The Definitive Article On Bands

What a misleading title!  Too bad, you’re here now.  I have been puzzling a bit today over the use of “The” in band names when it is not officially part of the band’s name.  The best example of this is “The Eagles”, whom I happened to listen to on my morning commute.  The band is really “Eagles”, but most everyone says, “The Eagles”.  You know.  This oddity was best summed up on a post on a forum that said something like,

If I say, “I love Eagles!”, someone might think that I liked large birds of prey that symbolize freedom in America.  But if I say, “Man, I fucking hate The Eagles!”, everybody knows exactly what I mean.

I thought I had found the answer in an article dealing with this specific topic, but I was unsatisfied with its conclusion.  I delved into my own music library for examples to see if I could make any sense of this.  Here’s a list of candidates from A through C:

  • Acoustic Alchemy
  • Alpha Rev
  • Art Of Noise
  • Blind Melon
  • Blue Man Group
  • Carpenters
  • Cheap Trick
  • Chicago
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Crowded House
  • Curved Air

This is actually a very good cross-sample, because there are a couple bands in here that are definitely preceded by “the” regularly: Art of Noise and Carpenters.  There’s some you would never consider preceding with “the”, like The Crowded House.  And there’s some that could go either way, like The Blue Man Group.

I thought I was onto something when I made my first hypothesis that you cannot use a definitive article if the first word of the band name is a modifier, like an adjective – Cheap Trick, Crowded House, Curved Air.  So, what kind of guideline is there for say, Art of Noise or Blue Man Group?  I got a hint from the band name Art of Noise – the “of”.  The Blue Man Group is The Group of Blue Man.  The Art of Noise is, well, The Art of Noise.  You couldn’t say The Air of Curved or The House of Crowded, right? 

Let’s find some more examples that may fit this “of” guideline.

  • Dixie Dregs
  • Electric Light Orchestra
  • Hearts of Space
  • Jefferson Airplane (mentioned in the article)
  • Little River Band

And some examples of the initial guideline where an adjective is the first word:

  • Daft Punk
  • Damn Yankees
  • Deep Purple
  • Diesel Boy
  • Dire Straits (also mentioned in the article)
  • Dream Theater
  • Fine Young Cannibals
  • Flying Colors

In this second list, you cannot interject “of”, where in the first list, you can.  Ok, the hypothesis is holding up reasonably well.  That leaves single-word band names like:  Buggles, Carpenters, Chicago, Devo, Dokken.  And also, we have to consider bands that do formally use “the” in their name like: The Cars, The Doors, The Outfield, The Police.

The article I found proposes that if the band name is a plural or collective term, “the” is used or is assumed.  That explains why we force ourselves to say “The Carpenters”, but not “The Chicago”.  However, it doesn’t account for cases like “The Nice” or “The Who” except to potentially argue that excluding the article results in a shitty, confusing name.  “I have tickets to Who tomorrow.  Nice is opening for them.”

So, I think I’ve satisfied myself as to when I can realistically prepend “the” to a band name even when the band does not explicitly do so themselves.  The exceptions to those guidelines, I’ll just have to chalk up to the bullshit of the English language.

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