Naming Punk Bands

Andrew Nogay

Web Content Contributor

 

WP_20150213_15_27_21_ProIt’s impossible to make a comprehensive list of all the ways the thousands of rock bands throughout the decades have named themselves. However, there are three ways that seem to be more common than most. The first is naming the band “The _______” (Beatles, National, Smiths, Doors, ect.), with the 2nd word usually having some sort of meaning behind it. The second is naming the band after the lead performer, without whom there wouldn’t be a band, such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Elton John or Beck. The third is naming the band after a work of another band, such as Radiohead being named after a Talking Heads’ song. This is not comprehensive of course, but a good portion of bands follow one of those formulas.

Hardcore punk didn’t really follow those formulas, though. They didn’t follow much of anything really. They just took the remnants of what came before it, stripped it down, and made it faster, louder and angrier. From the music, a fascinating subculture emerged. This subculture had a set of ideals and styles that set it apart from the rest of popular music at the time. The names of the bands weren’t exceptions to this. Hardcore punk band names were especially important, as they are meant to be the face, the conscious and a summary of the bands. If the name referenced a social issue, chances were the band would talk about problems they saw with society. If a band had an aggressive name, chances are the music will be aggressive.

The funny thing about the naming of the bands is that a definite formula formed. Some of the best hardcore punk bands, some of the most influential bands of the time period, followed this formula. This would be: have an adjective, follow it with a noun and have one of those words sound aggressive. It’s almost as if these bands put certain words in a random name generator.

Of course, there are some great names among them without a doubt. Not many genres create as many head-turning titles as hardcore punk. One question remains though: which had the most original, thoughtful or bad-ass name? This can only mean one thing: a comprehensive breakdown, in order to find of which is the best name. In other words, a countdown. That’s right. A countdown.

15. Bad Religion

Bad Religion is a strong name. It definitely offends certain people, but they actually do have a point to make about religion. After all, you can’t really name yourself Bad Religion and not have anything to say about religion. They also happen to be one of the most commercial successful band on this list and are still doing their thing, so props to Bad Religion.

14. Social Distortion

Social Distortion started off as a hardcore band, eventually mellowing their sound to garner legitimate hits. Their name can sound either destructive or smooth under different contexts, much like their music. It rolls off the tongue well, but taken strictly as what it is, it has a hard meaning behind it. A distorted society is something terrifying if it’s along the lines of Brazil, Mad Max or another post-apocalyptic world. Also the case could be made that Social Distortion considered themselves and punk in general as the distortion to normal society, and that’s how the name came about. Either way, it’s a cool name.

13. Verbal Abuse

I’d like to think that Verbal Abuse named themselves that because that’s what some people (not me, of course) would consider their music to be, rather than about actually verbally abusing people, which can be a little depressing. Bullying is bad, m’kay.

12. Bad Brains

Bad Brains have one of the most interesting stories in hardcore punk, and they might be the most talented actual musicians the genre ever produced. They actually named themselves after The Ramones’ song “Bad Brain“, but it could also be seen as reflecting the public’s image of punk, that it destroyed youth, rotted their brains, and was low art. After all, Bad Brains were no strangers to self-reference in their music. Their song “Banned in D.C.” is about, well them not being allowed to play any shows in their native city, and that turned out to be one of their most well-known songs.

11. Minor Threat

If this were a countdown of the best hardcore punk bands based off their actual music, Minor Threat would be way closer to the top. They never released a bad song, and I mean how many bands of any sort can claim to have started a social movement? Anyways, about their name: it’s good. There’s a great dichotomy between the two words, and the name itself funnels into the history and philosophy of the band as a whole. Minor Threat was a small time band when they were around, but made waves afterwards and proved to be one of the most influential punk bands ever. It also plays on the fact that they were actually under 21 when they started, but still went out, spoke their mind and eventually became a force. This is perhaps the most meta name on this list.

