And we’ll never be Royals

I figured for sure there would be an enormous amount of anniversary coverage this week of the day 20 years ago yesterday when Princess Diana of Wales died in a shocking 0auto accident in a Paris tunnel.

Consequently, I went ahead and started assembling a setlist of songs about Royals — kings, queens, princes, princesses.  A couple of my selections reference Lady Diana in particular, but most have more to do with the titles and the notion of royalty.  It’s kind of a loose, hodgepodge collection of music, but give it a chance.  Check out these songs on the Spotify playlist at the end of the column.  It’s just for fun.  And I think Diana would’ve liked that.

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“Diana,” Bryan Adams, 1984

heaven-12Adams wrote this tune with veteran Canadian songwriter Jim Vallence, and although the lyrics don’t mention Lady Diana or Prince Charles by name, there’s little doubt it’s about the royal couple (Adams even admitted it in interviews).  The narrator is infatuated with “Diana” and criticizes her choice of husband — “The day that he married you, I nearly lost my mind, Diana, whatcha doing with a guy like him… He may have lots of dough but I know he ain’t right for you… Diana, she is queen of all my dreams…”  Not surprisingly, Adams was worried that they might take offense, so he left it off his hugely popular album “Restless” that year, instead relegating it to the B-side of his hit single, “Heaven.”  He performed it often in concert for many years, but upon her death, he retired the song permanently.  (It’s not available on Spotify and hard to find elsewhere, so if you have a copy of the single, you might want to hang on to it…)

51OsZUkXreL“Candle in the Wind,” Elton John, 1973/1997

When Elton’s lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote the words to this classic in 1973, he was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and her tragic tale of fame gone wrong and the relentless hounding of her by the media.  Twenty-four years later, when Lady Diana died while being aggressively pursued by the paparazzi, the Taupin/John team took the extraordinary step of writing new words to the song as a tribute to their fallen friend.  The new version, which began with “Goodbye England’s rose” instead of “Goodbye, Norma Jean,” became a record-setting international hit and the best-selling song in UK chart and Billboard chart history, holding the #1 position in a dozen countries for many weeks following her death.

1200x630bb“Diana,” Paul Anka, 1957

One of most popular love songs of the late ’50s period, “Diana” was written by Anka about a girl he had a crush on but barely knew.  He pined for her but she was a couple years older and most likely unattainable, which gives the song its angst that resulted in sales of nearly nine million copies.  Lady Diana wasn’t even born yet, so the song clearly has nothing to do with her…unless you want it to when you sing it at a karaoke bar.

0001451877“Pretty Princess,” Loggins and Messina, 1976

Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina were a duo by accident.  Loggins was pegged as a solo artist, and Messina was to be his producer, but Messina contributed so much to the debut album’s tracks (guitar, vocals, and several songs) that they were persuaded to proceed for five years as a successful duo.  On their final of five well-received studio albums, “Native Sons,” there’s a fantastic tune written and sung by Messina called “Pretty Princess” that tells a romantic tale of a married woman who gives in to the temptation of another man’s advances for one smoldering night.

00b86fc50a63d3354d00eb8fdcb24a40“The King of Hearts,” Procol Harum, 1991

One of the great underrated British progressive bands of the ’60s and ’70s, Procol Harum reunited in the early ’90s with a strong LP called “The Prodigal Stranger,” led by veteran alums Gary Brooker on vocals and keyboards and Robin Trower on guitar.  It didn’t get much attention, but there are at least four tracks worth checking out, including Brooker’s regal-sounding “The King of Hearts,” which compares the jockeying for position that occurs in many relationships with the playing of cards in a poker game.

Tommyalbumcover“The Acid Queen,” The Who, 1969

The legendary rock opera “Tommy,” as most everyone knows, is the story of a boy who is struck deaf, dumb and blind after seeing his father murder his mother’s lover.  In one attempt to find a cure, Tommy’s parents take him to a gypsy, a self-proclaimed “Acid Queen” who feeds him LSD to unlock the boundaries of his mind.  Pete Townshend wrote and sang the track, which is often paired with the subsequent instrumental piece, “Underture,” which approximates an acid trip.  Soul music dynamo Tina Turner, belting her heart out, played the part of The Acid Queen in the “Tommy” film in 1975.

