A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but would a rock band by any other name rock as hard? This is probably the furthest Shakespearan philosophy gets from the mechanics of pop culture.
Names, alas, do become part of the identity; a subtle encapsulation of all that makes a person, a thing, or indeed, a rock band.
The importance of rock band names – as with famous people – is that after all, the name claims a part of the myth. “Stop doing an Alice Cooper” might be what you yell out if you walked in on a friend trying to defile a chicken.
And these names are part of the story alright; the hidden innuendos, and even inside jokes, that went into creating something so symbolic.
Here are a few headliners of our times, whose names went beyond being just about people and words.
For me, this is the most evocative band name in the history of rock. Think Zeppelin, an oversized large air balloon that floats softly across the sky, made out of Lead, one of the heaviest metals around, to conjure up a metaphor like the music itself; gravity-defying Hard Rock.
It’s a fan’s prerogative, but this wasn’t the original concept. The name derived from Keith Moon’s half-mocking remark to Peter Grant, Zeppelin’s eventual manager, about how the new band Jimmy Page was forming would ‘go down like a Lead Zeppelin’. Page loved the idea, except while naming the band, ‘Lead’ was redesignated ‘Led’ to prevent Americans from calling them ‘Leeed Zeppelin’.
Freddie Mercury’s decision to name the band ‘Queen’ wasn’t popular within the band itself. But the man knew his mind and intentions. “I thought up the name Queen. It’s just a name, but it’s very regal obviously. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate”.
But it did create doubts about Roger Taylor and Brian May’s possible latent homosexual leanings. But man, if they continued to back Freddie Mercury the way they did, who’d care anyway?
The Rolling Stones
Now, to the rock ‘n’ roll brand to outlast all rock ‘n’ roll brands; The Rolling Stones. The seeds were sown when old friends, Keith Richard and Mick Jagger, ran into each other at Dartford railway station and realized they both deified the same blues artists.
The name, of course, just happened, when new recruit, guitarist Brian Jones, was on a phone call with Jazz News. They asked him what the name of the band was, and the first thing that caught Jones’ eye was a Muddy Waters LP on the floor, on which one of the song titles was ‘Rollin’ Stone’.
Andrew Loog Oldham, ex publicist for The Beatles, got on board for a while, and managed to leave an indelible imprint on the band history by changing the name to ‘The Rolling Stones’ from ‘Rollin’ Stones’. He even changed Richards to Richard, all in the name of greater pop appeal.
Stone Temple Pilots
If people were to shed their hang-ups about grunge and it’s offshoots, they might begin to realize that Stone Temple Pilots probably deserved more than they got; including that solitary Grammy in ‘94.
The band happened when singer Scott Weiland met guitarist Robert DeLeo at a concert in Long Beach. They got talking and realized they were sleeping with the same woman. The sane thing to do was to ditch her and start up a band, which the gentlemen did, after adding Dean DeLeo and Eric Kretz.
Initially, they christened themselves ‘Shirley Temple’s Pussy’, but how intoxicated would the world have to be for that to have stuck? Before they made it to Howard Stern Show for their live television debut, they had changed the name to Stone Temple Pilots, along with a charming little story about how the name was inspired by carving in an ancient temple that depicted a man in a small flying ship. This might’ve been the first clue to the drug problems that were to later accost the band.
It was a tough time, for a group of musicians sharing a puny flat in a corner of East End. Dire Straits had not yet recorded any of their chartbusters, and more tellingly, not sold a single of the million album copies they would eventually go on to sell.
Things were so bad that the elder statesman of the group, Mark Knopfler, had to beg and borrow enough money to buy some studio time for the band to record a demo. It was in this season of shortfalls and harsh realities that drummer Pick Withers’ roommate decided to name them ‘Dire Straits’.
Ironically, they had a record deal within a couple of months of that, and well, blazed their own special trail for the rest of their career.