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Top 11 Songs from Musicians With Punctuation (or Symbols) in Their Names
“Punctuation: The difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.”
“Take Me Away” by Blue Öyster Cult
Blue Öyster Cult is one of the first bands to use an umlaut, a German pronunciation mark, in its name. It is now associated with metal bands like Mötley Crüe and Motörhead. In 1971, musician and songwriter Sandy Pearlman discussed changing the name of his band, Soft White Underbelly, with rock critic Richard Meltzer. Pearlman told Entertainment Weekly he noticed a nearby restaurant served blue point oysters. “I said, ‘Why don’t we call it Blue Oyster Cult?’ And Richard said, ‘And we’ll add an umlaut over the o!’ And I said, ‘Great!'”
BÖC released “Take Me Away” on its 1983 album The Revölution by Night. Written by singer Eric Bloom and Canadian rock musician Aldo Nova, the song reached No. 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. “Aldo gave me a cassette, and he said, ‘This is a song I wrote.'” Bloom recalled in Songfacts. “It was not called ‘Take Me Away,” it was called something else [“Psycho Ward”], and he said, ‘Everybody likes this music that I wrote, but they don’t like the lyrics. Maybe you can do something with it?’
“So I took it home, and felt the same thing everyone else was telling him: the music was good. So I threw away his lyric and wrote my own lyric. That was basically the collaboration. It was my lyric and his music, and I wrote it overnight and re-sang it myself with my lyric. I brought it to BÖC and they liked it. It was during a time period when BÖC was working on a record, so it worked out perfectly.”
- “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by the Wonder Who?
Bob Dylan released “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” on 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Peter, Paul & Mary had a Top 10 hit with the song in 1963. The Four Seasons, as the Wonder Who?, had a surprise No. 12 hit with the song in 1965 that featured Frankie Valli’s falsetto lead.
At the time, the Four Seasons had “Let’s Hang On” on the charts with “Working My Way Back to You” scheduled to follow. The group was also working on a new album, The 4 Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach … Hal David … Bob Dylan.
“It did create a lot of confusion,” Valli told Billboard. “We had an album, six Bacharach-David songs on one side and six Dylan songs on the other. In the studio, I started to clown around with ‘Don’t Think Twice.’ In reality, it was an impression of a very famous Black singer, Rose Murphy. She did ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.’ We played it for a disc jockey in Atlantic City and he said, ‘Please give it to me. I just want to play it. I won’t tell anybody who it is. I’ll run a contest.’ He actually broke it.
“When the record company found out, they were really pissed. They said, ‘Now we have to put it out… But we already have a Four Seasons song out, and this will kill it. So we’ll say it’s the Wonder Who?'”
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by the Wonder Who?
- “Mule” by Gov’t Mule
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the federal government promised each former slave 40 acres of land and the loan of a mule to work the land. It was an empty promise; small parcels were leased to Black farmers but the land and the “government mules” were taken away during Reconstruction.
Gov’t Mule was formed in 1994 by guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody of the Allman Brothers Band. “We got together, Allen Woody, the two of us were looking for something fun to do as a side project,” Haynes explained in an interview on the band’s site. “The Allman Brothers took up less than half of the year, so we had a lot of time on our hands to do other things. I had released a solo record in 1993 and after touring with that for about a year, he and I started to talk about doing something just for the hell of it, so we started putting this side project together and it kind of instantly grew its own wings.”
The name was suggested by Allman Brothers Band drummer Jai Johanny Johanson, known as Jaimoe. “It can mean different things to different people,” said Haynes. “Besides, the name kind of describes us: we’re a slow, hard-working, non-glorious animal.”
“Mule,” from the band’s 1995 self-titled debut album, is a concert favorite that features Haynes’ slide guitar work. When performed live, the song can stretch out to more than double its original 5:32 length.
- “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham!
Wham! was the pop rock duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley that formed in the UK in 1981. Their first of three No. 1 hits was 1984’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” “I just wanted to make a really energetic pop record that had all the best elements of ’50s and ’60s records, combined with our attitude and approach, which is obviously more uptempo and a lot younger than some of those records,” Michael told Rolling Stone in 1984.
In his book Wham! George Michael and Me: A Memoir, Ridgeley explained what inspired adding the exclamation mark in their early days. “We may have been making progress with the songwriting, but the band still didn’t have a name. We needed something that captured the essence of what set us apart — our energy and our friendship — and then it came to us: Wham!
“Wham! was snappy, immediate, fun and boisterous too. Its comic-book-style exclamation mark also demanded attention.”
- “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas (Will.i.am)
When the Black Eyed Peas added Fergie to its lineup in 2002, it marked the group’s turn from alternative hip hop to a pop-rap act. The Black Eyed Peas is one of the best-selling groups of all time, with more than 80 million records sold. Their first No. 1 hit was 2009’s “Boom Boom Pow.”
“‘Boom Boom Pow’ was made for underground clubs,” front man Will.i.am told Billboard. “There’s no such thing as a radio song. Radio is what the people want, and ‘Boom Boom Pow’ is proof that if something’s dope, regardless of if it has that sprinkled radio vibe, that it should be played on the radio and the people are gonna like it.”
Will.i.am, or William James Adams Jr., explained the period-friendly spelling of his stage name to the New York Times. “I liked playing with words. I noticed that my name was a sentence, meaning one with will, who is strong-willed. And so I called my mom and said, ‘Hey, Mom, do you mind if I call myself Will.i.am?’ She was like: ‘Whaaa? You’re crazy.’ She was cool with it.”
