After a few weeks of resuming lockdown-related /Tuesday Ten posts, I thought this week a diversion into something a little more frivolous might be needed. So I’m returning to an occasional subject of numbers.
I’ve done posts with direct relevance to their number in the series before (/Tuesday Ten/242 was about Front 242, for example, while /Tuesday Ten/420 was about the use of cannabis), and while this one isn’t totally linked, there is a relevance.
I attach some significance to numbers – I number almost every post in a series on this website, for example, while I wear number 7 playing football for various reasons. But that’s about as far as it goes. There are a great many bands, though, that use a number in their name. Some of these have great significance, it turns out – and some are marvellously specific – while others have barely any relevance at all. So I thought it might be an interesting diversion this week to look at ten bands that do use numbers in their name.
Even a quick sift through my own music collection (with some additional suggestions from my wife) brought up well over sixty potential options for this post, and for various reasons some obvious bands were missed off, instead aiming for either bands that are an interesting listen, or have interesting stories behind their name.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
Of course, the band that initially made me think about this week’s post, particularly as it is /Tuesday Ten/440, is Apollo 440. A band that, now I think about it, I knew very little about around the time of their excellent Electro Glide in Blue, and indeed still know little about now. So wiki tells me that they come from Liverpool originally, and I also didn’t notice that Mary Byker (these days of PWEI, of course) has been part of the band for some time. But what about that unusual name?
[the] name comes from the Greek god Apollo and the frequency of concert pitch — the A note at 440 Hz, often denoted as “A440”, and the Sequential Circuits sampler/sequencer, the Studio 440.
Their music has a similarly eclectic origin, being broadly electronic based, but even on this album took in influences from dub-reggae, classic rock, jazz, drum’n’bass and trip-hop, and helped cement the position of A440 as outliers that never really fitted in.
In many respects, Clock DVA have never really fitted in either. Shadowy sonic shapeshifters and electronic/industrial pioneers that, unlike their northern contemporaries in Cabaret Voltaire (to whom they also share some roots with in other Sheffield-based bands) and Throbbing Gristle, have perhaps never quite got the respect they should have. That might be thanks to their sporadic output, and their drastic changes to their sound, too, at points, but also because, a few songs aside, they were never the most accessible of bands. Their extensive use of tape loops and post-punk oddness eventually involved into pitch-dark industrial experimentation (Buried Dreams remains one of the greatest industrial albums of the eighties), and ever since, Adi Newton has continued in some intriguing directions (with some spectacularly loud live shows in the past decade, too).
The name, mind, comes from A Clockwork Orange (one of a few bands to mine Anthony Burgess’s seminal work for inspiration), with DVA (два) being Russian (and Serbian/Serbo-Croat, among other Slavic languages) for the number two, although I’ve always understood in Clock DVA’s case that the name was pronounced “Clock D-V-A”, but I’d love to know if I’m wrong!
Not a trio, as their name might suggest, but more a nonet these days (even after the death of The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love, or Jake Black to his parents), these acid house-country fusion pioneers were always a fascinating group, even suggesting at points that they were a religious group – “the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine (UK)”. The voices the vocalists put on might suggest the Deep South, but the furthest south this bunch got was Brixton, their adopted home, making the band name something of a double bluff. Still, regardless of the deception, they ended up with perhaps unlikely worldwide success thanks to the sublime Woke Up This Morning being the theme tune for The Sopranos, but there is and was more to them than that, and their back catalogue is well worth exploring.
Another striking band in this list are Leeds post-punks Gang of Four, who even in 1979 were leaving clear water between themselves, and the nihilism and simplicity of punk. Their debut Entertainment! must have been jarring when it came out – jabbing, stark music that bore a passing resemblance to other bands of the time, but with heavy reliance on danceable, almost-funky basslines, metallic guitars and, maybe most importantly, Jon King’s powerful, hyper-political and socially-aware vocals that were, to put it mildly, rather better read than any of their peers (and they certainly had paid close attention to the to the four Chinese Communist Party officials who were executed not long after Mao Zedong died.
