Category Archives: Music

Quirkiest world records held by British musicians

This year’s BBC Music Day (Thursday 15 June) is about the power of music, and included among the many events taking place are attempts to break music records. In Bradford, 800 children will gather in the City Park to try and beat the current world record for Bamboo Tamboo (a form of music created by hitting a bamboo stick on the ground, which originates from the carnival traditions of the Caribbean). And in Portsmouth, over a thousand children will join together at the city’s Guildhall Square, with the aim of breaking the world record for the world’s largest djembe drumming ensemble.

To provide some inspiration for those taking part, here’s a list of some of the UK’s quirkiest musical record-holders, from artists playing underwater or in freezing temperatures, to being broadcast in space or coming up with the longest album title ever. A record-breaking drum roll, please…

Katie Melua performs in the bottom of one of the four shafts of the Statoil Troll A Platform gas rig in the North Sea

Singer-songwriter Katie Melua had to undergo survival training and extensive medical tests before she was given the go-ahead to play the world’s deepest underwater concert back in 2006. Melua then flew from Norway to the Statoil Troll A gas rig in the North Sea, where she and her band performed a show 303 metres below sea level. “This was definitely the most surreal gig I have ever done,” said Melua at the time, who played in front of 20 rig workers as well as an official Guinness World Records adjudicator. “It took nine minutes to go from the main part of the gas platform down to the bottom of the shaft in a lift. Giving a concert to the workers there was something really extraordinary and an occasion that I will remember all my life.”

As you’d expect, The Beatles’ record-breaking exploits are impressive. The Fab Four have had more UK No.1 albums than anyone else (15), and more UK No.1 singles than any other British artist (their 17 chart-toppers are only surpassed by Elvis Presley’s 21); in 2001, the Guinness Book of Records declared them the best-selling group of all time (by that point, they’d reportedly sold over one billion discs and tapes worldwide). But they’ve got some more unusual records under their belts, too. In 2005, Paul McCartney became the first musician to broadcast a concert to outer space after his show in Anaheim, California was transmitted to two astronauts at the International Space Station, floating some 220 miles above Earth. NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russia’s Valery Tokarev were treated to a performance of The Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine, as well as McCartney’s solo track English Tea. “That was simply magnificent,” McArthur told the singer. “We consider you an explorer just as we are.”

40 photos that prove the 80s were the best decade

Set your calculator watches for 1980 and join us on a trip deep into the BBC’s picture archives – the realms of Top of the Pops, Saturday Superstore and many a striking photoshoot.

This was the era of voguish shoulderpads, voluminous hairstyles and smouldering stares, all heralding a daring new streak of ostentation. For the fans, it was a gift of dress-up glamour that brought escape from the humdrum. Embracing the rapid rise of a new electronic era, it played with the concept of the high gloss, semi-synthetic human.

Those who rode the crest of the New Wave, glittered in the discotheques or found love with the New Romantics – we salute you.

Kelly Marie

Spandex – check. Lipgloss – check. Here’s Scottish singer Kelly Marie, who scored a No.1 hit in 1980 with disco track Feels Like I’m In Love. Hear it on Sara Cox’s Sounds of the 80s playlist.

Toto Coelo

Kaleidoscopic quintet Toto Coelo savaged the charts in 1982 with I Eat Cannibals, a love-hungry number (sample lyric: “Intake, home bake, you’re the icing on the cake / Full up, can’t stop, dicing on a chop chop”) that would sadly prove to be their only hit.

Central Line

This distinctive disco-funk combo went by the name Central Line, and that magnificent instrument by the name “the serpent” – a distant relative of the tuba. Hear them on Craig Charles’ The Funk & Soul Years – 1981.

Kajagoogoo

After depleting global stocks of hairspray, Leighton Buzzard boys Kajagoogoo strike a pose in the Top of the Pops studio, 1983. Too Shy, the band’s biggest hit, features on our TOTP: The Story of 1983 playlist.

Break Machine

The sweatband – perhaps the definitive item of 80s headwear. Here it’s sported in style by US rap trio Break Machine, pictured backstage on Top of the Pops, 1984. Hear them on Sara Cox’s Sound of the 80s playlist.

