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The name game in the music world

August 21, 2014
Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

In the long-ago days of my youth, musical acts had names that related to their members.

From the popular Ink Spots to such music makers as the Beach Boys, the Kingston Trio and the Lettermen, every musical team had both a sound and a name that easily identified it. Even the designation "Mormon Tabernacle Choir" gave listeners an idea of the assemblage behind those glorious multi-voice productions.

But in recent years, the music world has produced dozens of groups with names that run the gamut from odd to downright bizarre.

For instance, how many musicians does it take to make a Pearl Jam? And do folks who hear performances by groups like Smashing Pumpkins or Twisted Sister have any concept of the performers behind those strange monikers?

No one could have a problem identifying the singers in a group called simply Peter, Paul and Mary, But what about such un-musical titles as AC/DC, REO Speedwagon and U2?

Musicians these days are drawing the names of their combos from some amazingly diverse and unexpected sources.

As a writer, I have an ever-present itch to understand how and why things happen. And the names of musical groups presented a challenge I had to look into. It was an interesting search.

I learned, for instance, that Pearl Jam derived its name from "Pearl," the grandmother of one of the musicians and "jam," a description of the group's favorite Neil Young concert.

Rolling Stones drew their name from a song by the iconic singer Muddy Waters.

Such bands as AC/DC and Air Supply credit their names to some unusual experiences of their members. In the case of AC/DC, the name was spotted by one of the musicians on an electric sewing machine. And Air Supply came to a member in a dream five years before the group formed.

Pink Floyd is another unexpected title for what became a popular band. That one, surprisingly, came from the first names of two musicians, "Pink" Anderson and Floyd Council.

Another well-known act drew its distinctive title from a discussion by two musicians. The pair, who had been considering joining two groups together, was skeptical of the outcome. They thought the combination would probably go down like a lead balloon. Thus, Led Zeppelin was born.

When asked the meaning of his band's name, Bono said U2 referred to the interactivity they stressed with the audience as in "You, Too."

According to legend, that wildly popular British group that took the musical world by storm, knowingly misspelled a basic word, "beetles," by giving it the "beat" of the band. So it is that we came to know those clever young men as The Beatles.

In my search, I easily identified with the naming of this last group. It seems the grandmother of one of the band members was hard of hearing. She was unfamiliar with the current music scene, so when the grandson talked with her about any of his favorite groups, she would invariably ask, "The Who?"

The question became the band's name.



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