Making the Brand: The 40 Greatest Band Names of All Time
Our nerd cabal separates the Whos from the Hoobastanks
Why It’s Great: X is the most visually striking letter in the alphabet, and maybe the letter most heavily freighted with meaning too. In addition to the Jesus-y connotations, X stands for obliteration and denial. It marks the spot and represents the unknown. Also, it’s probably the second-least-utilized first letter of a band name (after Q), ensuring that you’ll stand out in the record bins. (VA, P, JNSQ) K.H.
Why It’s Great: It turned out to be the perfect evocation of the band’s work: not just a forbidding artifact of the counterculture, but an intoxicating, erotically charged one. The name promised a luxurious destination, but one that you’d have to dig through a rocky mantle to find. And its language subsequently turned up in hundreds of other artist’s names, from Digital Underground to Velvet Revolver. (P, I, T, JNSQ) D.W.
Why It’s Great: What’s the most elemental compound of pop or rock’n’roll? Sex. And how many great band names include that word? With apologies to Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Tupelo Chain Sex, and Sex Clark Five, only one. Paired with the pop-savvy Situationist rhetoric and ransom-note graphics of McLaren and artist Jamie Reid — which gave Johnny Rotten a fiery S&M playpen to inhabit — the Sex Pistols expertly promoted the image of dole rejects in bondage pants threatening random, vaguely political acts of mayhem. Which was subversively potent enough in the mid-’70s. Plus, how could you not laugh? As Lydon said, in a vintage, no-duh remark: “I liked that name very much. I thought it was hilarious….I thought it was perfect to offend old ladies.” Punk, in a word. (T, P, I, JNSQ) CHARLES AARON
Why It’s Great: We could try to sound all smarty-pants and talk about how it juxtaposes beauty and horror, how its sociopolitical implications played beautifully during the early-’80s rise of England’s Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher — but really it’s just one of the most metal names ever. Its brutal origins dovetail nicely with the band’s early gritty material, especially its eponymous song, which bears the promise that “Iron Maiden’s gonna get you…” Yowch! (I, WP, P, JNSQ) K.G.
Why It’s Great: Like babydoll dresses paired with combat boots or lipstick repurposed as a magic marker, Bikini Kill blends the explicitly feminine with the expressly violent (there’s even a twinge of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by eternal band-name muse Russ Meyer). Both words are ear-catching on their own, but their seemingly illogical juxtaposition — and the name’s harsh repeated K sound — is meaningfully uncomfortable: a call to action, a rallying cry, a kick in the ass. (T, P, I, JNSQ) C.G.