Shitty Band Names: A History

Dec 17, 2013 at 10:02 am
Portugal. The Man - Timothy Norris
Timothy Norris
Portugal. The Man

It's widely known that band names, which once were mainly nouns and sometimes even gave you a sense of what the artist's music sounded like, have devolved into an apocalypse of in-jokes, cleverness, punctuation and strange capitalization. It's almost impossible these days not to look at a festival lineup without feeling dumber for the experience.

But how exactly did the exercise of musical moniker application devolve into a no-man's land of pretentious cacophony? How did we get from The Byrds to 3OH!3? From the Rolling Stones to Fartbarf? Below, we trace the descent decade by decade.

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Jenny Lens
The Runaways
'60s and '70s: Nouns The 1960s and 1970s were a time when it was OK for music groups to have names that made sense. For every confusing handle (Buffalo Springfield, Thee Midniters) there were many that were simple: The Kinks, the Doors, the Who, Genesis and the Runaways.

You had fauna-themed monikers (with and without altered spellings) like the Byrds, the Beatles, the Animals, the Monkees, and the Eagles. Groups used the members' own names (Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills, and Nash) and even when they got crazy (Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, Electric Light Orchestra) you could still wrap your head around them.

There were acts named for places (Boston, Chicago, Asia) and even acts that threw an adjective in there (Black Sabbath, the Pretty Things, the Small Faces). It was a sweet, almost-naive era in band names, and no one had a problem with it.

Timothy Norris
'80s: Golden Era The '80s produced, without a doubt, the best band names in music history. Though some were still named for people, places or things, many others ventured into the realm of ideas, using more interesting imagery and metaphors. Our four favorites might be R.E.M., the Replacements, the Stone Roses and the Misfits -- does it get any better? Then there were Jane's Addiction, Public Enemy, the Stray Cats, Beastie Boys, My Bloody Valentine, N.W.A., the Go-Go's, Culture Club, Bananarama, U2 and the Smiths.

Some bands with great names came to life in the '70s -- the Cure, Los Lobos, Talking Heads, Dire Straits, Black Flag, the Police -- and prospered in the '80s. That decade also gave birth to killer metal monikers: Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth, whose names you don't read and wonder what they sound like. Ditto punk bands like Minor Threat, Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys and Bad Brains, the latter two best known for their '80s work. Even the much-derided hair metal acts knew how to name themselves: Poison, Cinderella, Skid Row, Quiet Riot, Vixen, Warrant. Oh, and of course, Guns n' Roses. All hail.