Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Worst Band Names Ever

If necessity is the mother of invention, then a road-trip along the desolate I-70 corridor in Illinois is the mother of random conversation. So it was that my wife and I came to discuss the worst band names of all time. (This is the worst names, mind you, not necessarily the worst bands, but there is a whole lot of overlap.) Passing judgment on band names is an inherently subjective pursuit, so I would like to propose a set of criteria to bring a modicum of consistency to this project. There are always exceptions to the rules, but in general:

Band names should never be only one syllable
While monosyllabic band names have been around for years (Free, Bread, Can, Yes), their popularity has risen alarmingly since the 1980s. Relatively benign (but silly) band names like Ratt and Kix have given way to a glut of bands with names like Train, Fuel, All, Tool, Tar and Cake, proving that less is rarely, if ever, more. While these names may have seemed muscular or pithy after a few bong hits at the band meeting, nothing grates on the nerves or screams "we chose our name at random out of the dictionary" more than a monosyllabic band name.
Unforgivable: Staind
God-awful: Phish
Awful: Live (no matter how you want to pronounce it)
Honorable Mention: Creed, Spoon, Ween, Slint, Rush, Crunt, James, Seam, Ride, Squeeze
Exceptions: KISS (because it may be an acronym for Knights in Satan's Service, which is awesome), Queen (because it's truth in advertising) and Fear (because that's pretty punk rock)
Fun Fact: Monosyllabic band names can almost always be improved by the addition of the definite article. The Who, The Fall, The Kinks—all great band names that would be horrendous if not for "the."

Band names should never contain prepositions
When I hear a band name like Puddle of Mudd, it sends me into a homicidal rage. As lame as it would undoubtedly remain, Mudd Puddle is a much better name for a band. This category is extra-special, because it has what must be the worst band name of all time.
The Aforementioned Worst Band Name Ever: Archers of Loaf
Not Much Better: Letters to Cleo
Virtually Indistinguishable From #2: Fountains of Wayne
Honorable Mention: Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, Souls at Zero, Mouse on Mars, Apples in Stereo, After the Fire, Porno for Pyros, Tears for Fears, Death Cab for Cutie
Exceptions: There is a major exception to this rule, and that is if the preposition is part of the classic band name formula: [someone] and the [something] [preposition] [something else]. For example, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, or Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Someone should really call their band Brevity and the Soul of Wit, don't you think? Also, Lords of Acid is a pretty awesome name.

Band names should never contain numbers
Never, never, never! Come on, people! Why would anyone want their band to sound like a household cleanser? We are Formula 409, are you ready to rock? Most of these bands have a hard enough time appearing not to be mass-marketed products to begin with.
Innumeracy: Matchbox 20
Square Root of Crap: Seven Mary Three
Count Me Out: Sevendust
Honorable Mention: 3 Doors Down, Blink 182, Sum 41, 98 Degrees, 311, Haircut 100, Front 242, UB40, 5ive Style, Six Finger Satellite, 808 State, 10 Years After, Sixteen Deluxe, Sham 69, Three Dog Night and on and on ...
Exceptions: If the number in the name is the same as the number of band members (for example, Gang of Four, The Dirty Three, MC5), then it's generally ok. This is not ok for Maroon 5. Other acceptable number bands include 999 (British emergency phone number), U2 (spy plane) and Five for Fighting (obscure hockey reference). Finally, I kind of wish that Four Jacks and a Jill from Spinal Tap was a real band.

Band names should not be intentionally misspelled
Nothing is less hip than an obvious attempt to be hip.
Krap: Limp Bizkit
Baaaad: 'N Sync
Un-4-tunate: Def Leppard
Honorable Mentions: Korn, Linkin Park, Boyz II Men, NOFX, 24-7 Spyz
Exception: Lynyrd Skynyrd (because revenge against gym teachers is sublime)
The Mother of All Exceptions: The Beatles

Band names should not be stupid catch phrases
We're fun; we're whimsical—we're Wham! Kill me.
Talk to the Hand: Enuff Z'nuff
Don't Go There, Girlfriend: No Doubt
Oh No You Didn't: Take That
Honorable Mention: Go West
Exception: Nomeansno gets a special pass because they're two Canadian guys who aren't really P.C. feminists

Band names should not contain the word 'Mister'
Mr. Big, Mr. Bungle, Mister Mister. Enough said. No exceptions.

Band names should avoid the needlessly stupid
This is kind of a catch-all category. It's for the Dead Can Dance and Trip Shakespeare's of the world. A band name should be thoughtful, clever if possible. It should not induce nausea and tension headaches. It should not be a complete sentence, use made-up words or be the obvious product of the moron's version of a Dadaist word collage.
God, No: Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit
Aaargh: Toad the Wet Sprocket
Sigh: Hoobastank
Honorable Mentions: The For Carnation, Everything But the Girl, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Smashing Pumpkins, New Kids on the Block, Presidents of the United States of America, Tripping Daisy, 'Til Tuesday, God Is My Co-Pilot

Naming bands is not an exact science and it's admittedly easier to know what not to do than to figure out how to do it right. It is important to listen to the masters. Unfortunately, for every ? and the Mysterians or Black Sabbath, there are a thousand Alice Donuts and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. It's not impossible to come up with a classic band name these days (see The Darkness), it just takes a lot of restraint and a moment of inspiration. For any bands out there looking for that spark, allow me to suggest Cletus and the Federlines. Your first album can be called Can You Handle Our Truth?
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