Dolly Dots

Although never big in the UK, Dutch girl group Dolly Dots enjoyed such success across Europe that they even had a TV series and film (Dutch Treat) to their name. Fact fans: Anita Heilker (front middle) is the voice of the Dutch Donald Duck.

Bananarama

They said It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It), and Bananarama have been doing it since 1979, albeit with a couple of line-up shuffles. Here they’re pictured in 1985 on the Kenny Everett Television Show, shortly before Venus went No.1 worldwide. Find out more about their recent reunion.

S’Express

Acid house outfit S’Express perform Mantra for a State of Mind on Top of the Pops in 1989. Can you guess why they appear in our 10 strange quirks in pop songs you won’t be able to unhear?

Bauhaus

Just look at those cheekbones. Post-punk quartet Bauhaus, pictured here in 1983, can be heard on Stuart Maconie’s magnificent Freaky Tracks To Hear Before You Die playlist.

Glastonbury has been graced with extraordinary headline slots from the start, but who was the best?

Glastonbury has been graced with extraordinary headline slots from the start, but who was the best? One of the legendary sets from the Britpop era? That moment when hip hop stole the headlines? Something from way in the past?

Here’s a selection of great sets for your consideration, from T. Rex and a Cadillac, through to Suzanne Vega in a bulletproof vest, Beyoncé with an unexpected guest, and up to a fantastically profane Adele just last year.

And now, just for fun, it’s over to you to rank these 11 performances and come up with the ultimate answer (until, of course, Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran make us re-think this all again)…

Michael Eavis has described this watershed moment in the band’s career as the best Glastonbury performance ever and, well, he’s seen a few headliners play. There’s also the fact that readers of Q Magazine once voted this their best concert of all time (though that was back in 2006, so maybe they’ve seen a better one since then; you’ll have to ask a Q reader). The set came just a fortnight after Radiohead released OK Computer, and the band played Paranoid Android, Karma Police and No Surprises. It remains to be seen if they can eclipse their own fearsome reputation this time around.
Here’s a great yarn, reported by Music Week: according to promoter John Giddins, who worked on David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour, Michael Eavis originally didn’t want the star to perform at Glastonbury, having described his recent drum ‘n’ bass tour as “the most boring thing he had ever seen”. In a cunning ruse, Gidding ‘leaked’ information to the press that Glastonbury was desperate to book Bowie and Eavis’s phone exploded with excitable phone calls. He swiftly did an about-turn and the resulting show – Bowie’s first at the festival since a low-key appearance in 1971 – was a greatest hits stomper that packed in the likes of Rebel Rebel, Starman, Changes and, of course, Heroes.
The Stone Roses cancelled their show when guitarist John Squire broke his collarbone on a bike ride (the most un-rock ’n’ roll mishap ever?), leaving Jarvis Cocker and his merry band of misfits to storm the Pyramid Stage with a performance that marked the zenith of Britpop. The oddballs had the world’s attention at last – although Primal Scream, Blur and even Rod Stewart were approached first. Cocker played up the stroke of luck, joking that he looked somewhat out of place on the main stage at the world’s most famous music festival. When Pulp played Common People, the anthem of the underdog, it underlined the feeling that culture had shifted and – for a time – anything seemed possible for anyone.

Of the most heartwarming letters written by musicians

We may not send nearly as many letters as we used to, but we remain fascinated by them as historical documents and because they provide insight into the private worlds of people we admire. And while email and other forms of instant digital communication might have made the purpose of a letter in its simplest form redundant, it’s online that we’re now able to investigate many centuries of letter writing.

Here are six sent by musicians that have come to light in recent years…

A 1994 love letter written by country superstar Johnny Cash to his wife June Carter Cash on her 65th birthday made headlines around Valentine’s Day in 2015 when it was voted the greatest love letter of all time in an admittedly rather spurious online poll commissioned as a marketing exercise by an insurance company. But that doesn’t take away from how wonderful the letter is.

Sent from Denmark, the letter begins “Happy birthday Princess”, before Johnny writes: “We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

“But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.”

This 1995 response to a young French fan called Laurence comes with quite a backstory, as detailed on Letters of Note. Laurence, 21, had written a 20-page letter to Iggy Pop telling the former Stooges frontman about “being the child of an acrimonious divorce with a string of social workers, lawyers, greedy estate agents and bailiffs at the door, the fear, the anger, the frustration, the love”.

