“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” The immortal words of William Shakespeare but something Australian singer John Stanley Cave also asked when he changed his name to that of the famous bard and became William Shakespeare the pop star. The legend has it that the budding performer was searching for a stage name and had just about given up when one of his friends exclaimed “I don’t know, why don’t you call yourself William Shakespeare?”
He did of course and became somewhat of an overnight sensation with two huge hit singles in the mid 70s. His career would end in disgrace when in 1975 he was convicted of the statutory rape of a 15 year-old girl from his Melbourne fan club. The criminality aside his fame at the time demonstrated how important an actual artist or band name can be in capturing the attention of the public.
These days where pop music has descended into a highly homogenised, some would say dreary, manufactured succession of mass marketable artists like Taylor Swift, original band and artist names are almost irrelevant. They might as well be represented by serial numbers or bar codes and their Spotify hungry fans would not care.
That of course was not the case in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s when both pop and indie music were highly innovative and exciting new genres appeared each decade. A catchy and at times provocative band name was often all important, especially when it came to the more independent and out there musicians looking to build a fan base. It would be hard to think of a better Australian band name than I Spit On Your Gravy, formed in Melbourne in 1983 by the legendary Fred Negro with the name adapted from the rape and revenge film franchise I Spit On Your Grave.
The Clits, Glitoris, Lubricated Goat, The Hard-Ons and Swinging Monkey Cocks all followed, to name just a few, with Fred Negro resurfacing with The Fucks Fucks. Very occasionally bands have been black listed by stations such as Triple J as was supposedly the case with the group, Anal Cunts. In most cases Australian bands have avoided names which are deliberately inflammatory, opting for the more tongue in cheek or good natured risqué.
On the other hand worldwide there have been numerous bands which simply set out to shock, pissing off conservative media and identifying their music as metalcore, dark wave or wildly experimental. The references are often scatological like the delightfully named Japanese grindcore outfit, Bathtub Shitter. Similarly, combos such as Hot Buttered Anal, The Neurotic Arseholes, and Kiss The Anus of A Black Cat are unlikely to score a gig at a wedding or bar mitzvah any time soon.
Irreverence for actual events has always spawned a number of at times controversial band names, like The Dead Kennedys when they originally appeared. Former Australian PM Harold Holt disappeared off Cheviot Beach in 1967 but decades later the Bendigo punk band Harold Holt Search Party is keeping his memory alive, even though their younger fans may have no idea who Holt actually was. Maybe it was too close to home for an Australian band to cash in on the Lindy Chamberlain saga but it didn’t stop an American band in the late ‘90s who called themselves Dingoes Ate My Baby. Talk about cultural appropriation — and it gets even worse with a current US country rock outfit labelling themselves Reckless Kelly, even using our Ned’s iconic armour on an album cover.
If you are a relatively new artist or group looking to garner attention these days the internet has lots of ways to help out, like lists of ‘free’ unused band names and band name generators to suit all manner of genres. I have previously suggested that The Beef Wellingtons would be a fabulous new name especially with the ‘mushroom’ trial looming. Bruce Springsteen called Donald Trump a “flagrant, toxic narcissist” and I’m sure the name would be up for satirical grabs.
Finally, (thank god this is not Thailand where a man recently copped fifty years jail for criticising their royal family) for a band name that will really get you noticed how about King Charlie & The Turps (i.e. transurethral resection of the prostate) – a reference to our current monarch’s much talked about procedure.