51UOa0TuGBL“I Used to Be a King,” Graham Nash, 1971

One of the great lost classics from the Crosby/Stills/Nash/Young catalog is this track from Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” solo debut.  Several of the songs on the LP deal with his breakup with lover Joni Mitchell after an 18-month relationship, which had been chronicled more happily in songs like CSNY’s “Our House” and Mitchell’s “Willy” (Nash’s middle name).  In “I Used to Be a King,” Nash talks somewhat resentfully about how he used to be treated like royalty, but he’s now steeling himself against future relationships going bad:  “Someone is gonna take my heart, but no one is gonna break my heart again…” 

51-killer-queen“Killer Queen,” Queen, 1974

“She keeps Moet and Chandon in a pretty cabinet, ‘Let them eat cake,’ she said, just like Marie Antoinette, a built-in remedy for Kruschev and Kennedy, at anytime an invitation you can’t decline, caviar and cigarettes, well versed in etiquette, she’s extraordinarily nice, she’s a killer queen…”  Freddie Mercury wrote this track as a combination of admiration and indictment of all the pampered femme fatales out there who tease and manipulate men and then leave them by the wayside.  It turned out to be Queen’s commercial breakthrough, reaching #2 in the UK and #12 in the US.

the-police-king-of-pain-am-3“King of Pain,” The Police, 1983

This superb track from The Police’s last and best album, “Synchronicity,” represents composer Sting coming to grips with the pain involved in the breakup of his marriage and the looming dissolution of the band.  He recalled seeing sunspot activity one afternoon and remarked to his wife, “There’s a little black spot on the sun today… That’s my soul up there…”  She responded by poking fun at his self-pity:  “There he goes again, the king of pain.”  Sting formed a wonderfully poignant song around that exchange, and it ended up #3 on the US charts, following “Every Breath You Take”s trajectory.

51XhouV8ESL“Mississippi Queen,” Mountain, 1970

One of the best of the earliest heavy metal singles, this hard rock classic reached #21 in the spring of 1970.  Drummer Corky Laing, guitarist/vocalist Leslie West and bassist Felix Pappalardi co-wrote most of the material on Mountain’s debut LP, “Mountain Climbing!”  This track featured a feisty Cajun lady — West claims she was a real person — known all over the region as the Mississippi Queen, who could teach a man a thing or two “if you know what I mean.”  During recording, so many takes were required to get it right that Laing started counting off the time with a cowbell, and it became an integral part of the track.

Greggallman-laidback“Queen of Hearts,” Gregg Allman, 1973

The Allman Brothers Band had endured two tragic deaths and still emerged in 1973 with a #1 album (“Brothers and Sisters”) and a #2 single (“Ramblin’ Man”).  Still, Gregg Allman was writing songs the other members rejected, so he went off on his own to produce a strong solo LP, “Laid Back.”  The highlight is “Queen of Hearts,” a smoky, bluesy, jazzy piece in which Allman, a notoriously unfaithful guy in his relationships, wistfully fights sadness and wasted time by devoting himself, however fleetingly, to his queen of hearts.

Beatles_-_Abbey_Road“Her Majesty,” The Beatles, 1969

A brief, tongue-in-cheek ditty Paul McCartney wrote as an affectionate nod to the Queen.  It’s hard to imagine now, but this song fragment was originally slated to be placed in the middle of the “Abbey Road” Side Two medley, between Lennon’s two tracks, “Mean Mister Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.”  It would have been a jarring distraction there, I think, and spoiled the momentum.  Indeed, at one point in the editing process, McCartney himself said, “Take it out, it’s just a piece of fluff, it doesn’t matter.”  Studio engineers had been told never to discard any Beatles tape, so the 30-second snippet was tacked on past the leader tape on the “Abbey Road” masters.  When McCartney listened to the playback and “Her Majesty” suddenly arrived 15 seconds after the album had ended, he said, “Perfect!  Leave it right there.  What a great P.S. to the fans!”

189114“God Save the Queen,” The Sex Pistols, 1977

Despite being banned by the BBC, The Sex Pistols’ scathing diatribe “God Save the Queen” was at the top of the UK charts at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee.  Co-songwriter Johnny Rotten dismissed those who saw the song as an attack on England:  “You don’t write ‘God Save the Queen” because you hate the English race.  You write it because you love them and you’re fed up with them being mistreated.”  The 1970s were particularly hard on Britain’s working class, which helped bring on the anger and outrage of the punk rock movement.  The song made almost no impact in the US, although the punk movement here embraced it, and Rolling Stone ranked it one of the “500 songs that shaped rock and roll.”

954b84731f57791712c2455d9fa56e39.1000x998x1“Dancing Queen,” ABBA, 1977

An ear worm if there ever was one.  The Swedish foursome enjoyed a number of hits in the US, the UK and elsewhere, but none bigger than this disco anthem that dominated the charts worldwide in the early months of 1977.   The lyrics describe a 17-year-old young and sweet dancing queen “having the time of your life” as she searches the discos for her fantasy dancing king.  It was the #1 song in 17 different countries, and you can still count on hearing it at weddings and karaoke bars today.