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
It makes sense that a band with a guitarist named Slash would have punctuation in its name. Grammar purists have complained that the band’s name, which includes a contraction, is one apostrophe short. A contraction is made when a letter is removed and replaced with an apostrophe; the name should be spelled Guns ‘N’ Roses. The name originated when the band Hollywood Rose, with Slash, Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler, combined with guitarist Tracii Guns of L.A. Guns to form Guns N’ Roses.
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” appeared on the band’s 1988 debut album, Appetite for Destruction. An uncharacteristic ballad, the song became the band’s only No. 1 single. “I was fucking around with this stupid little riff,” Slash told Q in 2005. “Axl said, ‘Hold the fucking phones! That’s amazing!'”
Rose wrote the lyrics based on a poem he had written for his then-girlfriend, Erin Everly. “Writing and rehearsing it to make it a complete song was like pulling teeth,” said Slash. “For me, at the time, it was a very sappy ballad.”
- “Woo Hoo” by the Rock-A-Teens
The Rock-A-Teens — not to be confused with the Rock*A*Teens, the 1990s indie rock band from Georgia — were a late-1950s rockabilly group. The band’s one hit was “Woo Hoo,” which reached No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. The track, which has been featured in films by Quentin Tarantino and John Waters, is notable for its lack of lyrics, which are just the words in the title.
The band’s history provides a clue to its name’s origin. Guitarist Vic Mizelle played bass in a group called Nod McKinney and the Rocketeers in 1956. Mizelle and Bobby “Boo” Walke started a band named the Rockets in 1958. The band changed their name to the Rock-A-Teens and pinned their hopes to a song they called “Rock-A-Teen Boogie.” They recorded the tune for George Donald McGraw in the back room of his Virginia record store. Though the single spent 12 weeks on the chart, a resulting album and follow-up single went nowhere and the Rock-A-Teens disbanded in 1960.
- “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
“Losing My Religion” was alternative rock band R.E.M.’s biggest hit, reaching No. 4 in 1991. Singer and lyricist Michael Stipe told The Independent that the song was about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s just a classic obsession pop song.” The band hails from Athens, Georgia, where the phrase “losing my religion” was common; it means being at the end of one’s rope.
That could happen to anyone trying to determine the origin of the band’s name. Some say Stipe randomly picked REM, the acronym for rapid eye movement sleep, from the dictionary. Sleep scientist Dr. William Dement, who studied the connection between REM sleep and dreams, reportedly reached out to the band, who denied the link. Another theory is that the band is named for photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, a favorite of Stipe’s, who signed his prints r.e.m.
- “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians
? and the Mysterians topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966 with “96 Tears,” a garage rock classic. The Mysterians formed in East Michigan in 1962 as an instrumental group. ?, whose real name is Rudy Martinez, told Classic Bands,”I had these sounds coming into my head and I wanted to learn how to play the piano. So, I went to this old man, around 50 years old, and I sang him this tune, because I wanted to learn how to do this music. That’s when I first sang ’96 Tears.’
“We were called the Mysterians, X, Y, Z and I was Question Mark. I thought the three letters were mysterious letters of the alphabet and my thing was ‘why can’t those letters start the alphabet? Is there a reason why ABC has to be there and not XYZ?’ When you look at it that way, everything in life pertains that way too.”
Martinez told MLive that he had his name legally changed to Question Mark. He wanted to change it to ? but officials told him their computers wouldn’t recognize the punctuation mark.
- “Nothing Compares 2 You” by Sinéad O’Connor
“Nothing Compares 2 You” was written by Prince and recorded in 1984 but it was not released until 2018. The song’s first release was in 1985 by the funk band The Family. Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad O’Connor had a No. 1 international hit with the tune in 1990. O’Connor’s success led Prince to perform the song in concert solo and as a duet with Rosie Gaines.
In 2014 O’Connor told Norwegian station NRK that she met Prince “a couple of times. We didn’t get on at all. In fact, we had a punch-up.
“He summoned me to his house after ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. I made it without him. I’d never met him. He summoned me to his house — and it’s foolish to do this to an Irish woman — he said he didn’t like me saying bad words in interviews. So I told him to fuck off. He got quite violent. I had to escape out of his house at five in the morning. He packed a bigger punch than mine.”
O’Connor comes by her acute accent mark naturally. Her birth name is Sinéad Marie Bernadette O’Connor.
- “Sign o’ the Times” by Prince
On June 7, 1993, his 35th birthday, Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable graphic that dwarfs any of the punctuation above. Called The Glyph or the Love Symbol, it combined the traditional symbols for man and woman into something new. Stumped, the media called him The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
The name change was a reaction to Warner Bros. Records, which wanted to limit his recording output for fear of oversaturating the market. Prince announced that he would no longer record any new material and six weeks later, changed his name. In a press statement, Prince said, “It is an unpronounceable symbol whose meaning has not been identified. It’s all about thinking in new ways, tuning in 2 a new free-quency.” His contract with Warners expired in 2000 and he once again became Prince.
In 1987 Prince released the double album Sign o’ the Times. Prince performed all vocals and instruments on its title track, relying heavily on the Fairlight sampling synthesizer. In a departure, Prince addressed society’s problems that included AIDS, drugs, guns, war, natural disasters, and poverty.
“‘Sign o’ the Times’ represented a departure for him lyrically; he was growing and trying new things lyrically,” Susan Rogers, the album’s engineer, told SoulTrain.com. “He had some new textures and new sounds there as well, but definitely the single ‘Sign o’ the Times’ was social commentary, and it was a serious social commentary.”
April 6, 2021
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