Laurence didn’t receive a reply until nine months later – the exact day she was being evicted from her Paris home, along with her family. A day later and she may never have got the letter, which reduced her to tears.

Iggy wrote: “thankyou for your gorgeous and charming letter, you brighten up my dim life. i read the whole f****** thing, dear. of course… i want to see you take a deep breath and do whatever you must to survive and find something to be that you can love. you’re obviously a bright f****** chick, w/ a big heart too and i want to wish you a (belated) HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY 21st b’day and happy spirit. i was very miserable and fighting hard on my 21st b’day, too. people booed me on the stage, and i was staying in someone else’s house and i was scared. it’s been a long road since then, but pressure never ends in this life. ‘perforation problems’ by the way means to me also the holes that will always exist in any story we try to make of our lives. so hang on, my love, and grow big and strong and take your hits and keep going.

“all my love to a really beautiful girl. that’s you laurence.”

One of the hot topics in the toilet queue at Glastonbury

One of the hot topics in the toilet queue at Glastonbury is always: who should headline the next one? But as anyone who’s ever been will tell you, Glastonbury isn’t all about the headliners. The wealth of entertainment on offer at Worthy Farmmeans that the organisers have always been fairly relaxed about exactly who is topping the bill. In the early days in particular, a highly personal approach to booking bands led to some memorably eccentric line-ups that defied contemporary pop trends.

Looking back at old Glastonbury posters also reveals a number of headline bands whose star has since waned, but who were undoubtedly big at the time, particularly with a festival-going audience. Here are 12 of the unlikeliest Glastonbury headliners from years gone by – and by headliners, we mean any act who closed out a night on the main/Pyramid Stage or received top billing on the official poster.

When reminiscing about the glory days of Britpop, Northern Irish pop-punk outfit Ash are rarely one of the first bands mentioned. But a string of hit singles in the mid-90s earned them an Other Stage headline slot on the Friday. Then, when Steve Winwood was forced to pull out of Sunday night’s bill – supposedly his truck got stuck in the mud – Ash were asked to perform again, becoming the youngest-ever Pyramid Stage headliners. Come to think of it, had Winwood played, he’d probably be on this list instead…

The notoriously irascible former Cream drummer Ginger Baker, appearing with his new band, was the first act to headline the newly-built Pyramid Stage on 19 June, 1981. In a moment that certainly trumps Lee Nelson’s stage invasion during Kanye West’s set, Baker caused an almighty ruckus by setting up his equipment while the previous act, folk-rocker Roy Harper, was still playing. Understandably miffed, Harper confronted him and the two ended up scrapping on-stage. According to an eyewitness account on UK Rock Festivals, the crowd then pelted Baker with bottles during his set, with one hitting him square on the forehead. Some claim that Baker, hardman that he is, simply carried on drumming.

Pop history is littered with examples of artists who have wasted money

Pop history is littered with examples of artists who’ve squandered their cash on wacky ventures, like when Rita Ora put thousands towards a cup that enables women to wee standing up (“That is one of my worst investments,” MTVreported her saying) or The KLF burning a million in cash (“Of course I regret it – who wouldn’t!” the group’s Bill Drummond later said).

As news reaches us of yet another pop star frittering away their fortune – last week, the Telegraph reported that Mel B had “wiped out all her Spice Girls money” thanks to a series of “improvident lifestyle choices” – here are seven other tales of woe, beginning with the grand tale of The Haçienda, the Manchester club that New Order helped run at a tremendous loss for 15 years and that closed down 20 years ago.

Manchester rave mecca The Haçienda was a club that had windows and no cloakroom. As part of a consortium that included their label, Factory Records, and its boss Tony Wilson, New Order opened the venue in 1982, having poured around £3m (in today’s money) into creating a space that recreated the imposing atmosphere of legendary New York clubs. Bassist Peter Hook told the Guardian in 2012: “They told us it would cost £45,000 and if the band put up half we’d get our own nightclub – with free drinks. It ended up costing £450,000, a huge sum back then.”

Business was initially slow, before dance music took off in the city in the late-80s. Yet The Haçienda still lost massive amounts of cash, partly through mismanagement and partly because punters showed curiously little interest in spending money at the bar. It went bankrupt in 1997, at which point New Order calculated that they lost a tenner every time a customer came through the door. The great shock here, then, is that it ran for an entire 15 years. Hooky published a book about the club in 2009. It was called The Haçienda: How Not To Run a Club.

