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1980s Band Names Demystified

By on 20 February 2014 | comments 2

HAVE you been wasting precious hours of your day wondering where A Flock of Seagulls got their name?  Well, wonder no more.  Before your very eyes are the etymologies of 1980s pop-synth and post-punk bands, illuminated for posterity.  No more shall mankind contemplate the origin of Kajagoogoo.  Mystery solved.

 

Boomtown Rats

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Named after a gang of children that Geldof had read about in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory.

 

 

The Buggles

Trevor Horn imagined a futuristic computer creating a synthetic band “The Buggles”, a corruption of The Beatles

 

Record producer Trevor Horn poses in the Quadrangle of Buckingham Palace, London after being presented with a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by the Prince of Wales. Picture date: Wednesday May 11 2011.

Record producer Trevor Horn poses in the Quadrangle of Buckingham Palace, London after being presented with a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by the Prince of Wales. Picture date: Wednesday May 11 2011.

 

 

 

Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Dexedrine, a brand of dextroamphetamine – the original ADHD medication, and a once popular recreational stimulant.

Any excuse to hear this. (Cue the school disco frenzy.)

 

 

 

Duran Duran

durand-rex

 

Named after the villain in Barbarella, Dr. Durand Durand

 

Fine Young Cannibals

 

From the 1960 film All the Fine Young Cannibals starring Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood.

In a Nov. 25, 1959 file photo, Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner are made up for their roles in "All The Fine Young Cannibals," in Los Angeles. Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which Wood was aboard at the time of her death, said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood's mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress' husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California.

In a Nov. 25, 1959 file photo, Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner are made up for their roles in “All The Fine Young Cannibals,” in Los Angeles. Dennis Davern, captain of the yacht Splendour, which Wood was aboard at the time of her death, said on national TV Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 that he lied to investigators about Natalie Wood’s mysterious death 30 years ago and blames the actress’ husband at the time, Robert Wagner, for her drowning in the ocean off Southern California.

 

 

 

A Flock of Seagulls

 

Taken from the lyrics to “Toiler on the Sea” by The Stranglers

We ventured overland
Fought with the aliens
The young ones used their hands
Pointed the way to a flock
A flock of seagulls!

 

 

 

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Holly Johnson (left) leads the group on to a train bound for Liverpool at London's Euston Station. 01/07/04: Twenty years ago Thursday July 1, 2004, the band were at the top of the UK charts with Two Tribes. Frankie Goes to Hollywood spent 15 weeks at the top of the UK charts in 1984, with three songs - Relax, Two Tribes and the Power of Love.

Lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Holly Johnson (left) leads the group on to a train bound for Liverpool at London’s Euston Station. 01/07/04: Twenty years ago Thursday July 1, 2004, the band were at the top of the UK charts with Two Tribes. Frankie Goes to Hollywood spent 15 weeks at the top of the UK charts in 1984, with three songs – Relax, Two Tribes and the Power of Love.

 

A random headline from the New Yorker magazine (the “Frankie” in question referred to Frank Sinatra)

 

 

 

Heaven 17

Burgess in 1973

Burgess in 1973

 

A fictional band mentioned in Anthony Burgess’s novel, A Clockwork Orange.

 

 

 

Hüsker Dü

husker du

Named after the board game.  The heavy metal umlauts were added for effect.

 

 

INXS

Inspired by the band XTC and Australian jam makers IXL, they decided on a foreshortened version of “inaccessible”.

 

 

 

Jesus and Mary Chain

Allegedly from a breakfast cereal package which advertised that you could send off for a free Jesus and Mary chain.

Screen shot 2014-02-20 at 09.52.10

 

 

 

Kajagoogoo

A slight variation on a baby’s first sounds: gaga googoo

 

 

 

Level 42

42 as in the answer to the meaning of life in the Douglas Adams book The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy

 

 

 

Love and Rockets

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After the Jaime and Mario Hernandez alternative comic books

 

LR-376

 

 

Madness

Madness with their first full length feature film, "Take It or Leave It", described as a documentary with music. The film features band members (pictured not in order), Bedders, Chas, Chrissy Boy, Lee, Mike, Suggs and Woody as themselves. Other parts are in the hands of actors. Take It or Leave It is titled after a track from the band's top twenty album.

Madness with their first full length feature film, “Take It or Leave It”, described as a documentary with music. The film features band members (pictured not in order), Bedders, Chas, Chrissy Boy, Lee, Mike, Suggs and Woody as themselves. Other parts are in the hands of actors. Take It or Leave It is titled after a track from the band’s top twenty album.

 

Homage to Madness a song by reggae artist Prince Buster.

 

Ready to the the Rude Boy dance that anyone could do (again, any excuse):

 

 

 

 

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

orchestral-manoeuvres-in-the-dark-pretending-to-see-the-future-live-version-1981-2

 

They wanted a name that in no way would confuse them as a punk band. I think they succeeded.

 

 

The Pretenders

 

Named after the Platters song The Great Pretender.

 

 

 

Public Image, Ltd.

 

the public image

 

After the Muriel Spark novel The Public Image

 

 

Scritti Politti

Gramsci_1922

 

A homage to the Italian Marxist writer and political theorist Antonio Gramsci. The correct spelling in Italian to refer to “Political Writings” would have produced “Scritti Politici, but was changed to sound like the Little Richard song Tutti Frutti.

 

 

Simple Minds

Jim Kerr, lead singer with rock group Simple Minds, arrives for his marriage to actress Patsy Kensit at Chelsea register office. Date: 03/01/1992

Jim Kerr, lead singer with rock group Simple Minds, arrives for his marriage to actress Patsy Kensit at Chelsea register office. Date: 03/01/1992

 

From the David Bowie song “The Jean Genie”

“Hes so simple minded he can’t drive his module,
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule”

 

 

 

Simply Red

The band’s name originally was “Red”, but when the singer had to repeatedly clarify their name as “Red, simply Red”, it seemed to stick.

 

 

Sonic Youth

A combination of the nickname of MC5′s Fred “Sonic” Smith with “Youth” from reggae artist Big Youth.

 

 

Spandau Ballet

Undated image of the changing of the guard at Spandau war criminals prison in Berlin, Germany in the post-war era.

Undated image of the changing of the guard at Spandau war criminals prison in Berlin, Germany in the post-war era.

 

The name refers to many hangings at Spandau Prison where the victims would twitch and jump (a macabre ballet) at the end of a rope.

 

 

 

Squeeze

 

squeeze

A facetious tribute to The Velvet Underground’s oft-derided 1973 album Squeeze.

 

 

Tears for Fears

 

Inspired by “primal therapy”, developed by American psychologist Arthur Janov, who had John Lennon as a patient in 1970.

 

 

Thompson Twins

Thompson_&_Thomson_WithOut_They_Hat.

 

From the Thompson and Thompson characters from The Adventures of TinTin

 

 

T’Pau

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Named after a Vulcan Elder on Star Trek

 

 

Wang Chung

Originally, Huang Chung which they claimed translated to “perfect pitch” and the sound a guitar makes.  The spelling was changed from “Huang” to “Wang” simply to make it easier to pronounce.

… and there you have it.  You’re welcome.

  • Cliff Walk

    Great post. “Come On Eileen” is a great song. I never saw the video. Thanks.

  • Keir Heath

    In fact it’s Thomson and Thompson in the Tintin canon