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1960’s bands vs. 1960’s bands’ names

The names of the top bands of the 1960s are so much a part of them that it’s almost impossible to think of the names simply as names. But let’s make the effort in order to evaluate how good their names were.

Of course, names can be good in many ways. They can be descriptive, ironic, memorably eccentric. But, it seems to me that some of the best bands had the worst names.

Here’s an unordered and, of course, utterly subjective list, graded on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is best:

  • Jefferson Airplane: Retro + modern + meaningless = psychedelic. 8

  • Supremes : Cocky, but lived up to it. 8

  • Rolling Stones: Great name for itinerant minstrels. Terrible name for a rock band. 4

  • Fairport Convention: Appropriately rustic and archaic. If it didn’t sound like the name of an obscure British peace treaty or forgotten dart rules, it’d be close to perfect. 8

  • Grateful Dead: Good hyperbolic name for a metal group. Totally inappropriate for a group as sunny as this. Points added because they were clearly tripping when they came up with it. 6

  • Mamas and Papas: Terrific name for a kiddy band. Meh name for a pop group of young, non-parental units. 5

  • Gladys Knight and the Pips: Pips? Really? Is this a British vaudeville group that comes out in boaters? All of this band’s points go to the first half of its name: 3

  • The Beach Boys: Beach music sung by boys. Sounds frivolous, but then they sing. Frivolously. And then they record Pet Sounds. 9

  • Four Tops: There are four of them. They are the tops. The naming convention flags their genre. Well done, lads! 9

  • The Doors: An incredibly prosaic name that works ironically for their druggy music. Plus, it’s an appropriate literary reference — which would be better if their worst songs weren’t the ones that opened the doors of perception the widest. They shouldn’t have asked The Lizard King’s opinion. 9

  • The Four Seasons: They have nothing to do with the seasons. They have nothing to do with Vivaldi. It’s a bland, generic, misleading, slightly pretentious, placeholder of a name. Point added for the correct counting of band members. 2

  • Gerry and the Pacemakers: You know immediately what sort of band they are, unless you hear “pacemaker” as a medical device and think that they’re going to show up in walkers and plaid pants buckled beneath their pot bellies. Gotta split the difference on this one: 4

  • Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: The Mothers were men, plus you have the swear-word implication, plus they were actually inventive. All of which doesn’t even matter. You had me at “Zappa.” 10

  • The Byrds: Did they misspell it because “” was already taken? Oh, wait. They misspelled it to be cool.
    genericName + misspelling = genericName – 2. Final score: 1

  • Creem: Ironically refined food-based name. Sexual connotation. Bold statement that they were a super-group composed of the filtered extract of great other groups. The lack of a definite article makes it even cockier. 10

  • Sly and the Family Stone: You’ve got the slyness of “Sly” and the family-ness of “Family,” but together with a straight-on drug reference. A totally wtf name for a wtf group. 9

  • Steppenwolf: Sounds vaguely and appropriately threatening and aggressive, despite the totally inappropriate literary reference. 7

  • Credence Clearwater Revival: The length of the name has a throwback quality, and the three words each independently says that this is a group about something simple and pure. It would have been a terribly pretentious name for a folk group, but it works better for a rock group. 5

  • Led Zeppelin: The winner in a contentious argument about what to name a psychedelicious band, if the band members were all 14 years old. For an adult band, it’s just embarrassing. 3

  • The Beatles: See Led Zeppelin, but drop the band’s age to 12. “Oooh, and we can spell it B-E-AT instead of B-E-E-T.” Is it an accident that as far as I know, the Beatles never once used a beetle in their iconography? Terrible terrible name. Point added because they were the FREAKING BEATLES OMG OMG. 2

27 Responses to “1960’s bands vs. 1960’s bands’ names”

  1. Pretty good except for under grading the Stones, Beatles, Dead, Credence, and the Byrds. I give points for the allusive qualities in names: rolling stones, grateful dead, and the Byrds all deserve points for this. Credence? They get points for not going any closer to the big tent, the chatauqua, or the medicine show, The Beatless? I suppose they could have called themselves the Patmore, but that would make ashes of us all.