On Valentine’s Day 2016, Kanye West tweeted: “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt… Please pray we overcome…” He went on, as the Guardian noticed, to implore billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to stump up a billion dollars to enable him to realise his creative ambitions. Kanye claimed that he’d sunk the money in the fashion industry, having recently launched a new season of his Yeezy line, while it’s been alleged that he lost $30m through his doomed 2011 womenswear range and $16m in the first season of a collaboration with a sportswear brand.

Luckily, his wife Kim Kardashian is a total baller and her countless successful business ventures include a lucrative range of mobile apps. As CNBC reported, she later tweeted: “Sorry I’m late to the party guys I was busy cashing my 80 million video game check & transferring 53 million into our joint account.” Who needs Mark Zuckerberg?

The prospect of having an artefact around the house that’s worth a

The prospect of having an artefact around the house that’s worth a mint is a tantalising thought. And if you’re sure you don’t have a painting by a great master or half a dozen Fabergé eggs, perhaps you ought to have a rifle through your collection of pop culture memorabilia. These eight people did, and when they brought their findings to Antiques Roadshow, they delighted the show’s experts…

1. Stowe School’s Beatles collection

This is quite a story – in 1963, a pupil at Stowe invited The Beatles to play at the boarding school, and they agreed. The entire paper trail of booking the band has been preserved, as the current headmaster explains to Paul Atterbury. The heads of the groups were made by sculptor David Wynne, a former pupil. And the value of the entire lot? Wow.

2. Vintage Clash t-shirts

Now, you wouldn’t necessarily think that band t-shirts bought at a gig more than 30 years ago would be worth much today, but if that band is The Clash and you’re a Glaswegian fan who’s kept a pair in great condition, you might be in for a surprise. Expert Hilary Kay says they’re made of “rubbish fabric”, but they’re collectable…

3. An antique Slingerland guitar

What a beauty – an American Slingerland Nighthhawk guitar made in the 1930s, bought in Wales and played, slide-style, by the father of its current owner. Marc Allum, a guitarist himself, is impressed by its quality, and gives it a four-figure valuation.

4. A letter from George Harrison

“Dear Sandra, thanks for your letter,” George Harrison’s reply begins. Sandra fell in love with George after seeing The Beatles in Llandudno in 1963, so she wrote to him and received a fascinating response that was read out at her school assembly. Sandra also received the group’s signatures with the letter, but are they genuine?
5. Status Quo tapestry

In this extraordinary clip, a mother tells the story of her son Colin, who was “Status Quo mad”. At 18, he was paralysed from the chest down after a motorcycle accident and made this incredible tapesty by using his teeth to push the needles through the fabric. Tragically, he didn’t get the chance to finish it before he died, aged 39.

6. Rolling Stones photographs and autographs

How far would you go to meet your favourite band? This Rolling Stones fan scored her haul of photographs and autographs by going AWOL with a friend on a school trip to Paris in 1965. They were 14 and busted their way into the group’s hotel by saying they were press!

7. Maria Callas memorabilia

Perhaps no diva has inspired more devotion than the Greek-American soprano Maria Callas, a post-World War II global superstar of opera. But this collector, Robert Sutherland, is more than just a fan – he’s a pianist who toured with Callas as her accompanist for a year and a half. Robert tells Clive Farahar of his very personal memorabilia, including annotated sheet music. Not surprisingly, his lot is worth a pretty penny, and this is just a fragment of his collection.

One record label arguably shaped and reflected British life more

In the 70s and 80s, one record label arguably shaped and reflected British life more than any other – BBC Records & Tapes. It was the type of label that released an album of sound effects called Death & Horror (sample tracks: Neck Twisted and Broken; Red Hot Poker Into Eye) as well as keep-fit music for new mothers, like Diana Moran’s Get Fit with the Green Goddess (sample tracks: Boobs, Chest and Underarms – I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Back and Legs – Who Pays the Ferryman?). It scored big with Top 10 singles (including Nick Berry’s No.1, Every Loser Wins in 1986), but also had a thing for puppet ducks (Orville and Edd the Duck both released songs on the label). And it was equally praised and moaned about in the national press.

