In episode 9, season 2 of MTV’s “Making the Band II,” a lot of the show’s time is devoted to coming up with a name for Puff Daddy’s hip-hop group. P Diddy has invested a considerable amount of money and resources into the six rappers. He speculates that the members’ inability to work together creatively and professionally is because they didn’t have a name yet. Diddy actually makes his musical apprentices brainstorm a list of 100 possible names and unanimously then agree on one. He clearly places much emphasis on the significance of a band’s name. One of the greatest literary minds of the 16th Century, however, contends that a name really isn’t that important because “a rose by any other… would still smell as sweet.” You may agree or disagree with him.
For the musicians interviewed in Allen Verbrugge and Jody Sowell’s documentary “Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome…,” a band’s name is basically just a means of identification. But, it’s always beneficial to have a nice one. What exactly constitutes a good name? Verbrugge and Sowell speak to a diverse sampling of bands from Cake to Strawberry Alarm Clock to Southern Culture on the Skids in an effort to find the answer. Most of the musicians as well as Mark Bliesener, consultant and founder of bandguru.com, believe that a band’s name should be short and catchy, something easy to remember.
Dean Roland, author of Rock`n Roll Call: The History and Mystery Behind Rock Names, argues that a band’s name has economic significance. For instance, when you go into a record store and browse the new releases, it’s quite possible that you won’t recognize some of the artists. If you thought these singers had a cool name, or one that at least sparked your interest, you’d probably give them a listen and buy their cd. The record companies hope you’ll evaluate a band by its name and then pull out the wallet.
In addition to remarks on why a band’s name is and is not a big deal, the musicians also recount how their names came into being. For example, Rob Wilson of the Gin Blossoms explains that their name came from a picture of comedian W.C. Fields with a swollen nose. The caption read something like “W.C. Fields with gin blossoms.” The band members loved the way “gin blossoms” sounded and chose it. Neal Doughty of REO Speedwagon also tells the story about their name. Apparently, Neal was once an engineering student. One day when he walked into his History of Transportation class, the words “REO Speedwagon” were on the board. Neal explains in the documentary that an REO Speedwagon was an early 20th Century truck that could carry a fairly heavy load. Neal knew it was a good name.
The documentary begins with interviews of singers whose names probably don’t ring any bells. Asleep at the Wheel, The Band that Saved the World, I Am the World Trade Center, Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start, and Impotent Sea Snakes are a few examples of the names that would incline you to think you’re watching a mockumentary. As soon as Rob Wilson of Gin Blossoms appears on screen, though, you’ll know that “Ladies and Gentlemen” is the real thing. The audio doesn’t always stay at an optimum volume level, but you’ll forgive the filmmakers for the technical inconsistencies. When the musicians are finished telling you the story behind their names, you’ll understand why P Diddy was adamant that his hip-hoppers come up with such a long list. Maybe Shakespeare was having a long day when he worked on Romeo and Juliet. There’s more to a name than just letters.
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