A Hawaiian punk rock band active between 1985 and 1991 (guitarist and vocalist Vince Hahn died in 1997), they named themselves after Prince Adam’s talking panther from the He-Man cartoon and action figure line. I would have gone with Beast-Man myself — or even Snake Mountain, now that I think about it — but that’s probably why I’m not in a punk rock band. Among other reasons.
Many a child of the ’80s remembers Devo as the New Wave band with the crazy plastic hats and a catchy little ditty titled “Whip It” (their biggest hit, reaching No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1980), but the band first got together way back in 1972. The name is a shortened form of “devolution,” an idea bandied about by Devo founders Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis during their college days; they saw humanity as beginning the process of devolving as a species, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of modern American society. Oddly enough, a Wonder Woman story from the 1940s partly inspired their thinking: as Casale said in 1978, “Devolution was a combination of a Wonder Woman comic book and the movie lsland of Lost Souls... That was various things I’d been thinking about devolution, of going ahead to go back, things falling apart, entropy.” It’s almost certain he was referring to a Wonder Woman story that first appeared in 1948 (and reprinted in an issue of DC’s Adventure Comics in early 1972), in which a scientist demonstrates a devolution device.
3. Fall Out Boy
Picking the right name for a band can be a grueling task, often taking weeks, if not years, to find the perfect one… or you can just do what Fall Out Boy did and snap up whatever the hell your audience yells at you. First formed in 2001, the band went nameless for its first two shows before asking the audience at the end of their second show to yell out suggestions for a name. One audience member (for reasons lost to the mists of time) shouted “Fallout Boy,” a reference to Radioactive Man’s sidekick in The Simpsons. The rest, as they say, is history.
4. Foo Fighters
Seattle’s Foo Fighters was founded by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl in 1994 following the death of Kurt Cobain. If you rely on Wikipedia for all your informational needs, then you know the group named itself after “the UFOs and various aerial phenomena that were reported by Allied aircraft pilots in World War II, which were known collectively as foo fighters.” But what you might not know is that those WWII aircraft pilots got the phrase “foo fighters” from Smokey Stover, a comic strip by Bill Holman that ran in American newspapers from 1935 to 1973. As I noted in a previous list, Stover was a “foolish foo (fire) fighter” who would ride around in his two-wheeled “foomobile” across a wacky landscape filled with out-of-the-blue sight gags and other bits of screwball looniness.
5. Herman’s Hermits
Herman’s Hermits was one of the many pop bands that followed the Beatles out of Great Britain during the early ’60s; one of their biggest hits was a cover of “I’m Into Something Good” (a song I first encountered when it was featured in the first of the Naked Gun movies; I’m nothing if not a Renaissance man). The band was known as The Heartbeats when lead vocalist Peter Noone joined it; various reports say it was guitarist Karl Green who noted the resemblance between Noone and Sherman, the bespectacled boy from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show who accompanied Mr. Peabody on his time-travel adventures. Trouble was, the band members couldn’t agree on what the character’s name actually was, and so Noone became known as Herman instead. They renamed the band “Herman and the Hermits” (in the style of many bands at the time that were named “[Lead Singer’s Name] and the [Nonsensical Plural Noun]”), later shortening it to Herman’s Hermits.
6. King Missile
Experimental rock, avant-garde jazz, anti-folk, neo-psychedelia, dark ambient… all these phrases and more have been used to describe the music of King Missile, a New York City band that’s been around in various forms since 1986. But all you need to know about them is their biggest hit was 1992’s “Detachable Penis” — which frankly sounds like the world’s worst superpower to me (misplacing my keys is stressful enough). Various Internet sources say the band named itself after a popular Japanese comic book character, but I’ll be damned if I can find any reference to any comic character with that name. If someone can point me in the right direction, I’d appreciate it.
7. Love and Rockets
The source for this band’s name, on the other hand, is very easy to track down. An English alt-rock band formed in 1985 by former Bauhaus members Daniel Ash, David J (born David John Haskins) and Kevin Haskins, Love and Rockets named itself after the independent comic series of the same name by Latin-American brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. The first issue of the comic debuted in 1982, but many fans of the band assume the comic got its name from the band, instead of the other way around. Just to make things more confusing, Gilbert wrote “Love and Rockets X,” a nine-part story that appeared in the book between 1989-92 and starred a young garage band (with no apparent relation to the actual Love and Rockets band) that comes face to face with the gap between rich and poor in Los Angeles around the time of the 1992 Rodney King riots.