In_the_Court_of_the_Crimson_King_-_40th_Anniversary_Box_Set_-_Front_cover.jpeg“The Court of the Crimson King,” King Crimson, 1969

One of the recognized anthems of the progressive rock era, although not commercially popular, this 10-minute track from the album of the same name offers some arresting Robert Fripp guitar and a young Greg Lake handling lead vocals.  It crystalizes the regal, quasi-classical, quasi-haunting sound that other bands borrowed over the next several years (Rick Wakeman, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis).  It occurs to me that this piece would make a hell of a great soundtrack song for use in “Game of Thrones.” (Note:  The track included on the Spotify playlist is from a 2016 live LP without Lake on vocals.)

1828771“Kings,” Steely Dan, 1972

Every single track on Steely Dan’s debut LP, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” is fabulous, but one of my personal faves is this infectious little number with typically obtuse lyrics that are open to interpretation.  Some think the line “We’ve seen the last of Good King Richard” refers to Nixon, and “Raise up your glass to Good King John” is a toast to Kennedy, but Donald Fagen denies this, saying it’s just about how kings’ reigns typically didn’t last long, thanks to brutal wars and court skullduggery.

prince_and_the_new_power_generation-my_name_is_prince_s_9“My Name is Prince,” Prince, 1992

The man named Prince Rogers Nelson decreed in 1992 that he would henceforth be referred to as a unique symbol, a stylized combination of the astrology-inspired symbols for Mars/man and Venus/woman.  Still, he couldn’t help kicking off the new album with a single called “My Name is Prince,” just to make sure everyone was on board with his new identity.  The lyrics proudly touted his funky musical prowess, but also decried what happens to people once they reach the heights of fame:  “My name is Prince, I don’t want to be king, ’cause I’ve seen the top and it’s just a dream…”  

maxresdefault-1“Royals,” Megan Davies and Emily Hackett, 2013

You can listen to the hugely successful Lorde single as often as you want, but I still prefer the remake by these supremely talented, Nashville-based singers.  It shows far more savvy, more melody and more harmony than the original.  Their music video of “Royals” has registered more than 4.5 million hits on YouTube, making it one of the most popular covers of the past few years.  The song’s lyrics, by the way, aren’t really about British royalty; Lorde is referring to the superstar artists in the music business, who she disparages for living a rarefied, materialistic lifestyle.

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Honorable mention:

King Creole,” Elvis Presley, 1958; “Queen of All My Days,” American Flyer, 1976; “Sun King,” The Beatles, 1969; “Pearly Queen,” Traffic, 1968; “The King Must Die,” Elton John, 1970;  “Little Queen,” Heart, 1977; “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, 1992; “I’m a King Bee,” The Rolling Stones, 1964; “Queen and Country,” Jethro Tull, 1974; “I Had a King,” Joni Mitchell, 1968; “Princess,” Elton John, 1982; “Kings and Queens,” Aerosmith, 1977; “Little Queenie,” Chuck Berry, 1959; “King of Hollywood,” The Eagles, 1979.

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What was your name, little girl?

Two years ago, Hack’s Back Pages first addressed the intriguing topic of where bands’ names came from.

I examined the fascinating/amusing derivations of big names like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, Buffalo Springfield, Steely Dan, Jethro Tull, Grateful Dead and The Lovin’ Spoonful.

(You can see this essay if you click on the horizontal bars in the upper right corner of the home page, then click on July 2015 on the archives.  Look for “Pleased to meet you, won’t you guess my name.”)

It’s high time I revisited this topic, for there are so many other bands with interesting stories behind the names they picked for themselves.

Let’s take a look at 20 more groups from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and why they chose the names they did.

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Duran Duran

Fans of the late ’60s science fiction cult film “Barbarella” will instantly recognize Duran Duran as a derivation of the film’s character Dr. Durand-Durand, who invented the positronic ray, which could supposedly end humanity if it fell into the wrong hands.   When John Taylor and Nick Rhodes were first forming a group, they used to play in a popular London club called Barbarella’s.  Once they watched the movie, they agreed they should name their band after the key figure in the film.

Earth Wind & Fire

I don’t follow astrology much, but Chess Records session drummer Maurice White was a big devotee.  His first band, a Chicago-based group called The Salty Peppers, broke up in 1970, and he moved to L.A. to start over.  White’s astrological sign was Sagittarius, which apparently has the “primary element” of Earth and the “seasonal elements” of Air and Fire.  So when he established his new group, he settled on Earth, Wind (Air) & Fire, and the lyrics of many of the songs in EW&F’s catalog reflect his interest in the environment and world peace.