Then, sometime in 1991, it suddenly closed up shop, pulled down its shutters and disappeared from history. Some of its releases have become cult classics, most have been lost to time, as has its story. Until now.

Bizarrely diverse

“It put out the most bizarrely diverse set of records I’ve ever seen,” says Tim Worthington, author of Top of the Box, a complete guide to its almost 300 singles. “Nothing that comes out has any correlation to what came before or after it, and sometimes you just think, ‘Who on earth thought anyone was going to buy that?’

“But it gives you this amazing insight into life back then. I always think you can tell more culturally about a time from the mundane things than the landmark things. Like, you can tell more about the 60s from listening to Rod Stewart than The Beatles because he jumped on every trend going. It’s the same with BBC Records. Its releases tell you what was actually popular; what people were thinking about; what they were hoping for. It’s absolutely fascinating.”

The label, founded in 1967, was initially called BBC Radio Enterprises before changing name to BBC Records in 1970, then BBC Records & Tapes two years later. It was amateurish – charmingly – from the start, releasing albums of Chinese classical music and a lecture by astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell. “It’s just some bloke talking about how big the universe is,” says Worthington, “but it has the most amazing cover.”
Another early favourite of Worthington’s is The Seasons, a “fascinatingly terrifying” album of “scary electronics with equally scary poems read over the top” (it was recently reissued by cult label Trunk Records). One track, October, features lyrics comparing autumn leaves to “severed hands… that lie flat on the deserted avenue” – quite something for an album that was part of a series aimed at school teachers looking for music to accompany dance lessons. The poems were by Ronald Duncan, the music composed by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, creators of the Doctor Who theme and whose own first, legendary compilation album came out on BBC Radio Enterprises in 1968.

The label soon decided to move into singles, too. A normal record label would have probably released a pop song for its first 7″; the BBC instead put out seven pieces by David Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London from the soundtrack to 1970 hit drama called The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Clearly a success, they quickly released a follow-up of Munrow’s music from the 1971 series Elizabeth R starring Glenda Jackson.

The Tempest cometh

In 1973, Billboard reported that the BBC had decided to “move aggressively into the record business in an attempt to offset some of its annual losses”. In doing so, they searched outside the corporation for a music industry insider to run the label and hired Roy Tempest, who came to BBC Records from Philips.

Confusingly, there was another man of the same name causing ripples in the music business at the same time. “There were two Roy Tempests,” says Mark Rye, who worked for BBC Records for a year in the 1970s as a plugger (he would try to get DJs to play the label’s records – a job that you can imagine was tough at times). The first was a legendary – but controversial – impresario, who was once sued by Motown records for holding concerts by people pretending to be their stars. He had to declare bankruptcy soon after the court case.

The other Roy Tempest had been Philips’ pop product manager (among other jobs), and also had something of a reputation. “I only met him once, but he was a maverick,” says Humphrey Walwyn, who ran BBC Records & Tapes from 1984 to 1988.

“Roy was one of the nicest people we had,” adds Alan Bilyard, who was in charge of the business affairs and finance of the label at the time. “You see, in the early days we were stuck with really off-the-wall sort of music, and it needed jazzing up, so the BBC decided to go outside to find someone. He really turned it around.”

Unfortunately, the BBC couldn’t keep even this Tempest in line. As Billboard reported, he started working as a songwriter on the side and in 1976, after just three years, was forced to leave.

The Bilyard years

Tempest’s replacement was Bilyard, who seems slightly surprised to have got the job. “It was quite a move from a fairly lowly role sitting behind a desk, adding up figures and writing contracts,” he says. “To be quite honest, I didn’t know a lot about the ordinary music industry. I was just a punter like anybody else. I used to go to Boots and Woolworths to buy my records. But I thought there were lots of opportunities that I could bring to the table, like releasing more theme music, or music from kids’ programmes. Mums would watch those, find out there was a record available and, ‘Wham!’ that was it [it’d be a hit].”