  2. Couple of OOPS:

    It’s Gerry and the Pacemakers



  3. Doh! Thanks, Trudie, um Trudy. I’ve fixed them both.

  4. My high school band was named: The Slaves of Sound. Except for a bit of alliteration, I have no idea what it means but we were great! I give us a 10.

    My favorite has always been: The Doors; both for their name and their music. Four of my favorite 60’s bands – The Moody Blues, Three Dog Night, Herman’s Hermits, and Buffalo Springfield.

    I would love to see a similar analysis for more recent bands like Green Day or Black Eyed Peas or Dire Straits.

    What do the names of popular bands reflect about their time, if anything?

    What’s in a name? A band by any other name would sound just as sweet!

  5. Cream per wiki.

  6. Shocked to see you 100% right on the 10s.

    But are you full of it on some others, though :)

    To me, Pips were unknown but thus strange and attractive. I didn’t know what it meant but I thought perhaps I should have. I figured it was a black subculture thing that didn’t seep through to white kids in Anchorage.

    Credence can only be seen or evaluated in the context of a gazillion other bands from that era with nonsensical names, most far stupider than this. And Credence and Revival are strong words.

    Finally, Beatles. It’s “Beat” as in rhythm I believe. Not a 10, okay, but certainly better than your analysis.

    Cool list. Thanks.

  7. The first oddly named band I heard of was the Quicksilver Messenger Service. I remember puzzling over the name and wondering why a group would pick a name that had nothing to do with them or with music. I think I never answered the question. Of course, I don’t remember their music either, as opposed to many of the ones you cited.

  8. Creem? You mean Cream, maybe?

  9. What about King Crimson?

  10. When did singers begin to identify themselves with soccer players by choosing single names – Beyonce, Sting, Madonna, Usher, Prince, Sade, Pink.

    I should also have mentioned Pink Floyd above.

  11. Howard, I’ve always assumed the Beatles meant the “beat” to mean “beat” as in “Mersey Beat.” It’s just so astoundingly non-clever.

    Andy (yes I am related), I don’t know where Quicksilver Messenger Service got their name, but I’ve always imagined they were sitting around really stoned, waiting for a pizza to arrive. That must have had something to do with it.

    Raymond, my high school band was named Wheel and the Spokesmen. Perhaps you’ve heard of us? I didn’t think so.

    Apropos of nothing: I love Vampire Weekend, but it’s got to be the worst name since Three Dog Night. (“Y’see, it got so cold in Australia that we had to bring a third dog under the blankets to warm us up, mate.”)

  12. Was once given a lift by Quicksilver Messenger Service while hitching to a gig they were doing with Jefferson Airplane. The sign outside the arena advertised the next night’s show. Opening act: Black Shit Puppy Farm.

  13. I assume you were the spokesman!

  14. Yeah, what many others said but really: Creem? You confuse the rock fan mag with the band name? And not getting the “Beat” reference in Beatles is pretty obtuse.

    The name Led Zeppelin was derived from the “fly like a lead balloon” notion, with the first word phonetically spelled to make sure people got it. The name summarized people’s comments on their chances of success: I guess they had the last laugh.

    A mention of the Mynah Birds [] would have helped.

    And no names from bands formed after 1970?

    I have been collecting some band names as they come to me but they are not intended to be anymore illustrative or meaningful than the ones of years past:

  15. Using a folded match book cover as a roach clip was called a Jefferson airplane

  16. The Beatles is a name from the beginning of the 60s. In cultural evolution terms, it’s a generation before all that sophisticated late 60s psychedelia.

    Beatles should seen as a clever (for the time) pun on The Crickets (Buddy Holly) and Mersey Beat etc.

  17. To the several defending the Beatles name: I’ve known it’s a pun since around 1962 . And I know Led Zeppelin is like a lead balloon. Jeez. But they’re puns that would seem like cool band names to (by my estimates) 14 and 12 yr olds respectively.

    Nevertheless, the bands turned out alright.

  18. My mum refused to go to see The Beatles at The Cavern because they couldn’t spell beetle.

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  27. Love the article and some interesting info on the 1960s band names! That was very Sly of Sly and the family stone, didn’t know it was a drug reference! Love the Four Seasons but there were usually more than four people on stage as they didn’t count the drummer!
    The Zoots 1960s show

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