The Other Possibilities

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(Pictured: Conrad Keely of the band And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead gets body-passed in 2002.)

In an attempt to keep feeding the content maw, I dug back into the archives to find some ancient posts from the earliest days of this blog that I haven’t repeated already. Here’s one, originally posted on January 15, 2005, and edited slightly.

Last night I was reading a review of the latest album by a group called And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. It got me to thinking about great and/or stupid band names I have known. I am not talking about well-known groups, particularly—some of the best names have become so familiar that we can’t appreciate them anymore. For example, “Beatles” is one of the greatest musical puns ever coined, but who notices that now?

The bubblegum era gave birth to many great/stupid names, from the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the 1910 Fruitgum Company to the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus. Groups with rock pretensions, such as Chocolate Watchband and Lothar and the Hand People made records, too, but didn’t sell so many. (Somewhere, I believe I have a single by Lothar and the Hand People.) About the same time, according to the Book of Rock Lists, there was a group called Detroit Edison White Light Company. This was not the group’s original name, however. They were first going to be known as Charging Tyrannosaurus of Despair, until the drummer announced he didn’t want anything to do with despair.

One reliable way to create a weird group name is to be Someone and the Something Outrageous or Catchy. For instance, one band that plays frequently around my town is called Reverend Raven and the Chain-Smokin’ Altar Boys. Other representative examples of the same include Biff Hitler and the Violent Mood Swings, Jim Jones and the Kool-Aid Kids, and Big Dick and the Extenders.

My favorite band name of all time is one of the latter: The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities.

“Big Dick and the Extenders” is an example of a contemporary phenomenon—the risque/tasteless/obscene band name. You wouldn’t have seen these much before the 1990s. Such names often give you a clue to a particular group’s genre, depending on how risque/tasteless/obscene the name is. For instance, Buster Hymen and the Penetrators would likely be a blues band, whereas Fuck Me Suck Me Call Me Helen is more likely to be punk. The Well Hungarians may be a polka band; Well Strung, on the other hand, is almost certainly bluegrass.

Punks occasionally get carried away with their punkiness. The Do I Look Like I Give a Fucks are a bit too literal, while Electric Vomit is an example of punkers trying way too hard. Other bands from the Almost Certainly Punk File: Sucking Chest Wound, Immaculate Infection, and Grim Skunk. [Or death metal. —Ed.]

Some contemporary band names take their names from celebrities: Barbara’s Bush, for example, or Drew Barrymore’s Dealer, or the Fat Chick from Wilson Phillips, or Kathleen Turner Overdrive. The latter represents a nice segue into the name that plays on somebody else’s name, such as John Cougar Concentration Camp, REO Speed Dealer, or Earthpig and Fire.

Some names, like And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, go on just a bit too long. Other examples include Gee That’s A Large Beetle I Wonder If It’s Poisonous, The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac, and Nearly Died Laughing While Shaving My Butt. Better to make your point and get out in a hurry, like Lawnsmell, Schlong, or the Shit—three more for the Almost Certainly Punk file.

In the many years since this post first appeared, band names have come even further unmoored from any need to make sense. The Canonical List of Weird Band Names has many. I am sure you have a favorite, so hit the comments if you do.

Additional Note to Patrons: Last December, I wrote about the book Madison in the Sixties, a civic and political history of my town. Part of my radio gig involves producing a talk show for one of the stations in our group; since I’d read and adored the book, the host of the show let me interview the author, local historian and broadcaster Stu Levitan. I am not much of a talk-show host, but Stu made it easy. If you’d like to listen to the interview, it’s here.

One response

  1. Jim, thanks for the link to your interview with Stu. As a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright (his architecture; not so much the man), I felt like my head was spinning over the tug-of-war to have Monona Terrace realized. There’s been a similar political game going on for years over the construction of a light rail line from Minneapolis through its southwest suburbs here (Build it! Kill it!) which has succeeded in ratcheting up the final cost, if nothing else. Whatever the result, it won’t look nearly as magnificent as Monona Terrace. Stu was right about how all that resistance ended up working in its favor.

    Ah… campus protests. Our People’s Park mission was an occupation to prevent the construction of a Red Barn outlet in the University of Minnesota’s Dinkytown business district. It failed, but ultimately succeeded when Red Barn finally realized their legal victory was never going to overcome the bad blood and they chose not to build. That was in May of 1970. I laughed when Stu pointed out the ideal dates for campus protests, because it was true!

    Great job. Keep up the history lessons!

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