In a nutshell: Beatles, Byrds, Jovi and other unique rockers


“Anyone who can think of only one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination.” -Mark Twain

And, as if to prove Twain’s point, we can thank some of the most imaginative people around – the rock stars – for the myriad imaginative spellings of their band names, or sometimes even their own names. . So this week, let’s look at the misspellings of some rock legends and some of the bands they’ve represented.

The first to come to mind comes from Led Zeppelin, whose proposed name – the New Yardbirds – ran into trouble with members of the previous band. When The Who drummer Keith Moon told the band they were going to crash “like a lead balloon”, inspiration struck. But they spelled it “Led,” the band members said, so “thick Americans” wouldn’t mispronounce it “lead.”

Incidentally, while The Who’s name is spelled correctly, the O is often replaced by the astrological symbol for Mars (an O with an arrow protruding from the upper right corner), the planet from which men are believed to come. . The Who were previously called Johnny Devlin and the Detours.

Some artists have avoided misspelling their names and/or albums by simply using symbols. For example, when Led Zeppelin released their fourth album in late 1971, their name consisted of just four occult symbols. “Each of us (band members)”, Robert Plant recalls of the band, “decided to go out and choose some type of metaphysical symbol that somehow represented each of us individually”,

In 1993, the artist formerly known as Prince changed his name to something people called a “love symbol”, which was a mix of symbols for male and female. The artist said he made the switch because Warner Brothers owned his “name and all the associated music”, and he became “just a pawn” to make money for the label.

Of course, you can’t talk about British rock bands without mentioning the Beatles. Originally called the Quarry Men after the Quarry Bank School which John Lennon had attended in Liverpool, the group chose The Beatles in 1960 as a tribute to Buddy Holly’s Crickets.

According to a story told by Lennon, the unique spelling of the band’s name came about when “one day a man on a flaming pie came down and said to us, ‘From now on you’re the Beatles with an a. ‘ … We said, “Thank you, Mr. Man.”

The Beatles’ influence even crossed the pond when Lennon also suggested Cyrkle as the name of another band, which had a 1966 hit “Red Rubber Ball.” But there is more.

Jim McGuinn (who will change his first name to Roger around 1968), leader of a Los Angeles band called The Jet Set, saw the Beatles playing a 12-string guitar in their 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night”. After purchasing a similar instrument, McGuinn honored the Beatles by changing his band’s name to a misspelled animal, The Byrds.

And the list of misspelled band names goes on thanks to Frijid Pink (whose name offers a rare example of three-dot letters in a row, and whose big hit was “House of the Rising Sun”), Blue Oyster Cult (which uses an unnecessary umlaut above the O and was known for “Don’t Fear the Reaper”) and the film group Spinal Tap (an unnecessary umlaut on the “n”).

And then there’s the Scottish group Chvrches, who use the “v” which is used for “u” in the 23-letter old Latin alphabet, as well as the group from Dublin who call themselves “Thin Lizzy” because the Irish supposedly pronounce “thin” like “tin” (whereas us thick Americans pronounce “thin”).

Many bands, such as Left Banke, the Stone Ponies and the Black Crowes, added an “e” to their name, as did singers Marvin Gaye, whose last name was actually Gay, and Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’ Connor) who added the feminine ‘e’ to the end of his regal-sounding stage name.

Gaye and Lorde aren’t the only singers to change the spelling of their names slightly. John Francis Bongiovi Jr. now goes by Jon Bon Jovi.

American singer Halsey’s name is an anagram of Ashley, her first name, while Doors lead singer Jim Morrison anagrams his name to “Mr. Mojo Risin.” Morrison probably chose “mojo” (” the quality of being stronger than anything around you”) due to his growing legal troubles at the time. (Also, on several of their album covers, the “doors” logo appears in lowercase.)

Do all these misspellings matter in the real world? Not really. Even so, I know it’s just rock ‘n’ roll (the apostrophes replace the ‘a’ and ‘d’ in ‘and’, by the way) but I like its weird spellings.

Thanks for reading.

Lewiston’s Jim Witherell is a writer and lover of words whose works include ‘LL Bean: The Man and His Company’ and ‘Ed Muskie: Made in Maine’. He can be reached at [email protected]

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