Badfinger

When the Beatles were writing and first recording “With a Little Help From My Friends,” its working title was “Bad Finger Boogie,” because Lennon had injured a forefinger and was playing piano with only one finger at the time.  When the time came to rename The Iveys, one of the first groups signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records label, Badfinger was suggested, based on that previous working song title.  (George Harrison later said he thought the band had been named after a stripper they had admired in Hamburg named Helga Fabdinger…)

The Kinks

The London-based group that started as the Bo-Weevils and the Ravens eventually became The Kinks, but there are conflicting views about that.  One version says the band liked the idea of a name that brought them “fame though outrage, something newsy and naughty, on the borderline of acceptability.”  Others said, “The way you look, the clothes you wear, you ought be called The Kinks.”  Either way, despite their half-dozen hits in the ’60s and early ’70s, they never came close to the success of their British peers, even though they lasted well into the ’90s.  Lots and lots of great music, though, for those who want to explore…

U2

In 1978, Steve Averill, a punk rocker with The Radiators and a friend of bass player Adam Clayton, offered up six suggestions for the name of the new group Clayton had formed with drummer Larry Mullen Jr., guitarist David “The Edge” Evans and Paul “Bono” Hewson.  The band members settled on U2 “because we disliked it the least of the six names offered,” said Clayton.  “It’s ambiguous and wide open to interpretation, which appealed to us.”

Grand Funk Railroad

Mark Farmer and Don Brewer spent time with a ’60s Michigan regional band called Terry Knight & the Pack, and Pack ended up managing Farner, Brewer and Mel Schacher in a new power trio in early 1969.  The Grand TRUNK Railroad Line, a subsidiary of a Canadian railroad that had been a crucial link since the late 1800s between Ontario and Chicago, ran right through Flint, where the group was based.  Pack thought, “Hey, how about you call yourselves Grand FUNK Railroad?”  They loved it, although it was eventually shortened to Grand Funk.

Supertramp

“The Autobiography of a Supertramp” was a well-regarded book by Welsh poet/writer W.H. Davies, who had lived a vagabond life in England, Canada and the U.S. in the late 1800s and wrote about his curious life.  Some fifty years later, a British progressive rock band that had been known as Daddy needed to make a change because of a similarly named group, Daddy Longlegs.  Composers Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies both liked the tattered but noble image of a “supertramp” from the book, and Supertramp they became.

Talking Heads

When TV news producers edit together the various clips they need to tell their on-air stories, they have a term they use to refer to ‘head-and-shoulders” shots of people talking but not doing anything:  “talking heads.”  Bass player Tina Weymouth recalls sitting around skimming through an article in TV Guide in 1976 that explored the TV producer’s job.  “I saw that ‘talking head’ basically means, ‘all content, no action,’ and we thought that described us perfectly.  It just fit, so we went with that.”

Simply Red

Lead singer and front man Mick Hucknall sported a head of long, unkempt red hair, which made him the undisputed visual focal point of his group.  Originally a Manchester punk band known as The Frantic Elevators, they disbanded in 1984, and Hucknall started anew with a fresh lineup, performing British soul music.  They adopted the name Red (Hucknall’s nickname, of course), but one night, when a club promoter asked them their name, Hucknall responded, “Red.  Simply Red.”  They were then promoted and announced on stage as “Simply Red.”  They liked the error and kept it.

KISS

In 1972, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were in a New York City-based band called Wicked Lester which was going nowhere.  They heard a club band called Lips whose drummer, Peter Criss, was also a pretty decent singer, so they recruited him for their as-yet-unnamed group, focusing on a harder rock sound.  Once lead guitarist Ace Frehley joined, they started experimenting with costumes and makeup for their stage act.  Criss said, “Hey, Lips was a pretty good name, but how about Kiss instead?”  They chose to use all capital letters, which prompted some to speculate that it was an acronym for devil worship (perhaps for Kids In Satan’s Service)…

Foreigner

In 1976 in New York City, three British musicians — guitarist/songwriter Mick Jones, multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and drummer Dennis Elliott — combined forces with three Americans — singer Lou Gramm, keyboardist Al Greenwood and bassist Ed Gagliardi.  They called themselves Trigger until they discovered another band with the same name.  Eventually, Jones came to the realization that “no matter what country we play in, we’re foreigners,” so the band adopted the name Foreigner.

R.E.M.

