In 1990, after R.E.M. released their classic album Green, Chicago rock’n’roll band Green released an EP called R.E.M. Confusing? We attempt to make sense of those tribute bands that aren’t tribute bands at all.
Ugly Kid Joe A band who took their commitment to tribute names so seriously that, not only did they name their band after another group, but they titled their debut EP after another band’s album too. Ugly Kid Joe was a response to the glam metal band Pretty Boy Floyd, who were busy soundtracking the death of the Sunset Strip sound in the (very) late ‘80s and early ‘90s with albums like Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz. While Ugly Kid Joe’s debut EP – As Ugly As They Want To Be – was a pun on 2Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Want To Be. Pleasingly, the band have kept to tradition: recent EP Stairway To Hell doesn’t need too much explanation.
Booker Table And The Maitre Ds As proof that one of the most influential musicians of all time was not above dreadful puns, John Lennon decided that the best way to show his appreciation for Booker T And The MGs was to name rechristen himself Dr Winston (Winston being his middle name) and call his band Booker Table And The Maitre Ds during the recording of Beef Jerky on his notoriously shambolic 1974 solo album Walls And Bridges. Perhaps the fact he was spectacularly out of his tree for much of the recording of the album explains this pun, however The Beatles themselves were named in tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and have since gone on to give rise to a number of their own tribute puns: The Rutles being the best musical response, but Gringo Star being very much the best name they have inspired.
John Cougar Concentration Camp It’s a reasonably awkward situation to find yourself in: when your band name is actually better than your music. That’s the position that San Diego punks John Cougar Concentration Camp were in when, after naming their band as play on the heartland rocker John Cougar Mellencamp’s name, they then had to actually release some music. Still, they squeezed out five albums between 1995 and 1999, including a track-for-track cover of The Ramones’ Too Tough To Die, and reformed in 2009 for another. Their name remains the best thing about them and places them in the grand cannon of punk bands nicking other band’s names and changing them a bit: see also The Celibate Rifles (Australia’s answer to the Sex Pistols) and Camper Van Beethoven (California’s answer to Ludwig).
Buckcherry If you ask Buckcherry, they will swear blind that their name came from a drag artist they knew who went by that moniker. But it’s not true. In fact, they were initially called Sparrow but a Christian record label of the same name intervened. Guitarist Keith Nelson was reading a book on Chuck Berry at the time and suggested spoonerising his name and stealing it: hence Chuck Berry became Buckcherry. It was an old rock ‘n’ roll trick that the old rock ‘n’ rollers were not above themselves: hence Chubby Checker’s name was derived from simply feeding Fats Domino through a metaphorical thesaurus and seeing what came out on the other side.
Def Leppard Arguably, if you are putting together a rock band, then swiping the name of one of the greatest rock bands of all time and rejigging it a bit is not necessarily the way to go. Still, it’s not gone too badly for Def Leppard, whose name was invented by singer Joe Elliot when he was writing rock reviews for imaginary bands in his English class. Inspired by Led Zeppelin, he summoned up Deaf Leopard – later reworking it to Def Leppard because the band were afraid the original was too punk.
Hayseed Dixie Though parody bands pun on artist names with metronomic regularity, it would be unfair to label Hayseed Dixie in that category. They might rework rock songs in the redneck style, translating riffs into duelling banjos, but theirs is too great a talent to lob them into the parody act bucket. Initially they were a hillbilly tribute to AC/DC however, known as AC/Dixie until the fun-loving chaps at Sony Music intervened, meaning Hayseed Dixie were born. It’s a trick much favoured in other genres, with reggae being a particular gold mine for punning band names, with Dread Zeppelin and Jah Division very much leading the way.
The Eagles Of Death Metal When a friend of Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme was giving the singer an education into death metal when he was a teenager, he played him the Polish band Vader. If this is death metal, snorted Homme, then Vader were The Eagles of the genre. Something stuck and when Homme formed a band in 1998 with another friend, Jesse Hughes, The Eagles Of Death Metal were born – despite not playing either death metal or turgid, multi-platinum radio rock. Axl Rose was not a fan: when the band opened for Guns N’ Roses in 2006, he turfed them off tour, calling them The Pigeons Of Shit Metal. Hughes delightedly printed up a subsequently best-selling range of t-shirts in response.
REO Speedealer Named after the soft rock titans REO Speedwagon, the shelflife of the band name REO Speedealer was always likely to last just long enough for the original band’s lawyers to see it and not much longer. In fact, REO Speedealer were delighted when REO Speedwagon got in touch by the medium of a cease and desist letter, happily losing the REO and becoming just Speedealer with a good deal of free publicity along the way. Quite how anyone might confuse the Motörhead-isms and Southern rock of Speedealer for Speedwagon’s nostalgia circuit slush, however, is harder to fathom.
Yeastie Girlz A feminist rap act from the notorious and politically charged Gilman Street punk scene in San Francisco, Yeastie Girlz did not last long enough to much rival the Beastie Boys, though their song titles were certainly eye-catching enough to get them noticed. They released one single – 1988’s Ovary Action – which contained 10 bullet-point songs, titled things like Sperm Brain and Fuck Yerself, but the band undoubtedly peaked with their contribution to Consolidated’s industrial-hop gem Play More Music, on the cunnilingual classic You Suck.
The Folk Implosion Despite featuring Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh fame, The Folk Implosion remained relatively obscure until their lo-fi indie was featured in the controversial film Kids and Natural One became an unlikely hit. Their name, however, was a play on the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion whose raw garage-punk soul they remained in stark contrast with.