Friday, September 4, 2015

Rock Bands Named After Bad Movies

Rock bands come up with their names in some crazy ways. Lynrd Skynrd was named after several of the band member’s high school gym teacher. Cheap Trick came from a Ouija board. Led Zeppelin is a play on the phrase “That’ll go over like a lead balloon.” And I’m not even going to talk about Steely Dan.

For some reason, a number of bands have been named after classically bad, B-grade movies. I really don’t know why. Paean to pop culture? Mild transgressiveness? Anyway, here are the top 10.

#10  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (The Wild One)

The Movie: This one is actually a classic, one of Brando’s big roles. At the same time, there’s no getting around it that it’s also a biker flick. In fact, it was the first of its kind. Yup, such gems as The Mini-Skirt Mob, Naked Angels, and Werewolves on Wheels can all trace themselves back to this baby.

NOTE: The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was the name of Brando’s gang.

The Band: I like indie groups, so this is actually one I’ve listened to and enjoyed. Heck, I might have even owned one of their CDs at one time or other. My musical vocabulary is atrocious, so let me just list the various genres Wikipedia gives them: noise rock, neo-psychedelia, garage rock, shoe-gazing, noise pop. They’re from San Fran and formed in 1998.

#9  Duran Duran (Barbarella)

The Movie:  Another classic that happens to have more than its fair share of B movie qualities. On the classic side, we’ve got Jane Fonda and director (and then boyfriend) Roger Vadim, as well as all sorts of Pop Art pretensions and breaking of sexual and language taboos. On the B side, we’ve got an indecipherable plot, go-go boots, vampires, big hair, and tons and tons of pure camp.

NOTE:  The band name comes from one of the movie’s characters, the evil inventor Dr. Durand-Durand.

The Band:  Whoa boy, do these guys bring back memories. The hair, the music videos, the outfits, the synthesizers … Officially, they were part of the New Romantic scene, a glam-inspired reaction to the excesses of Punk. Compared to some of their compatriots – Boy George and Adam Ant, say – Duran Duran were not bad at all. I still have a CD of their greatest hits.

NOTE:  Barbarella’s was the name of the venue where the band first appeared.

#8  They Might Be Giants

The Movie:  This one’s got some pretty heavy hitters in it – George C. Scott, Joanne Woodward – but the whole thing sounds so winsome I can see why it didn’t exactly win any Oscars. Here’s the description from some dude on IMDb:

They Might be Giants chronicles the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in modern-day New York City. The fact that Sherlock Holmes is a psychotic paranoid and Dr. Watson is a female psychiatrist fascinated by his case is almost beside the point. Dr. Watson follows Holmes across Manhattan and is, against her better judgment, drawn into the master detective's world of intrigue and danger. This is a sweet, goofy and fairly romantic film that asks the questions "Whose reality is right...and does it really matter?"

The NY Times calls it “an almost drunkenly sentimental comedy” and a “mushy movie.”

The title, by the way, is from Don Quixote (the giants were really windmills).

The Band:  I have a thing for bands with a sense of humor – Frank Zappa, Weezer, a local band called Southern Culture on the Skids, Alvin and the Chipmunks ... Well, when it comes to humor, I’m not sure anybody’s got anything on this quirky duo. They’ve done songs with titles like “Boat of Car,” “Chess Piece Face,” and “Youth Culture Killed my Dog” (and those are just off their first album), and have written about mammals, Istanbul, paleontology, James K. Polk, and the three states of matter.

#7  Black Sabbath

The Movie:  This one’s a pretty straightforward B, but has also won its fair share of accolades. The director, Mario Bava, is known for fairly pedestrian horror stories that are nonetheless visually stunning and very atmospheric.

Black Sabbath is actually a set of three separate tales. One is about a corpse-dresser in 19th Century Russia who makes a fateful decision, a second deals with a woman terrorized in her apartment by a former boyfriend, and the third features an Eastern European family threatened by vampires (and is based on a story by Tolstoy).

The Band:  I’m sure you’ve heard of these guys. Ozzy Osbourne? "Iron Man"? Biting the heads off of bats?

Not exactly my cup of tea, but the boys did:

  • Sell 70 million records
  • Win 2 Grammies
  • Get elected the “Greatest Heavy Metal Band” of all time by MTV
  • All get knighted
Okay, I made that last one up.

#6  Them

The Movie:  Alright, now we’re talking. The description for this thing from IMDb kinda says it all:

The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.

The Band:  Now, this one is a tad obscure. Them was actually Van Morrison’s first band. He was only with them for a year. In that time, though, they managed to come out with such hits as “Here Comes the Night” and the classic “Gloria.”

Van Morrison? “Brown-Eyed Girl”? Moondance? Six Grammies? Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Real, honest-to-goodness knighthood? I think you may have heard of him.

#5  10,000 [2,000] Maniacs

The Movie:  Does the name Herschel Gordon Lewis mean anything to you? A true B movie master, HGL has been called the “Godfather of Gore” and is credited with creating the slasher genre. He’s responsible for such gems as The Scum of the Earth, She-Devils on Wheels, and Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In.

The movie in question? Once again, here’s what another random guy on IMDb has to say:

Six people are lured into a small Deep South town for a Centennial celebration where the residents proceed to kill them one by one as revenge for the town's destruction during the Civil War.

