A Brief History of Celebrity-Inspired, Publicity-Courting Band Names

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We recently got a press release from Cassettes Won’t Listen (a.k.a. Jason Drake), proclaiming that he’d had to change the name of his album Kevin Spacey to Evinspacey after getting a cease-and-desist letter from the famously press-shy actor. As far as publicity stunts go, it was a pretty shameless one – but it worked, didn’t it? After all, here we are writing about it. Anyway, the whole thing got us thinking about other bands who’ve “borrowed” the names of celebrities and other prominent people for their music over the years, generally with the inevitable legal denouement. Here’s our selection of ten of the most amusing/offensive/potentially libelous such instances.

Dead Kennedys

Jello Biafra’s unparalleled ability to rub people the wrong way found its manifestation in everything from his song titles to his whiny voice, but his most enduringly controversial statement remains the name of his band. It started attracting attention pretty much as soon as the Dead Kennedys started playing gigs, and while it never got them sued, it ensured their enduring status as a thorn in the side of the West Coast establishment – it’s hard to think that they mightn’t have endured their notorious and ridiculous 1985 obscenity trial if they’d been called The Pretty Flowers or somesuch.

John Cougar Concentration Camp

Speaking of the West Coast, it’s hard to believe that John Cougar Mellencamp never took exception to this San Diego punk trio, although given their relative obscurity, it’s possible that he just never heard of them before they split in 1994. Like a couple of the other bands we’ll mention here, their name was the best thing about them – the music was pretty average punk-by-numbers, and if they hadn’t been called John Cougar Concentration Camp, they’d probably have been largely forgotten, which does show that a memorable name can pay off in spades. Still, given that they’ve recently reunited and are still playing gigs under their amusing but ultimately somewhat offensive name, we can’t help but wonder if the lawyers will end up getting involved sooner or later.

Hype Williams

Similarly, we’re also taking bets on how long one of our favorite new bands are going to be able to continue going under the name of the director responsible for pretty much every big budget hip-hop video ever made. Even we did a double-take when we first heard their music – wait, Hype Williams is making music now? And it sounds like this?

John Butler Fucks Kidz

If you’re mercifully unfamiliar with John Butler, he’s a dreadlocked Australian purveyor of dire hippie coastal lifestyle music. Some of his fellow countrymen took their hatred of his oeuvre to hilariously libelous lengths with this band name, which lasted for as long as it took for his lawyers to pen them a stern cease-and-desist letter.

REO Speedealer

A clever play on REO Speedwagon’s name, but clearly not one that the latter found particularly amusing, perhaps because REO Speedealer were prone to writing songs with names like “Pussy,” “Pig Fucker,” and “Double Clutchin’ Finger Fuckin’.” The inevitable note on legal letterhead followed, and REO Speedealer became plain old Speedealer.

Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head

As far as we know, Natalie Portman didn’t actually sue the really rather excellent Seattle five-piece Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, but after five years playing under the amusing moniker, they changed their name to Brite Futures in 2010. The band, who used to put Portman on the guestlist for all their shows, released a statement explaining that “it has recently come to our attention that our muse Ms. Portman is not so keen on us using her name in ours… so we feel it is time to move forward with a new name.”

Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin

Quirky band! Quirky name! Only problem: we hate quirky!

Gay for Johnny Depp

They really are gay, and they really do quite fancy a bit of Johnny Depp (sample lyric: “I want Johnny to suck my dick!”). Their namesake obviously doesn’t object to their appropriation of his name, as they’ve being using it for seven years, releasing three albums and three EPs along the way. Actually, the whole thing raises an interesting legal conundrum: can you sue someone for declaring loudly and repeatedly that they find you very, very sexually attractive?

Run DMT

One of the wittier band names of recent times, riffing on Run-DMC’s and also acknowledging their apparent love of relatively obscure high-octane psychedelics. The band has quite a way with puns (among other things, they released an album called Bong Voyage, which raised a few giggles in the Flavorpill office when we first heard about it), and their music is suitably tripped-out psychedelic weirdness. We’re not quite sure how Run-DMC are going to feel about the band lifting their logo, though.

Bono Must Die

This one was really just asking for trouble, wasn’t it?