Rock Formations

by Dave Wilson

Published by Cidermill Books

288 pages, 2005





What's In A Name?

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


The original name of the band Sugar Ray was Shrinky Dinx. They were forced to change their name fairly early on (some would say: Thankfully!) when K&B Innovations Inc., who own and produce the Shrinky Dinks ornament making set, put their legal foot down. The name they took was inspired by the name of the boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard, lead vocalist Marc McGrath's favorite boxer.

The rock band Art of Noise were named for the futurist manifesto "Art of Noises," published by Luigi Russolo in 1913.

The Australian rock band INXS was originally named The Farriss Brothers -- for the three brothers who formed the core of the group. Gary Morris, manager of Midnight Oil -- another rock band from downunder -- suggested the name "Inaccessible," which the Farriss brothers corrupted to INXS (pronounced, of course, as in excess).

I could go on. I will. This is too much fun.

UB40 was the number of the form used to get unemployment benefits in the UK at the time the band was formed. A friend of the band suggested they use that as their name, since all of the band members were getting unemployment benefits at the time.

Savage Garden took their name from an idea author Anne Rice conveyed in her seminal novel The Vampire Lestat. She wrote that the world of the vampire is both a beautiful and a savage garden. The band thought this description fit them, as well, and took it as their moniker.

I don't want to stop, but I'll force myself, which must be how author Dave Wilson felt over the almost 10 years it took him to compile Rock Formations: Categorical Answers to How Band Names Were Formed. I mean, once you start thinking about it, it's really, really, really hard to stop. Really.

In his preface to Rock Formations, Wilson writes:

This is one of those projects that can never be finished, as there exists thousands and thousands of established acts, and of course there are always new acts coming to prominence.

Which I suppose means we can expect a revised edition of Rock Formations at some future date. Meanwhile, there's the here and now and over 1000 entries in a book that Wilson admits is slightly mistitled:

... there are entries covering the whole spectrum of popular music.... However, I originally intended to include only rock music entries, and I thought up the snappy title with that in mind.

Be that as it may, rock is at the heart of this book, if you loosen the definition of what comprises rock music just a tad, there are few bands of note that I couldn't find referenced in Rock Formations.

While Wilson snaps through his 1000 entries with workmanlike precision, (The entry for the singer Lulu, for instance, is just one awkward sentence long. Journey's naming is described in two.) I have a quibble with the organization of the book, which Wilson defends in advance in his introduction:

I decided not to make this just another dictionary-type reference, with page after page of alphabetical entries. Instead, I noted that many of the entries had a lot in common and decided to group them into appropriate categories...

While I have no doubt that the intention here is good, the result actually keeps the book from working as well as it could. Let's face it, this isn't a book most of us will read cover-to-cover. Rather, we'll dip in where we like, perhaps beginning by looking up our favorites and grazing on from there. Thus, I would like to find "Portishead" under "P," where -- arguably -- they most properly they should go, rather than under "Hometown Favorites." Nor would I think to look for 2PAC under "Nom de Plume," or that Thompson Twins (who I always suspected weren't really twins) be found under "Early Impressions."

What saves this organization from being a disaster is a really strong index where everything is listed alphabetically and we are restored from the possibility of chaos.

Beyond that near disaster, Rock Formations quite simply rocks. This is the sort of book that pleasant hours are lost to and party games spring from. Rock on! | September 2005


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.