The idea for this list came to me after watching an episode of Wheel of Fortune where contestants were buying vowels at will. As Vanna White tapped the glowing letterboxes, I thought to myself, “What if vowels didn’t exist?”
(left: Wait, what? I’m not allowed to buy a vowel?)
How would society, or music for that matter, survive without the A,E,I,O, or U? Where would The Ramones be–whose signature hooks relied on long vowel sounds–without the freedom of using a few choice A, E, or O’s? Pronouncing band names like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or Led Zeppelin, would sound like caveman grunts. AC/DC would almost survive, but groups like A.F.I. and M.I.A. would only be down to one-letter band names. Poor Afrika Bambaataa, he needs seven letter A’s to pronounce his legendary handle. Former American Idol winner, Carrie Underwood, would be in a world of hurt considering she’s one of the few artists who boasts every single vowel in her name.
If vowels were to disappear, believe it or not, some bands would be left standing. The following musical acts have done splendidly well in the careers, all without the presence of vowels in their musical monikers:
There’s a good chance this will be the first and last time the group *NSYNC will be mentioned on the Indie Ear Blog. Shame on me for including them, while snubbing groups like D4, BT, M83, SR-71, and +44. But–I gotta give credit where credit’s due. How many acts–whose vowel-less group name beginning with an asterisk–sold millions and millions of albums and gave the world Justin Timberlake (my favorite guilty pleasure)?
Not only do arty-dance-punkers, !!!, not have any vowels in their band name, but they don’t have any consonants either. !!! get extra points, because even the pronunciation of their name “Chk Chk Chk” (the group had to come up with some type of pronunciation, otherwise how do you articulate three exclamation points?) is sans vowels.
Brazil’s greatest indie-electro-rock export is an acronym for “Cansei de ser sexy,” which is Portuguese for tired of being sexy. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing, there’s a chance they could top this list one day. CSS’s brand new album, Donkey, is coming out this month.
Other girl groups have tried to match the vowel-less exploits of TLC (SWV, 3LW), but none have come close to eclipsing their popularity or mainstream appeal. I’m not going to lie to you, I wasn’t a big fan of “Waterfalls,” but T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye still remain in heavy rotation on my iPod with their hits, “Creep,” “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” and “What About Your Friends.”
These Brooklyn psychedelic rockers have a sweet record deal, a debut album, Oracular Spectacular, that will probably land on most critics’ end-of-the-year Top-10 lists, and had their catchy single “Time To Pretend” in a film that also opted out of using vowels, 21.
Talk about cross over appeal. After pulling the plug on his powerhouse punk duo, Death From Above 1979–and breaking many indie kids’ hearts–Jessie Keeler and his production partner Al-P, formed the consonant-heavy MSTRKRFT, and won over a legion of fanatic dance fans in the process.
(left: Jessie Keeler and Al-P of MSTRKRFT. You can pronounce the vowels, just make sure you don’t spell them.)
This established punk-pop group started out with the band name Magnified Plaid, which was later shortened to M.P. While designing a flyer for the band, drummer Yuri Husted, wrote X’s in place of periods. MxPx stuck (it is kind of catchy, isn’t it?), and years later their revised moniker would qualify them as one of the best vowel-less groups in music.
Just think, if 311 stuck with their original name, Fish Hippos, they wouldn’t have even made this list. In the 90’s, the group rose from college rock faves to mainstream darlings. Fortunately, their particular hybrid of rhymes-and-rock lacked the aggression and violence that many of their peers took to new lows in the late 90’s.
My industrial-rock buddies from college–the same ones who tried to convince me that the band’s name was an acronym for Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode–will argue that this group needs to be higher on the list. Instead of moving them up, I considered MDFMK (a temporary regrouping of certain members of KMFDM) for inclusion on the list. Because I thought it would confuse the hell out of people, I decided not to.
Coincidentally, after being turned down by a vowel-less record label (CBS), the Helium Kidz followed suit and changed their name to XTC. A record deal soon followed and the British pop band brought their ever-catchy sound to the masses. Not only did XTC not believe in using vowels for their band name, but after battling intense stage fright, frontman Andy Partridge, didn’t believe in touring either as XTC primarily became a studio band. Years after their heyday XTC inspired a legion of pop-loving indie acts, while Partridge in turn, became a huge fan of The Apples In Stereo.
How many acts with vowels in their band name can claim that they are new wave legends, boast a hit that you’ll hear at most wedding receptions, have teamed up with R.E.M. on a feel-good single, and inspired a young Kurt Cobain? Let us not forget about “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho” either.
When people speak of late 70’s California punk bands, one of the first names mentioned, well, one of the first letters mentioned is X. Dropping names like X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka will still get you brownie points in many punk rock circles.
What can we say about the MC5 (short for Motor City Five)? They are regarded as one of the most important hard rock bands of their era. Some younger music fans may recognize their song “Kick Out the Jams”, which has been covered by various bands (including Rage Against the Machine on Renegades). At the turn of the century, many media outlets started talking about the MC5 again, as like-minded garage bands, The Strokes and The White Stripes, began making a dent on mainstream rock.
(above: MC5, they didn’t need shirts and they didn’t need vowels.)
The first band, vowel bands included, to have four consecutive albums certified platinum. They’ve got a boatload (or I should say, spaceship-load) of hits, brought a whole new level of theatrics to rock music, and are the creators of “Mr. Roboto,” the greatest robot song in the history of music (sorry Daft Punk).
1. Lynyrd Skynyrd
Three words for you “Sweet Home Alabama”–hands down, the greatest Southern rock anthem ever created. It’s no secret that the classic tune is a battle track aimed at Neil Young: “Well, I hope Neil Young will remember that a Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.” Apparently, Young made light of the fact that Lynyrd Skynyrd had no vowels in their band name. To further escalate the situation, Young also bragged that his previous group, Buffalo Springfield, had every vowel represented in the title of their band. Little did he know that Lynyrd Skynyrd–many years later–would top a list for doing the exact opposite.