison, but from the group Hawkwind. Not one to cry over his losses, the outspoken Kilmister simply stated plans of forming another group, and sure enough, a month later, his new band was already making appearances at London shows. At first he wanted to call the group Bastard, but tamer minds talked him out of it. He instead named his band Motorhead, in deference to the last song he had written while with Hawkwind. Hawkwind had recorded two versions of “Motorhead” earlier that year in January 1975, one with Hawkwind’s Dave Brock singing lead vocals and one with Lemmy crooning to a backing violin solo. In July 1975, Brock’s version of “Motorhead” was released by Hawkwind as the B-side to their single “Kings of Speed.” Both Hawkwind and Motorhead have survived over the years and continue to play numerous annual gigs far and wide.

“Oh-oh, yes, I’m the great pretender. Pretending that I’m doing well. My need is such, I pretend too much. I’m lonely but no one can tell.” With their rich harmonies and doo-wop verve, The Platters staked a goldmine with these words to their hit “The Great Pretender” in 1956. Written by their manager, Buck Ram, over a brief half-hour’s time, the song rose quickly to the top of the charts and influenced the stylings of many ‘60s soul singers to come. As a teenager in Ohio, young Chrissie Hynde loved the Motown sounds of the 1960s singers of her day, and so, she began playing guitar in a high school band. Moving to England in her 20s, she eventually teamed with three other musicians in 1978 and recorded a cover of the Kinks’ Ray Davies’ tune “Stop Your Sobbing.” The song kicked onto the U.K. top 40, and the band soon after referred to themselves as The Pretenders, in tribute to the Platters’ hit. Chrissie was one of the first female rockers to front an otherwise all-male band, and The Pretenders scored several top ten hits in the U.K. and the U.S. over the 1980s with “Learning To Crawl,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” Hynde went on to have a child with Ray Davies in 1983.

In 1985, a part-time teacher in Scotland sent a demo tape of his songs to several London music publishing houses. He was advised to form a group that would be able to showcase his talents more properly. So, Ricky Ross put together a quintet of musicians, including his girlfriend on backing vocals, and they called themselves Deacon Blue. A huge fan of the group Steely Dan, Ross had named his band after their 1977 song “Deacon Blues,” which was released on Steely Dan’s landmark album “Aja.” The soft jazz tune chronicled the yearnings of a straight and narrow guy wanting to chuck his rigid lifestyle, adapt a catchy nickname ‘Deacon Blues,’ and head out into the jazzy nightlife with its card games and women of the streets. While some of Deacon Blue’s output was peppered with a little Steely Dan influences, their pop-rock was more straight-forward in its melodic lines, without the jazzy interpretations of their namesakes’ song. Nevertheless, Deacon Blue garnered a huge following in the United Kingdom in the late ‘80s, with a number one album, “When The World Knows Your Name,” in April 1989, and sold-out stadium concerts, including three at the Wembley Arena in London. Their popularity never blew stateside and by the mid-‘90s, the band had stopped recording.

Before they virtually pulled the plug, Deacon Blue had recorded a 1993 album, “Whatever You Say, Say Nothing,” with dj/mixer/producers Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne. They had hoped this creative duo could instill their songs with notable sounds in the way they had infused an earlier group’s music with catchy rhythms. It didn’t work for Deacon Blue, but the producer’s magic had worked for Happy Mondays. Formed in 1984, playing mostly at youth club functions, singer Shaun Ryder’s band in Manchester, England coined its name from New Order’s dance hit “Blue Monday.” After Happy Mondays released their first single in 1985, they had a chance to work with New Order’s Barney Sumner, who produced their second single “Freaky Dancin’.” Both bands went on tour together in 1987. But by 1989, after the release of two albums which had barely charted, Happy Mondays was looking for fresh inspiration. Enter Oakenfold and Osborne. With their lush production chops, they remixed some earlier Happy Mondays tunes and helped the band craft their best album, 1990’s “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches.” The album entered Britain’s top ten and got them noticed on U.S. shores. The Manchester “sound” of the early ‘90s, which fostered bands like Oasis, could be traced to the rave-house music of Happy Mondays. Unfortunately, Ryder fell prey to the demands of a heroin addiction, which, in turn, sent the band into disarray until the end of the decade.

Around the time Happy Mondays were enjoying the pinnacle of success, five students at Oxford University in England had already formed a band called On A Friday. With three of its members playing guitar, one of them being lead vocalist Thom Yorke, the band’s raucous sound seemed to belie the quaint name they had chosen back in 1988. They took note of a 1986 song by The Talking Heads that had the following lyrics: “Baby your mind is a radio, got a receiver inside my head; Baby, I’m tuned to your wavelengths, lemme tell you what it says; Transmitter! Oh! Picking up something good; Hey, radio head! The sound…it’s a brand new world.” The song, having been released on their “True Stories” soundtrack, was “Radio Head.” Yorke and his friends felt this reggae-styled song’s name aptly summed up the vibe of their band. With the release of their first album, “Pablo Honey,” in 1993, the group became popular in alternative circles with the college smash hit “Creep.” With lyrics of angst and self-loathing, Radiohead’s definitive guitar sounds and melodies were highly-lauded by prominent critics in the music world, they became “buzz bin” heroes on MTV, and the group won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance for their 1997 album “OK Computer.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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