Earliest non-literal and non-"The" band name?
March 18, 2007 12:49 PM   Subscribe

What was the earliest band with a name other than "The [Whatever]s" or a derivation of a person's actual name?

I can't think of any popular band from the 50's that wasn't something like "The Del Shannons" or "Buddy Holly and the Crickets."

And in the 60's, it was still pretty straightforward: The Beatles, The Beach Boys.

So what was the first band with a more oblique name, like say "Cream"?

Basically, I'm trying to think of the earliest band name that wasn't "The [Blank]s" or simply a person's name.

It's bugging me for some reason.
posted by Bud Dickman to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What about nicknames? Like, for instance "Leadbelly."
posted by nathancaswell at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2007

Then again, maybe solo artists don't count, even if they play with backup musicians.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:06 PM on March 18, 2007

I quick look through the billboard charts from the 40s on does indeed list Cream as the first in 1968. But that seems strange to me.
posted by visual mechanic at 1:09 PM on March 18, 2007

Freckleton Band was formed in the year 1886. I Googled "Earliest known band".
posted by nathancaswell at 1:11 PM on March 18, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I was thinking of band names. And I guess I'm pretty proud that Cream came to my mind even without the research :) Thanks!
posted by Bud Dickman at 1:12 PM on March 18, 2007

Bread was formed in 1968, with first single 1969. The Band was apparently named The Band around 1968. Cream is described as being formed in 1966. So I guess 1966 is the date to beat.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:16 PM on March 18, 2007

Scratch that -- the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and others are around in 1965.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:18 PM on March 18, 2007

Response by poster: Ah, yes. Jefferson Airplane. That's what I'm talkin' about.
posted by Bud Dickman at 1:23 PM on March 18, 2007

Didn't Pink Floyd start in 65 or 66 ? ...too lazy to check.
Also there was a band called Strawberry Alarm Clock ( Incense and Peppermints) around that same time frame.
posted by lobstah at 1:33 PM on March 18, 2007

But isn't Freckleton a town where the band played?

Actually may not be going back nearly far enough. One tricky problem is that before radio most bands were popular on a local/regional level, though. They weren't nationally known & so we probably haven't heard of them. But if you go back to early jazz (1895 to 1930 - especially in New Orleans), you'll find bands with names like "Black Pirates," "Bluegrass Foot Warmers," "Californiacs," "Casino Jazzers," "Chocolate Dandies," "Goofus Five," "Hottentots," "Jungle Kings," "Louisiana Five," "Marigold Entertainers," "Melody Kings," "Missourians," "Paradise Joy Boys," "Rhythmakers," "Saxo-Phiends," etc... and lots of bands with the word "Dixie" or "Original" in them. My understanding is that they said "The" before a band's name more often later on when there was more competition & people were trying to sell records. It also may have depended upon what region you were in. Kinda like how in L.A. everyone calls the freeways "The 5" and "The 101" but elsewhere everyone just calls them 5 & 101 & has no clue why anyone would say "the" beforehand.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:39 PM on March 18, 2007

I thought of another...Quicksilver Messanger Service 1965
posted by lobstah at 1:39 PM on March 18, 2007

a name other than "The [Whatever]s"

So The Beatles and The Pink Floyd Sound (their original name) are both out:

Basically, I'm trying to think of the earliest band name that wasn't "The [Blank]s" or simply a person's name.
posted by cortex at 1:41 PM on March 18, 2007

Them, 1964? Looking through a bunch here, but there's not a page for the 1950's.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:47 PM on March 18, 2007

1964: Them. (allmusic.com says 1963)
posted by nowonmai at 1:54 PM on March 18, 2007

Harlem Hamfats (band name not individual I believe) 1936
Our Lost Souls 1966
Mighty Clouds of Joy 1964
We Five 1965
posted by edgeways at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2007

You may want to look at this page about small territory big bands. I'm not sure any fit your criteria, but some might.
posted by ontic at 2:14 PM on March 18, 2007

(miss lynster, as a socal->norcal transplant, I think I've got the freeway name thing figured out: LA just has so many intersecting freeways with short names that you need the "the" to distinguish them. For example, try saying the phrase "5 to 10 to 210" without stumbling or sounding ambiguous.)
posted by contraption at 2:25 PM on March 18, 2007

I am pretty sure that Pink Floyd were originally "The Pink Floyd" and lost their definite article later on.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:31 PM on March 18, 2007

Here are some other candidates...