10. Urban Waste

Unfortunately, that youtube clip is literally the only piece of music this New York City band ever released. However, it left a huge legacy. In the mid-80’s a few of this band’s albums were thrown down a gutter, and turned toxic. The resulting urban waste turned people into sewer mutants, which is of course what the award-winning documentary C.H.U.D was about. Why anyone would throw away their (only) record is beyond me.

9. Big Black

This is technically cheating a bit since Big Black were more of a post-hardcore band, as they put in a lot of different musical influences in their sound, like indie and noise rock. But their roots can be traced to hardcore punk, and they did make some of the most abrasive, nihilistic music ever released. Their name itself brings up images of…well it doesn’t. It’s not a complete name, and that’s probably the point. In Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, frontman Steve Albini describes the name as a “sort of a reduction of the concept of a large, scary, ominous figure. All the historical images of fear and all the things that kids are afraid of are all big and black, basically.” The absence of specificity is what makes the name.

8. Saccharine Trust

They’re a good band and all, but for this list they’re most notable for being the only band that I had to look up what a word in their name meant. Saccharine apparently means “too sweet or sentimental; sweet or sentimental in a way that does not seem sincere or genuine”. I can definitely use that on an essay sometime.

7. Agent Orange

This is one the few bands on this list whose name is based on something in real life, not just a random combination of adjective and noun. Agent Orange is a great name, it brings up thoughts of war, death and American failure. That’s pretty heavy stuff, but at least somebody is talking about it.

6. Circle Jerks

This band’s name is also based on a real thing. I wouldn’t google it though. The word circle by itself is fine. The word jerks, well it isn’t the most offensive insult around. Put together? It’s very not safe for work. Their name alone probably cultivated punk humor as much as just about anything else. It’s really a beautiful thing about punk; that you can name your band whatever you want, and not only will it not offend your fans, it’ll probably cause you to become more notable. It’s too bad not everything can work that way.

5. Negative Approach

The name alone has a ferocity that few band’s music can match; this band’s music can though. Phonetically, it’s a powerful phrase, but literally it doesn’t necessarily send the best message. But that’s okay. Punk is what it is because it allows for the exploration of the worst of people.

4. Agnostic Front

This is a powerful name, but who knows what it means put together. How can a front be skeptical of the existence of god? What kind of front are we talking about here? Like a military front? Maybe it’s about how everybody on the Western front in World War 1 became agnostic after experiencing the horrors of war. I don’t know, I’m grasping at straws here.

3. Suicidal Tendencies

This name is just about the darkest name on this list. It definitely leaves an impression. Also, a good portion of their songs deal with suicide, it’s not just an edgy title. On their first album, the first song is called “Suicide’s an Alternative” and the last song is called “Suicidal Failure”. Yikes.

2. Black Flag

Since a white flag means surrender, then a black flag would mean the opposite. That is actually a great summary of the punk ethos. To not surrender to what society wants, to live the way you want, to have your own definition of ethics is a version of what punk means, and Black Flag embodied that as much as any of these bands. They also were one of the first punk bands to give the middle-finger to what became a predatory punk mindset by the mid-’80s, abandoning their popular hardcore style to adopt a slower, murkier sound, providing a huge influence on the grunge bands of the next decade. They didn’t care what their own sub-culture thought, and elected to not be confined by it. That’s about as punk as it gets.

A Black Flag T-shirt
Ugh, so punk. Almost too punk. Photo credit to Andrew Nogay.

1. Dead Kennedys

This is it. The quintessential hardcore punk band name. It’s offensive, visceral, politically-charged and unique. The Dead Kennedys made some of the most interesting politically-influenced music this side of Bob Dylan, and they weren’t afraid to speak their mind about their beliefs. They protested Ronald Reagan more than any other hardcore band (with the exception of Reagan Youth) and were preeminent satirists of the day, comparable to artists of any other medium. Like many of the bands on this list, their name is representative of what the band is about, but it did more than that. Even if the name doesn’t define what hardcore punk is, their music did. The name serves as a great preamble.

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