Swedish indie rockers once described by the always right-on Guardian thus: “These young, precocious bad girls wear their blouses open and boast scandalous song titles such as Alright Alright (Here’s My Fist Where’s the Fight?).” Named after a racehorse, they have been together 25 years and sound like this.
The School of Rock
The first names suggested by his pupils to “Mr Schneebly” (Jack Black) for their band are not encouraging: The Bumblebees, The Koala Bears (“too sissy”), Pig Rectum (“it’s a science project”). Finally the girls produce School of Rock T-shirts. Perfect for the band (and the film title). Black declares: “The School of Rock … And we shall teach rock to the world!”
The lovely Green Gartside (formerly Paul; he thought up his new name on a train) named his band after the Italian neo-Marxist philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci’s Scritti di Economia Politica (Political Writings), adjusting the spelling to make it sound more like Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti. Scritti Politti made one of the best albums of the 1980s, Cupid & Psyche 85, which featured, among other gems, The Word Girl. Jazz legend Miles Davis was a fan, covering Perfect Way and contributing the trumpet solo on Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry for Loverboy). Also named after Gramsci: a dog trained by its owner, Minty, to attack rich people in the Channel 4 sitcom Spaced.
Not for the faint of heart, Seeker are very loud, very angry Texans whose October 2016 album Loss was described by Metal Hammer as “an explosive and brilliantly vicious assault of grinding nihilism, filth-laden crust and thrash-inspired attacks”. Their previous album was called Unloved, and you can kind of see why. On no account to be confused with …
Folksy Australian quartet who enjoyed huge success in the 1960s with hits such as Georgy Girl (now a musical) and The Carnival is Over. They still hold the record for the biggest concert, to an audience of 200,000 people, in the southern hemisphere. In 2013 they reunited for a 50th anniversary tour. Click here to become one of more than 17 million people to listen to I’ll Never Find Another You.
The Serpents of Doom
Chloe, the heroine of David Walliams’ 2009 morality tale Mr Stink, finds a burnt-out guitar and pile of old CDs in the garden shed. The guitar belonged to her dad – his wife put it on the bonfire – and the album, Hell for Leather, was the one he made as guitarist with the rock band The Serpents of Doom. (Their sole hit, the Christmas single Black Leather Mistletoe, reached No 98 in the charts.)
When Glasgow punks Johnny and The Self-Abusers broke up in 1977 (on the day their only single, Saints and Sinners, was released), two of them went on to form The Cuban Heels, while the others re-emerged as Simple Minds. The name comes from Bowie’s The Jean Genie: “He’s so simple minded, he can’t drive his module.” Nearly 35 years after Waterfront, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill simply keep going – a new album is due in 2017.
From Irish director John Carney’s delightful 2016 romantic comedy of the same name, after Synge Street (a real school in Dublin), where the band – created to impress a girl with this hilarious video – are pupils. Maria Doyle Kennedy, who was Natalie in The Commitments 25 years earlier, plays the hero’s mum. The music is good too, featuring clever pastiches of various 80s styles.
From New Jersey, but they sounded English, and so were chosen to accompany the miniskirted dancers at Swinging London fashion queen Mary Quant’s Youthquake events in US department stores in 1965. The band members had black hair with a white stripe dyed down the middle. Everyone who bought an English mod design from the Puritan Fashion Corporation was given a free copy of The Skunks’ single Youth Quake.
David Bowie’s favourite band name. Lest anyone is in any doubt about what they had in mind, Viv Albertine describes her reaction when the record company got the artwork wrong on their second album, Return of the Giant Slits: “The cover comes back with the title written as Giant Return of the Slits. I have to argue for it to be put right, trying to explain that it really matters that it’s the Slits that are giant (either us the band, or giant vaginas), not our return.” Anyway, a great band, much more interesting than most of their male punk counterparts. Just Typical Girls, really.
Punk and riot grrrl-inspired Norwegians who changed their name from Slutface to “trick the internet” because of what they described as social media censorship. The pronunciation and message, however, remain the same: “to be provocative: we want you to think about female sexuality and what it means to be a ‘slut’, the way we portray women in music and popular culture. We’re really not dicks – we just want you to think about women more than you do.” They sound like this.
