Week of April 4, 2021

Classically Named


While John Lennon certainly had a role in choosing the Beatles’ band name, the record is rather inconsistent about other aspects of this choice. In early 1960, the band, then known as the “Quarry Men,” were playing a lot of Buddy Holly’s Crickets songs, and the alternative insect name idea took shape. During that year, the band played as the Silver Beetles, Silver Beats, the Silver Beatles, and finally, in August 1960, just the Beatles. Band members fielded the name origin question many times, and were sometimes facetious or evasive in answering. However, John answered it this way for the 1968 Beatles authorized biography: “I was sitting at home one day just thinking about what good name the Crickets would be for an English group. The idea of beetles came into my head. I decided to spell it BEATles to make it look like beat music, just as a joke.” Beatle historian Bill Harry credits early band member Stuart Sutcliffe with the insect name, but John with the ultimate “ea” spelling. However, John twice described a wholly different inspiration: “Well, I had a vision when I was twelve. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are the Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.” While this seems playful, Paul McCartney said in one interview that Yoko Ono believed that John had such a vision and hence deserved full credit for the name. George Harrison and others close to the band have suggested that the 1953 Marlon Brando film “The Wild One” inspired the name, since “The Beetles” was a motorcycle gang in the movie. However, band historian Bill Harry refutes this, pointing out this movie was banned in England until long after the Beatles were named, so the band members could have at most heard about the movie, but not actually seen it yet.


The Rolling Stones were named for the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone.” When early band member Brian Jones was called by Jazz News magazine and asked the name of his band, he looked down at Muddy’s album on the floor and saw that song title.


After some musicians which included two future Led Zeppelin members played a great session together, they pondered forming a band and discussed possible names. Among them was The Who drummer Keith Moon, who said: “We can call it Led Zeppelin, because it can only go down, like a lead balloon.” Keith did not join the later band, but Jimmy Page loved his idea.


Despite mistaken religious zealots declaring that it stands for “Antichrist//Devil’s Children” and others asserting a reference to bisexuality, the inspiration for AC/DC’s name is an everyday electrical term. The Alternating Current / Direct Current label means that a particular device can run on either type of electrical current. The founding Young brothers saw this on a vacuum cleaner and listed it under cool band names, thinking it reflective of the band’s high energy.


ZZ Top founder Billy Gibbons once stayed in an apartment which had a lobby pasted with upcoming concert flyers. He noticed many of the bands and artists had two initials, such as O.V. Wright, D.C. Bender, B.B. King, and Z.Z. Hill. He liked the “ZZ” combo and considered ZZ King, but deduced that since a king was on top, he would go with ZZ Top.


Lynyrd Skynyrd founding members took their name from Leonard Skinner, their Jacksonville, Florida high school PE teacher who was famously intolerant of long hair on his students.


The Doors took their name from a book title, which itself came from a poem. The title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” was taken from a William Blake poem containing the line “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man is it is: Infinite.”