Like Alabama 3, BFF were never a five-piece, instead being a trio, and this was a deliberate deception, Ben Folds himself revealing that Ben Folds Three “didn’t sound right”. I suspect he was right, and while I was aware of the sly subculture digs of Underground early on, I was truly hooked by going along with a friend to their London show in late ’96, and was blown away. A piano-bass-drums trio would perhaps usually be more…jazz, perhaps, but somehow, this nerdy-looking trio rocked harder than most punk bands I’d seen. Aside from a reunion or two, Ben Folds is broadly solo these days, but still writing great, catchy songs.
Despite having followed Six By Seven for nearly twenty-five years (since their release of the caustic European Me back in 1997), until I began thinking about this post, I’d never actually looked up where the unusual band name came from.
According to a quote on their Wiki page (which clearly, judging on the length of time since the citation was required, suggests that the interview that the quote may have come from has long since disappeared from the internet), one-time guitarist Sam Hempton gives the following origin for the name, which came from Hubble Space Telescope research:
There was a big debate as to whether the millions of other galaxies in the universe were accelerating away from each other or moving away at a constant rate, or whether they were actually coming back in on themselves. The scientists originally thought that everything would eventually come back in on itself and implode, but what’s actually happening is that they are accelerating away at a rate of 6 x 7.
Of the many bands I considered for this post, by the way, Six By Seven are one of the only bands with two numbers in their name that I could think of, and appropriately enough, there are three more numbers in the title of one of their early singles (the Spotify player for which is embedded here).
It was indie band Mansun that sneered at people trying to reach too much into their lyrics with An Open Letter To The Lyrical Trainspotter, and another band that seemed to bristle at the very idea of giving up what their songs were about was earthtone9, a band that emerged from Nottingham at a similar time to Six By Seven. Vocalist Karl Middleton in particular had a reputation as an intense, entertaining interviewee in the metal press, the band’s albums full of unusual titles that seemed to dare you to try and follow them – and the result was something of a cult, avant-metal band who never quite got their due. That said, they’ve probably been more popular since they reformed, as many metalheads finally caught up, while the name? I suspect we’ll never know – it probably, like so many band names, just sounded good. It still does.
329 miles/529 km southwest of Chapel Hill, North Carolina (whence Ben Folds Five formed) is the University city of Athens, Georgia, a city that has rather punched above its weight in popular and innovative bands for its size (R.E.M. and Neutral Milk Hotel being two more bands, among many, from there). But one of the earlier to break out from there were the B-52s, a wild, broadly new wave band who were as in love with old rock’n’roll as they were breezy pop and a penchant for deeply strange lyrical imagery (even the wedding-and-every-other-party-going staple Love Shack is full of the latter).
At least the name origin is relatively simple – it refers to the Beehive hairstyles Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson from the band both wore for many years, not the US Air Force bomber…
A band that couldn’t be more different to The B-52s are Norwegian band 1349. No primary colours and bright pop songs here, instead shades of black, corpsepaint and (hell)fire are the order of the day. This cvlt Black Metal band blasted onto the scene in the early 2000s, with something of a throwback to their predecessors in the controversial Black Metal scene in Norway in the early 90s – at least in terms of sound. Their magnum opus remains the scorching Hellfire, an album of brilliant, caustic black metal that deviates little from the template set before, aside from a clean, killer production that makes the band sound absolutely huge. Their numerical name? 1349 is the year the Black Death came to Norway, and by all accounts caused such a population shock (in terms of deaths) that it took a couple of centuries to fully recover – and, some historians suggest, played a major part in Norway ceasing to be an independent country for most of the next five centuries.
Sadly a band that seemed to fade away (indeed Hannah Thurlow, now an accomplished sound designer in other realms, it appears, makes no mention of her prior band on her website), they burned bright to begin with, at least – a muscular, melodic take on shoegaze-adjacent rock that had an elegance and beauty to many of the songs (especially the sublime Scarlet). I can’t imagine, mind, that their obscure name – and origin, of which more in a moment – helped, though, in this internet age. A time, you think? Actually no. It is a point in time, apparently, the band named after a specific point in their favourite Melvins song, A History of Bad Men. Even among unusual band name origins, this has to be utterly unique. Right? It certainly got me listening to the song, and it is a titanic slab of fuzz-metal, and that point in the song is indeed quite extraordinary.