Bilyard’s first week as head of the label was something of a shock. He was booked onto HMS Ark Royal – a Royal Navy aircraft carrier on its final voyage – and, with producer Mike Harding, had to record the ship’s company singing a cover version of Rod Stewart’s Sailing. Bilyard had little experience of naval life, let alone producing a record, and one night had to borrow a suit from the ship’s meteorological officer just so he could have dinner with the captain. On the final day, near Gibraltar, they cleared the ship’s hull of fighter jets and turned it into a theatre, getting the ship’s choir to stand on the platform that normally takes aircraft up to the deck. They then tried to record them singing to the surprisingly funky sound of the ship’s band, but quickly got “into a muddle” due to the rest of the crew apparently being determined to join in.

“There were all these beer cans – tinnies, they called them – fizzing everywhere, and they were getting merrier and merrier,” Bilyard, now 77, says. “And I was trying to get them to behave so the record didn’t sound like a brawl. How we managed it, I don’t know, but it turned out to be a fantastic record. It sold in its thousands.”

The B-side featured covers of The Wombling Song and Remember You’re a Womble.

Bilyard says there was little logic to what records they decided to release. Sometimes a TV or radio producer would ask them to release the theme music from their show. Other times members of the public would phone up and beg them to. In the worst cases, “meddling people” high up in the organisation would get in touch and tell them to release something (that explains some of the bagpipe records, Bilyard says).

Often, ideas would just come to Bilyard’s team. “There was a woman called Eileen Fowler who used to do keep fit exercises on Woman’s Hour, the radio programme,” he says. “And one day one of our producers said, ‘Let’s do an Eileen Fowler record.’ Generally, things like that were greeted with a big yawn, but we did, and, because we had the publicity from the programme – 300,000 people being told there was a record out, or even three million people being told there was a record out – it sold.

“We didn’t rule out anything, and I was never surprised when our records sold unexpectedly, even quirky things like birdsong. We issued probably 10 bird records: back garden birds, woodland birds, sea island birds…”

Bilyard’s biggest hits were down to such savvy. He had a No.1 with a recording of Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981 that was rushed to shops within 24 hours (“an amazing achievement for the time,” he says). They scored another No.1 with an album of music from the TV series Fame. It stayed there for 12 weeks and Bilyard’s team released four follow-ups, showing the label’s tendency to milk any success for all it was worth.

The most satisfying successes were accidents, says Mehmet Arman, the label’s business manager at this time, now the owner of one of Turkey’s biggest record labels. In 1981, for instance, BBC Wales asked them to release Chi Mai, a piece of syrupy classical music by film composer Ennio Morricone. It was soundtracking a TV series based on the life of politician Lloyd George.

“In the office we didn’t think much about it at the time,” Arman says. “It was BBC Wales’s wish to put it out, so we did. Then suddenly it was the best day ever.”

It sold over 500,000 copies; Arman still has the gold record on his wall.

Another such success was choirboy Aled Jones’s first records. “I met his father and offered him a small advance, about £2,500 or something,” Arman says, “then the record started breaking out and all the newspapers said we’d cheated him.”

Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”

Asking a band why they gave themselves the name they have has to be the single most obvious question in pop. Very few acts have a decent answer beyond “we just liked it”, and certainly no one has managed to reach the gold standard set by The Beatles, whose common response was something along the lines of: “I had a vision when I was 12. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are The Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.”

The fact that it’s just a pun on both Buddy Holly’s Crickets and beat music was felt to be too obvious to comment upon. So, to save at least 10 bands and further interview awkwardness (and unnecessary storytelling), here are the less vivid, and more humdrum accounts of how they got their names.

1. The Jam

Popular culture has found a few uses for the word ‘jam’ that could have been invoked in the naming of Paul Weller’s first band. It’s a term for improvising music, it denotes things which are stuck or crushed together, there’s a thrillingly urban traffic connotation that echoes The Clash naming themselves after a newspaper headline about conflict… It could all be so, so punk rock.

However, the true origin came from the breakfast table. Young Paul was wondering what name to choose when his sister Nicky piped up “We’ve had Bread and Marmalade, why not The Jam?” And lo, their legend was preserved forever more.

2. Nickelback

Outside of North America, Nickelback may be among the most commonly misspelled names in rock – NickEL, not NickLE – possibly because it’s too similar to the name of a fish (stickleback) and nickel isn’t a commonly used word. But the humdrum reality of the name is that it came from bass player Mike Kroeger’s day job serving coffee. As each drink routinely cost an amount of dollars and 95 cents, he’d spend his time giving customers five cents (or a nickel) in change, and saying, “Here’s your nickel back.”

