Rock music has been around for long enough that rock history is a legitimate subject of study, but that’s not the only way in which the genre can intertwine with history. Band name etymologies are especially interesting when the moniker in question is also mildly educational, as is the cases with bands named after historical figures, events, and movements.
History can come alive in many ways, and it shouldn’t be consigned entirely to the realm of textbooks and lectures. Sometimes, the best way to engage with the past is to see it interpreted by someone else - and if that someone else is a talented musical artist, then all the better.
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The Foo Fighters were formed by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who was more-or-less a one-man band for their debut album. More members would be added to the fold over time, but the original conception of the Foo Fighters was entirely up to Grohl, and he reached into some pretty obscure WWII history for inspiration.
The term “foo fighters” was first used to describe a series of unidentified flying objects encountered by Allied pilots in WWII. Flying at night over Germany in 1944, squadrons kept reporting bright lights that followed their aircraft at high speeds and then suddenly disappeared. Radar observer Donald J. Meiers dubbed them foo fighters, with “foo” being a popular cartoon nonsense word at the time.
Grohl himself describes how he encountered the phrase, and why it was so appealing to him:
Around the time that I recorded the first FF tape (that became the first record), I was reading a lot of books on UFOs. Not only is it a fascinating subject, but there's a treasure trove of band names in those UFO books!
So, since I had recorded the first record by myself, playing all the instruments, but I wanted people to think that it was a group, I figured that FOO FIGHTERS (WWII term for UFOs) might lead people to believe that it was more than just one guy. Silly, huh?
Few musical acts are as closely associated with one particular city as the Dropkick Murphys are to Boston - after all, one of their greatest hits is “I’m Shipping Up To Boston,” and thus it is only fitting that their name comes from Beantown’s own unique history.
Joe “Dropkick” Murphy was a local legend in Boston, first as a pro wrestler, then as a boxer, and then as a boxing coach. Needing a way to keep his fighters sober, he converted his farmhouse into a rehabilitation center for alcoholics, one of the country’s first, and eventually became way more famous for that than his previous fistic feats. The place was officially named the Bellows Farm Sanatorium, but everyone called it “Dropkick Murphy’s.”
- Photo: @TheB52s / Twitter
Everyone knows the B-52s for their classic party jams “Love Shack” and “Rock Lobster,” and anyone with a passing understanding of American military history probably already gleaned that they’re named after a notable plane - but that’s not entirely true.
Technically speaking, the band is named after a colloquial term for a beehive hairdo, which two of their members used to sport. That term, however, came about because the hairdo resembles the nose of Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress bomber - a plane that set such an aviation standard that it is still in use more than six decades after its invention.
Jethro Tull - immediately recognizable within just a few guitar licks of “Aqualung” - wasn’t named by the band’s members, but by their agent, who used his time studying history in college to find a suitable moniker. He suggested Jethro Tull and the band liked the sound of it.
The meaning behind the name isn’t necessarily influential to the band's musical tone, but Jethro Tull a very important historical figure. An Englishman who invented the seed drill in the 18th century, Tull is considered one of the fundamental figures of the Agricultural Revolution for his contributions to farming.