The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
CD Reviews  |  Classical  |  Live Reviews  |  Music Features

The Big Hurt: Confessions of a band namer

The music industry’s best-kept secret speaks out
By DAVID THORPE  |  September 2, 2008


Maybe you’ve never heard the name Harold Wells, but it’s a safe bet that you’re a fan of his handiwork. Since the early ’70s, he’s provided names to hundreds of major acts in every genre. His naming style is so pervasive that band names he didn’t come up with just sound awkward and phony, like an off-brand dude narrating a movie trailer. Nickelback, Fall Out Boy, Trapt. . . these are not the work of a professional. This isn’t general knowledge, of course — labels want you to think that bands think up their own names. So, not to make a big deal out of what a great journalist I am or anything, but I called him up.

Obvious question first: where do you come up with band names?
They can come from anywhere. You see some word or phrase on TV that strikes you as funny, and you just know it works. Like, I remember hearing the phrase “pretender to the throne” in some movie, and immediately I wrote down “The Pretenders.” It was years before a group took that name, though.

So do bands pick pre-written names from a list you've made, or do you meet the band and work out a name?
Depends on what I get hired for, or what the label wants to pay. If they’re really pushing some new act, they’ll fly me in to meet it, or if they’re feeling cheap, they just send a CD and I send them a list of choices. Nirvana picked their name from a list, but in hindsight I wish I’d named them in person. I meant that name for a much mellower act. I would have called them Garbage. I used that name for another group later on, but whenever I hear a Nirvana song, I think, “Should be Garbage.”

Any particularly memorable in-person band-naming sessions?
Atlantic was really trying to push this act in the ’90s, real talented guys. They brought them in and I asked the lead singer to sing me a few bars, and he had about two words out before I said, “Hootie, your name is Hootie.” He hated it, though, he was saying, “I’m not Hootie!”, but I took a stand on that one. Hootie and the Blowfish. Of course, later I saw him on TV saying the same thing, still trying to weasel out: “I’m not Hootie, it’s just the name of the band. . . ” But my favorite was when this guy McLaren came in with these real awful-looking kids and I said, “Your shop is called Sex, call them the Sex Pistols,” and he said, “No. Fuck you.” And I didn’t hear from him ever again, didn’t get paid, but of course that turned into one of the most famous ones I did.

What was the most difficult band to name?
Oh, Lord. Usually it’s the solo acts that are hard, because there’s more ego there. I remember I had an ordeal with Prince. He wanted to call himself LaFontaine, which I thought was very stupid, very feminine. The label agreed with me on Prince, but it took him forever to buy it.

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Photos: Radiohead in Boston, Fans cheer; earth weeps, Photos: Weezer at Tsongas Arena, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Celebrity News, Entertainment, Music Stars,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article
HTML Prohibited
Add Comment

[ 01/31 ]   Damon & Naomi + Sharon Van Etten + Michio Kurihara  @ Brattle Theatre
[ 01/31 ]   Dixie Diehards Jazz Band  @ Cape Cod Museum of Art
[ 01/31 ]   Ani DiFranco + Gabi Moreno  @ Tupelo Music Hall
[ 01/31 ]   Cowsills  @ Wolf Den @ Mohegan Sun
[ 01/31 ]   Boston Kleztet  @ Newton Free Library
Share this entry with Delicious
    This week, a jolly traipse through one of Billboard 's most artistically fecund charts: "Top Hip-Hop and R&B Songs." What wonders await?
    Lee, Hoppus, Wentz, Avril, and 3OH!3 fall down the rabbit hole
  •   THE BIG HURT: THE DECADE AHEAD  |  January 12, 2010
    As a new decade dawns, it's time to cast a curious eye toward the future.
  •   THE BIG HURT: BRITNEY VS. BULLS#!T  |  January 05, 2010
    At the end of a grim year and a disappointing decade, the music press has become a particularly peaty slog.
  •   THE BIG HURT: 10-YEAR GLITCH  |  December 15, 2009
    It boggles the mind that as recently as a decade ago, if you wanted to hear "Knockin' da Boots" by H-Town (and you did, believe me), you'd have to perform a primitive prayer ritual: you'd call some creepy guy with a really deep voice and beg him to play it, then wait by your radio for an hour in the hope that he'd answer your plea.

 See all articles by: DAVID THORPE

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2010 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group