Fun fact: Nickelback were originally called Village Idiots.

3. Sleater-Kinney

DIY music scenes like to take ordinary things and give them mythical status by taking them away from their original context. So, when Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein formed a band in Lacey, Washington, and started rehearsing in a room near Sleater-Kinney Road, it seemed natural to make use of these two angular and opaque words for their new musical project.

As a band name, Sleater-Kinney is so opaque it could refer to anything from a supergroup to a lawsuit, and they will already have known what it would look like to see their name in lights, as at appears on the road signs for exit 108 on Interstate 5.

4. Tangerine Dream

With a name like that, you’d think Edgar Froese had either literally woken up in a citrus trance and feverishly scribbled the words in his dream journal, or that he was being deliberately colourful, to try and approximate a psychedelic reverie. However, the slightly more boring truth is that he misunderstood the lyrics to the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (which is, to be fair, exactly that kind of trippy vision).

As English is not his first language, he thought John Lennon’s “tangerine trees” was “tangerine dream”, and named his band in homage. Mind you, he wasn’t the first to make such a lyrical mistake. The Mystery Trend took their name from the “Mystery Tramp” in Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, and The Lightning Seeds got their name from Prince’s Raspberry Beret: “The thunder drowns out what the lightning sees.”

5. Young Fathers

Young Fathers’ collective name is not, as you may wonder, a reference to escalating teenage pregnancy in urban areas, or the reaction of any young man on discovering that he’s about to become a babydaddy. It is far closer to home than that. The name comes from the fact that all three members of the group – Graham ‘G’ Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole – were named after their fathers. They are, in nomenclature at least, the younger versions of their own dads.

And before you ask, yes, the name Junior was already taken.

6. Commodores

Many bands turn to the dictionary to find inspiration when looking for a name. Evanescence looked under E, wanting something a bit wafty, and they found it. The Association found their name while looking up ‘aristocrats’, which had been suggested instead, and Ash worked their way through the As until they found a word they all liked.

But the ultimate moment of musical random lexicography came from Lionel Richie’s band Commodores, who tossed a dictionary into the air to open it, and then pointed randomly at the page. That they are not now called Commodes instead is simply a matter of blind luck.

The stories behind Jazz Funk Greats

Album titles are often a signpost offering directions to the music within. Sometimes they suggest what the songs sound like, sometimes they’re a statement of a theme; a clue as to why the album was written. But sometimes albums are given titles that appear to be deliberately trying to mess with people’s expectations.

This can be for mischievous reasons – such as Paul McCartney’s 2012 album Kisses on the Bottom – or an attempt to remain coy and open to misinterpretation by listeners (especially in the field of live recordings). And some, as in our first example below, are just plain shifty.

With the driest of wits, industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle titled their third album 20 Jazz Funk Greats partly out of scorn for people who might like an album with that title, and partly because their music had started to incorporate elements that could loosely be termed either jazz or funk. Even the cover was deliberately misleading, as Cosey Fanni Tutti explained to Music Academy: “It was a pastiche of something you would find in a Woolworth’s bargain bin. We took the photograph at the most famous suicide spot in England, called Beachy Head. So, the picture is not what it seems, it is not so nicey-nicey at all, and neither is the music once you take it home and buy it.

“We had this idea in mind that someone quite innocently would come along to a record store and see [the record] and think they would be getting 20 really good jazz/funk greats, and then they would put it on at home and they would just get decimated.”

When KISS were thinking about making their first live album in 1975, they realised that to get a good recording they were going to have to make some substantial compromises to their natural performance. As Gene Simmons told VH1: “In those days, I’d be taken over – I’d be possessed, and I’d make tonnes of mistakes on my bass. I remember talking backstage with the guys, and everybody agreed that we would jump around less – that we would try to hit the notes more.”

But even being less frantic on stage didn’t prevent the band from having to take their live tapes into the studio to fix missed notes, out-of-tune harmonies, and, well, sometimes everything but the drums. So, the name Alive! is an artful sidestep of the fact that it’s not entirely a live album in the accepted sense, despite looking (and trying to sound) like one. Not that Paul Stanley minds. In his autobiography, he embraced the improvements to the tapes, saying: “Who wanted to hear a mistake repeated endlessly? Who wanted to hear an out-of-tune guitar? For what? Authenticity?”