Glam punk outfit formed in New York in 1972, chiefly notable because of their lead singer, “Jeff Starship” – Jeffrey Hyman, before he became Joey Ramone. He left in 1974; a year later, fellow founder member Bob Butani left to form Tuff Darts, and was replaced by Frank Infante, later of Blondie. Sniper changed their name to Kid Blast, then Grand Slam, before disbanding in 1979.
The name is a play on the phrase “soft sell” (some sources claim it came from Frank Zappa’s song Soft-Sell Conclusion, from the 1967 Mothers of Invention album Absolutely Free, which seems unlikely). Marc Almond recalled that he and David Ball were looking for cover versions to add to their act; the first was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, the second Tainted Love, originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. The Soft Cell version, initially a nine-minute segue with The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go, topped the charts in 17 countries in 1981. Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, later that year, was even better.
Sonic Death Monkey
Jack Black’s band in the film of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity (directed by Stephen Frears in 2000). They go “right to the edge … over the edge, in fact” – but at the gig Black announces: “We’re no longer called Sonic Death Monkey. We’re on the verge of becoming Kathleen Turner Overdrive, but just for tonight, we are Barry Jive and The Uptown Five.”
A band with a name “so edgy no one can even pronounce it”, their story is told in Lenny Abrahamson’s remarkable 2014 comedy film Frank. The actors play the music: they are Michael Fassbender (as Frank), Maggie Gyllenhaal, François Civil and Carla Azar. But what goes on inside the head inside that head?
Spanky and Our Gang
Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane got her nickname from George “Spanky” McFarland, one of the child actors in the Our Gang movie series (later known as The Little Rascals). Spanky and Our Gang were a short-lived (1967-69) but much-loved – and justifiably so – folk-pop group, harmonious in every sense as you can see in this captivating version of Like to Get to Know You (the strangeness of the studio guests seems to add to the haunting quality of the lovely coda). Their biggest hit, though, was Sunday Will Never Be the Same. McFarlane later toured with The New Mamas and The Papas.
Cult British folk-prog outfit whose singer for a time was Barbara Gaskin, later to enjoy success (and a No 1 single, It’s My Party) as a duet with Dave Stewart. Three albums appeared in the early 70s and two more after a reunion in 2009.
Spirogyra, incidentally, is a genus of filamentous charophyte green algae of the order Zygnematales; common names include water silk, mermaid’s tresses, and blanket weed. Not to be confused with …
American jazz fusion band founded in Buffalo, New York by Jay Beckenstein and Jeremy Wall in the mid-70s and still making albums four decades later. Their smooth jazz hits include Shaker Song and Morning Dance.
Squid The Incredible Suckers
Appear in Elmore Leonard’s novel Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, set in the music rather than the film industry. It is said of them that “the only thing right about this band is the name, it sucks”.
Initially The Bad Rock Group, then The Leather Canary, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker finally settled on Steely Dan, the name of a strap-on dildo (strictly, Steely Dan III, the first two having been damaged beyond repair), in William S Burroughs’ controversial novel Naked Lunch. The name, and its origins, seem to perfectly suit the snarky lyrics and sophisticated, jazz-inflected sound of the band’s excellent 70s albums, such as Aja. They still tour today.
Sweet & Tender Hooligans
Los Angeles-based Mexican-Americans who describe themselves as “the ultimate Smiths and Morrissey tribute band”. Judge for yourself from their (excellent) version of This Charming Man. The song Sweet and Tender Hooligan, a relative Smiths rarity recorded in 1986, was released as a single in the US in 1995 to promote the album Singles, on which it did not appear.
Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators
The band in Billy Wilder’s comedy masterpiece Some Like It Hot (1959), an all-female outfit apart from Tony Curtis (“Josephine”, tenor saxophone) and Jack Lemmon (“Daphne”, bass), in drag, seen here as singer and ukulele player Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) performs I Wanna Be Loved By You. Film fact: Frank Sinatra was Wilder’s original choice for Lemmon’s part. Well, nobody’s perfect.
The Swingin’ Neckbreakers
A real New Jersey band who appeared in No Show, season 4, episode 2 of The Sopranos, playing their song You at Adriana’s club.