But it’s the taglines that really do this one justice:

  • A town of madmen crazed for carnage!
  • Gruesomely Stained In Blood Color!
  • An Entire Town Bathed In Pulsing Human Blood! Madmen Crazed For Carnage!
  • Brutal... Evil... Ghastly Beyond Belief!
  • The Most Diabolical Device Ever Contrived... Designed Solely for Carnage by a Town of Madmen Crazed with BLOOD LUST!

The Band:  Yes, they did change things around a bit with the name, but it’s still pretty obvious where they got it from. This group is called alt-rock, but seeing as they formed way back in 1981, I think they’re getting a little long in the tooth for that particular designation.

They’re probably best known for their lead singer, Natalie Merchant. She actually ditched them for a solo career in 1993. The band, though, still plays on.

#4  My Bloody Valentine

The Movie:  A typical slasher flick with lots of gore, a crazed killer escaped from the local loony bin, and naughty teens getting punished … and  that just so happens to have been made in Canada. This one is actually one of the goriest films ever made, with an X rating, tons of trouble with censors, and an uncut version that still hasn’t seen the light of day. Though it’s a cult favorite, made $6,000,000 (in 1981), and is Quentin Tarantino’s favorite slasher movie, it garners a critic rating of only 4.7 on IMDb. In other words, it’s a B.

The Band:  MBV was an alt-rock band from Ireland that was formed all the way back in 1983 (can that be?). They broke up in 1997, but gained enormous critical attention (esp. for their album Loveless) in the time they were together. The band has been cited as an influence by The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Trent Reznor, and even U2. They were arguably the first shoegazer band, with an interesting “integration of discordant noise with ethereal melody” (Wikipedia). Interestingly, they had two women in the four-person band.

#3  Wu-Tang Clan

The Movie: I’m not that knowledgeable about kung fu flicks, so I’ll let IMDb handle this one:

An intriguing variation on the Shaolin theme, starting with the familiar account of the burning of Shaolin Temple and the repression of Shaolin kung fu by the Manchurian-backed Qing rulers. Here the focus is on a former Shaolin man, Marshal Kao (Ti Lung), who takes his former classmates prisoner and, instead of executing them, proposes to his Qing commander that he torture them and break their spirits until they're willing to fight on behalf of the Qings. The ‘torture' comes to look increasingly like strenuous kung fu training with Kao putting the prisoners through their paces. The Qing governor (Michael Chan Wai Man) and his aides become suspicious of Kao's motives, although the beautiful Princess Shao Lung (Shih Szu) develops her own ideas about him. Interspersed within the story are flashbacks to Kao's training at Shaolin.

I’m also pretty sure there’s no shortage of poor dubbing, crazy plots, 10-minute fight scenes, overacting, and all that other good kung fu stuff.

The Band:  I know even less about hip-hop, but I do understand that these guys are pretty influential. They formed in NYC in the early 1990s. Members over the years have included:

  • Raekwon
  • RZA
  • GZA
  • Cappadonna
  • Method Man
  • U-God
  • Inspectah Deck
  • Masta Killah
  • Ghostface Killah
  • Ol’ Dirty Bastard

#2  Question Mark and the Mysterians

The Movie:  Man, I gotta watch this one! We’ve got space aliens, bad dubbing, flying saucers, giant robots doing their best Godzilla impressions … The wonderful taglines say it all:

  • Space monsters invade the Earth!
  • Join humankind's most treacherous battle for survival!
  • From behind the moon they invade the Earth! Abduct its women! Level its cities!
  • The greatest science-fiction picture ever conceived by the mind of man!

The Band:  Something of a 1-hit wonder (“96 Steps”), this garage band from Michigan was active in the 60s. Their lead singer, Rudy Martinez (they were all Latinos, originally from Texas), actually changed his name to “?”. tells us how it all began:

Saginaw, Michigan, 1962... an out-of-work bass player sits at home, watching a three year old Japanese sci-fi movie on television. It's about invaders who try to take over Earth after their own planet has been destroyed. The title of the movie is The Mysterians. And thus a band was born in the mind of Larry Borjas.

#1  Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman

The Movie:  This one was actually compiled from a 12-film serial called King of the Rocket Men. Here’s how IMDb describes it:

Young member of scientific group uses new rocket-powered flying suit to thwart shadowy saboteur known only as "Dr. Vulcan".

It features such leading lights as Tristram Coffin, Dale Van Sickel, House Peters Jr., and I. Stanford Jolly.

NOTE: There is no Commander Cody in the movie. It’s simply called The Lost Planet Airmen.

The Band:  Another Michigan band from the 60s, these guys were also something of a 1-hit wonder as well (a cover of the 50s song “Hot Rod Lincoln”). They had considerable staying power, though, cutting 21 albums in one form of the band or other. Their music is best described as country rock, though more on the loud, raucous, honky-tonk side than something light and laid-back like the Eagles or Poco. They were also a big jam band.

By the way, Commander Cody was actually George Frayne IV. An artist, he would later teach at Michigan (he has work in The Museum of Modern Art, in New York). Another member of the band, John Tichy, would get his PhD in engineering, and is now the head of the department at Rensselaer. Interesting guys.

Honorable Mention
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees (from Vincent Price vehicle Cry of the Banshee)
  • Mudhoney (a Russ Meyer flick)
  • Motorpyscho (another Russ Meyer flick)
  • White Zombie (starring Bela Lugosi)
  • Faster Pussycat (from the Russ Meyer film Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
  • Phantom Planet (Richard Kiel's - Jaws - first movie credit)