Canned Heat (1965)
Iron Butterfly (1966)
Buffalo Springfield (1966)
posted by amyms at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2007

We're seeing some definite clustering around 1965. According to Wiki, Love started as The Sons of Adam and were Love by the time they played their first show in 1965.
posted by abcde at 2:43 PM on March 18, 2007

Badfinger also formed in 1965.
posted by amyms at 2:44 PM on March 18, 2007

There seems to be a strong, strong correlation between 1st-wave prog-rock bands and the absence of the "The", although this could just be the effect of the late 60's no-The convention really taking hold by that point. I can't find any pre '66 on this page, but it's an interesting look at a lot of immediately Post No The Shift band names.

Related question - when did the The become popular again? Is it mainly The Strokes' fault?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:49 PM on March 18, 2007

Maybe the innovation you're looking for (more precisely than "a name other than "The [Whatever]s" or a "more oblique name") is the emergence of bands with a singular name without the article "the", like Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Cream, etc., as opposed to anything plural. It seems to me this idea popped up on the West Coast in 1965, particularly in San Francisco. "Them" precedes that scene, but it's a plural pronoun.
posted by beagle at 3:07 PM on March 18, 2007

These two probably aren't going to count, but I feel they're worthy on technicalities:

1) Howlin' Wolf. You could argue it was his name, but it doesn't really sound like one.

2) Modern Jazz Quartet. They were known by this name (with no "The") in the charts, etc, in the 1950s. They were borderline popular.
posted by wackybrit at 3:20 PM on March 18, 2007

I should add that any music database that has an advanced search which lets you search by album date (or, optimistically, band formation date) and exclude a word in the artist name should come up with a pretty thorough timeline of the development of this naming convention. AMG's doesn't.
posted by abcde at 5:07 PM on March 18, 2007

So far, the answer seems to be Them, which pleases me, because they were one of the best bands EVAR and don't get enough respect. Go listen to Them!
posted by languagehat at 5:16 PM on March 18, 2007

How about Peter, Paul & Mary? It is 2 of their real names, but just first names so I think at least on a technicality it slides by where full-name artists don't.

posted by jckll at 5:24 PM on March 18, 2007

Them's the winner! Yay Van Morrison!

Related question - when did the The become popular again? Is it mainly The Strokes' fault?

This is trickier to answer, I'd say, because one could always argue that "The" and name-derived band names never really went out of fashion. E.g. (The) Police, Prince and the Revolution, The Rollins Band, (The) Red Hot Chilipeppers, The The, etc.
posted by misozaki at 5:54 PM on March 18, 2007

Lothar and the Hand People, which formed in 1965, was named for a theremin, not a person.
posted by grateful at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2007

In older blues and folk you'll find a number of bands with possessive names: Connie McLean's Rhythm Boys, Cannon's Jug Stompers, Bullmoose Jackson & His Buffalo Bearcats, Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats, Nelstone's Hawaiians. (Several of those are from the Anthology of American Folk Music.)
posted by staggernation at 9:00 PM on March 18, 2007

Misozaki - I don't know. I'd say the 90's were a fairly "The" lite decade, after a tailing off into the 80's. Certainly when The Strokes hit big their name seemed self-consciously retro. Might just've been the bands I listened to, though.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:24 PM on March 18, 2007

Sure, Jon, I understand what you mean, and I thought your question was interesting in that regard. And, it's occurred to me that the bands I listed above off the top of my head are all pretty much pre-'90s. But still, bands like The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and The Stone Roses and The Verve and The Offspring were around in the '90s and popular (er, maybe not as much as the non-"The" big names, but still). So... harder to pin down, is what I'm sayin'.

To Bud Dickman: this was an interesting question!
posted by misozaki at 12:56 AM on March 19, 2007

'Hermans Hermits' is also 1964 - not quie in the same cred league as Them though !
posted by southof40 at 2:00 AM on March 19, 2007

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