8. The Mekons
Quoth the Wikipedia, my only source of knowledge about 1970s British punk bands: “Formed in the late 1970s, they are one of the longest-running and most prolific of the first-wave British punk rock bands. Through the years, the band’s musical style has evolved, incorporating aspects of country music, folk music, alternative rock and even occasional experiments with dub.” They took their name from The Mekon, the evil Venusian who was the hero’s archenemy in the classic Dan Dare strip, which appeared in the weekly British Eagle comic during the 1950s and ’60s. Bio-engineered for super-intelligence, The Mekon (always with a “The,” thank you very much) has a swollen head to contain his massive brain and moves around on a levitating chair — which sounds like a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. Not sure why he’d choose to spend so much time being evil with an awesome levitating chair at his disposal, but to each their own.
When rock band Buffalo Springfield (of “For What It’s Worth” fame) broke up in 1968, some band members decided to start another band that would go on to become a pioneer in the country rock genre. They originally called themselves Pogo, after the lead character in a comic strip that was the epitome of American political satire during its run, but Pogo creator Walt Kelly understandably had a slight issue with someone else using his most famous creation’s name for their own commercial use. No problem; the band switched to Poco and, give or take a few line-up changes, has been cranking out tunes ever since.
10. The Smithereens
New Jersey’s The Smithereens formed in 1980 with members Pat DiNizio (vocals/guitar), Jim Babjak (guitar/vocals), Mike Mesaros (bass guitar/vocals) and Dennis Diken (drums/percussion). This lineup continued until 2006, when Mesaros left the band and Severo Jornacion took over on bass. Their name, evocative of the type of rock music their fans have come to expect over the years, comes from the line often yelled by the always excitable Yosemite Sam: “Varmint, I’m a-gonna blow you to smithereens!”
11. The Soup Dragons
Best known for their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free,” the Soup Dragons were a Scottish alternative rock band active during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their unusual name comes from Clangers, a 1970s British TV show starring a family of mouse-like creatures who live on a small blue planet and eat green soup supplied by the Soup Dragon. Look, people, I know most of you watched a show about little blue people who lived in mushrooms and had a 99:1 male-to-female ratio in their village, so let’s cool it with the snickering.
Several sources, including a 2006 book on this history of punk music, note the protopunk duo known as Suicide got their name from a Ghost Rider comic titled either Satan Suicide or Satan’s Suicide (depending on the source cited). The book was a favorite of band member Alan Vega, and when he mentioned the story title to bandmate Martin Rev as a potential band name, it was supposedly Rev who suggested shortening it to just Suicide. Trouble is, there are no 1970s Ghost Rider comic books with both “Satan” and “Suicide” in the title — “They Who Serve Satan” and “Shake Hands with Satan” are the closest I can find. Ah well. They say they were inspired by a comic book, so on the list they go.
13. The Teardrop Explodes
The June 1971 issue of Daredevil was the complete opposite of anything special, just another heroes-fight-each-other-before-tackling-the-bad-guy team-up tale that Marvel churned out with numbing regularity in those days. At one point in the story, the heroes end up in Central Park next to a strange alien ship that appears in the middle of Manhattan when… well, you can see what happens in the panels above. Fast forward to September 1978 and a first-floor flat in Liverpool. Paul Simpson, the flat’s occupant, found a copy of Daredevil #77 left behind by the previous tenant; one day while he, Dave Pickett, Mick Finkler and Julian Cope were discussing band names, Simpson was idly flicking through the comic when he saw the phrase “THE TEARDROP EXPLODES!” and suggested that as the name for their band. As Finkler later said: “It just looked right. It was the whole look of the frame with ‘The Teardrop Explodes’ that sold it to us really. The comic itself had no relevance to our choice of name, it was simply that phrase and the vaguely psychedelic look of the artwork which fitted in with our sixties obsession and desire for a name that was slightly left-field of everything else that was happening.”
14. Thin Lizzy
Of course, not every British band has to look stateside for comic-book inspiration. Thin Lizzy guitarist John Bell, a fan of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, bought a copy of The Dandy after seeing Eric Clapton reading a copy of its sister publication The Beano on the cover of the band’s 1966 album Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. When the time came to name his own band, Bell suggested Tin Lizzie, the name of a robot character from the comic (which was itself named after a common nickname for the Ford Model T car back in the 1920s). Bell also suggested they change Tin to Thin to play on the Irish accent’s propensity to drop the ‘h’ sound. Fellow founding bandmates Phil Lynott and Brian Downey thought the unusual name would create a talking point, and the name stuck.
15. Thompson Twins
I’m not ashamed to admit it: for the longest time, I thought the British New Wave band whose biggest hit was “Hold Me Now” was called this because there were two siblings in the band named Thompson. Turns out that’s not the case at all; in fact, the band’s name comes from Thomson and Thompson, a pair of identical-looking (yet not related) detectives from Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin. Why? Who knows? But it certainly makes for a better story than, “Well, his name is Thompson and my name is Thompson, and we’re, you know, twins.”