Four struggling musicians met in 1980 in Athens, Georgia, home to the University of Georgia.  Singer Michael Stipe met guitarist Peter Buck in a record store and discovered they shared an interest in punk and porto-punk artists like Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground.  They formed a band with two other UGA students but remained nameless until after their first gig, after which they kicked around repugnant names like “Cans of Piss” and “Negro Wives” before settling on R.E.M. (which stands for Rapid Eye Movement), a random phrase Stipe saw in the newspaper that particular day.

Three Dog Night

One day in 1968, singer Danny Hutton’s girlfriend was reading an article about the Australian outback, and how aborigines there would hunker down in a hole in the ground on cold nights, cuddling up with their dogs for warmth.  Most times, one dog, or maybe two, would be sufficient, but on rare occasions, they would suffer through a brutally cold evening, which was referred to as a “three-dog night.”  The pop group, which featured three lead vocalists, decided it was a great name for their lineup.

The Velvet Underground

Lou Reed and John Cale met in New York in 1964 and formed The Primitives, which evolved into The Warlocks, and then The Falling Spikes.  Around that time, Reed read the controversial counter-culture classic “The Velvet Underground,” by Michael Leigh, about the secret sexual subculture of the Sixties, and concluded it was exactly the name they needed for their fledgling band of societal misfits.

The Doobie Brothers

Nothing mysterious here:  This bar band from San Jose, California, played to some rough biker crowds who were partial to marijuana, and the band enjoyed it as well, so why not name themselves after the slang term for a cannabis cigarette?  It’s amusing to note that many otherwise conservative folks who enjoyed The Doobies’ music over the years didn’t realize what “doobie” meant…

Electric Light Orchestra

A “light orchestra,” popular in classical music circles in England in the ’60s, was a scaled down symphony orchestra, limited to as few as 10-12 instruments (mostly violins, cellos and woodwinds).  Roy Wood, leader of The Move, wanted to merge classical instruments with rock and roll, “picking up where The Beatles left off.”  New recruit Jeff Lynne, who shared Wood’s interest in the potential of a classical/rock merger, helped create an electrified “light orchestra” sound, ultimately realizing that that was the most appropriate name for the group (although it was often abbreviated as ELO).

Blue Öyster Cult

This Long Island heavy metal band was conceived as “the American version of Black Sabbath.”  Originally called “Soft White Underbelly,” the group’s manager Sandy Pearlman suggested a different name, a term from the brand of science-fiction poetry he had been writing.  The phrase described a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth’s history.  The umlaut (two dots) above the capital O was added “just because it was unusual.”  Years later, Pearlman said in an interview that he came up with the phrase “Blue Oyster Cult” as an anagram for Cully Stout Beer, although exhaustive Google searches for such a brand have come up empty.

Blondie

Guitarist Chris Stein and blonde-haired singer Debbie Harry formed a band in 1974 with drummer Billy O’Connor and bassist Fred Smith, at first known as Angel and The Snake.  When Harry was walking by a construction site in Manhattan one afternoon, several hardhats taunted her with whistles and catcalls, and one guy yelled out, “Hey Blondie!”  When a passing truck driver yelled the same thing a few days later, the group decided it was the right name for their band.

The E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen had played with several groups during his formative years in New Jersey clubs:  Earth, Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom.  When he was signed in 1972 to a recording deal with Columbia, Springsteen was expected to make an acoustic album, but instead he brought some of his musician friends with him to the sessions:  bassist Garry Tallent on bass, Danny Federici on organ, Clarence Clemons on sax, David Sancious on piano, and Vini Lopez on drums.  This motley crew often practiced in the garage at Sancious’s mother’s house, located on E Street in Belmar, NJ.  Springsteen’s second LP and leadoff single were entitled “The E Street Shuffle,” thus immortalizing the name for decades to come, even as membership in the E Street Band changed along the way.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

The Blue Velvets were a Bay Area band playing rock ‘n roll covers in 1964-65.  Once they signed to Fantasy Records, the owner insisted they call themselves The Golliwogs, after a controversial fictional character with unfortunate racial overtones.  Draft notices issued to John Fogerty and Stu Cook put the band’s dreams on hiatus for a year or so, and when they reunited in 1968, the label’s new owner wanted another name change.   Everyone came up with multiple ideas but settled on Fogerty’s suggestion that combined three words:  Creedence (from Tom Fogerty’s friend Credence Newball), Clearwater (from the slogan for Olympia Beer, whose promotion proclaimed “It’s the water”), and Revival (for the band’s renewed commitment after the dormant period).  “It was a weirder name than Jefferson Airplane or Buffalo Springfield, that’s for sure,” said Cook.