Chicks On Speed

1. The Magic Mushrooms

Plenty of acts working the nascent underground rock scene of the mid-1960s could claim the influence of Allen Ginsberg, but the fate of one Philadelphia-based band was directly guided by the poet. As legend has it, aspiring rocker Josh Rice caught up with Ginsberg following a campus lecture in 1965, and asked the Howl author to suggest a band name. Ginsberg’s response: the Magic Mushrooms, a designation that’s a lot more explicit now than it was then. Then again, fewer people would know about the psychedelic properties of psilocybin mushrooms were it not for fuzzed-out singles like “It’s A-Happening,” which became a minor hit for the Magic Mushrooms in 1966. Ginsberg’s allusion wouldn’t fool the straights for long, however: When the band’s name was decoded by the brass at A&M Records, “It’s A-Happening” was pulled from stores, though the song lives on thanks to its status as the final track on Jac Holzman and Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets compilation. [Erik Adams]

2. Codeine

A slowcore band that’s just about as sleepy as the prescription and over-the-counter drug it’s named after, Codeine formed in New York in the late ’80s. Though the Stephen Immerwahr-fronted trio probably wasn’t ever hopped up on its namesake—one would hope—its fans certainly could have been. Albums like 1990’s Frigid Stars absolutely lend themselves to Zenned-out, Robitussin-fueled listening “parties.” [Marah Eakin]

3. The Crystal Method

The music of The Crystal Method seems entirely simpatico with the jagged energetic highs of its namesake drug, which makes it interesting that the band’s founders aren’t crazy about the association. Ken Jordan admitted in an interview that they came up with the joke in the early 1990s before they knew exactly how bad the drug was, and today they are clear that they give its use a “resounding non-endorsement.” Despite this attitude, the band has never shied away from other drug-evocative titles, from their 2001 album Tweekend to such tracks as “Trip Like I Do” and “She’s My Pusher.” These choices haven’t damaged the group’s marketability in the least bit (they scored Fox’s Almost Human just last year), though Jordan admitted the name did cost them a car commercial about a decade ago. [Les Chappell]

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4. Dexys Midnight Runners

Dexys Midnight Runners only seemed like a nonsensical moniker. The U.K. band actually took the first part of their name from a nickname for the stimulant Dexedrine—“a shortened tribute to the pep pill,” as George Gimarc’s bible Punk Diary put it—which was popular with Northern Soul fans. According to lore, “Midnight Runners” was either a nod to how the dexys gave people extra oomph to dance late into the night—or something dreamt up in a band meeting. Either way, the group’s name fit the merry vibe of the band’s early hits, the horn-laden “Geno” and the indomitable new wave prance “Come On Eileen.” [Annie Zaleski]

5. EMF

The British band EMF had one hit with “Unbelievable” in 1990, then rode that wave to a career that’s been on and off since. For a while, the members were evasive about the band name, claiming it stood for “Epsom Mad Funkers,” though coyly not denying other interpretations, including the most popular, “Ecstasy Motherfuckers.” Drugs make perfect sense with the band’s sound and scene, so it was easy to believe EMF could stand for something a little illicit. [Josh Modell]

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6. Gaye Bykers On Acid

Gaye Bykers On Acid were part of a weird little British musical movement called “grebo,” whose practitioners added bits of psychedelia to dance-rock. (And who, unfortunately, sported white-guy dreadlocks a lot of the time.) A lot of the grebo bands had bad names, too, like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Pop Will Eat Itself. Perhaps the worst name of all was Gaye Bykers On Acid, who never made much of a splash in America. They would also occasionally perform as Lesbian Dopeheads On Mopeds. [Josh Modell]

7. Rich Kids On LSD

Another band with a silly drug name and a silly scene name—“nardcore,” a conflation of Oxnard, as in California, and hardcore—Rich Kids On LSD may or may not have been rich or on LSD at the time, but they did end up influencing the California punk scene for years to come. The name came from a criticism of their look, though they later gained a reputation as serious users, and the band’s story ends pretty tragically, with the deaths of several members, a couple due to drug-related complications. [Josh Modell]

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8. Leftöver Crack

Formed from the Heimlich-maneuvered remains of Choking Victim in 1998, Leftöver Crack, according the frontman Scott “Stza” Sturgeon, is a reference to the fact that crack-cocaine is highly addictive, and there is not likely to be much of it, you know, left over after use. It’s also possible that this name was just one of many instances of the band’s trademark punk rock provocation, which reached its apotheosis in the 2001 split, “Baby Jesus Sliced Up In The Manger.” [Drew Toal]

9. Morphine

“A spreading wave of relaxation slackening the muscles away from the bones so that you seem to float without outlines, like laying in warm salt water.” So William S. Burroughs described his first taste of morphine in 1953’s Junky, and the description could easily apply to the band that took the same name. With a style that falls between alternative rock and jazz, dubbed “low rock” by founder Mark Sandman, Morphine aims for a deep baritone effect that puts the listener in a dark yet comfortable state of mind. The otherworldly sounds are heightened by experimental instrument combinations—Sandman combined guitar and bass strings to create the hybrid instruments “guitbass” and “tri-tar,” Dana Colley occasionally played two saxophones at the same time—that further the feeling of a high where the ugly moment of comedown lurks in the shadows to your right. [Les Chappell]

10. Lords Of Acid

Only a sexed-up European techno act would call itself Lords Of Acid. Understandably, the group’s name came from the prevalence of both the drug and of acid music in the late ’80s industrial scene, with group leader Praga Khan saying the name is a shortened version of “lords of the acid movement.” Duh. [Marah Eakin]

11. Motörhead

After he was fired from Hawkwind for doing what he says were “the wrong drugs,” Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister used his amphetamine and cocaine-addled brain to come up with the idea for Motörhead, a band that he said would be “fast and vicious, just like the MC5.” A slang term for a speed freak, Motörhead was also named after the hard-driving final track Kilmister wrote during his tenure with Hawkwind. [Marah Eakin]

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12. Chicks On Speed

A combination art project and band that deals pretty much exclusively in the amped up electroclash genre, Chicks On Speed burst out of a bar in Zurich in the mid-’90s. Though it took until the early ’00s for the all-girl collective to really get global attention, the group’s slightly sensational name certainly never hurt its chances—especially, again, in the drug-accepting dance music marketplace. [Marah Eakin]

13. Blue Cheer

The power trio Blue Cheer is dimly remembered as one of the originators of heavy metal, but the San Francisco-based group shared a scene with the folkie-psychedelic Grateful Dead, and paid their respects to the Dead’s patron and sound man, LSD manufacturer Owsley Stanley. (“Blue Cheer” was the street name for a brand of the drug that fueled many an Acid Test.) Formed in 1967 around bassist-singer Dickie Peterson, the band had a Top 20 hit with their debut single, a bottomed-out version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” Peterson replaced the musicians playing around him so often that following their lineup came to resemble staring at the melting face in Robert Crumb’s “Stoned Again” poster. [Phil Dyess-Nugent]

14. China White

One of the ugliest and most reedy-voiced of early ’80s West Coast punk bands, which is saying something, China White was formed in the late ’70s and took their name from a brand of heroin then popular on the scene. The name was also a nod to the instant-classic song “Chinese Rocks,” written by DeeDee Ramone and Richard Hell. But among California punks, China White’s name took on an additional, ghoulish degree of street cred after Germs leader and The Decline Of Western Civilization star Darby Crash fatally overdosed on the stuff in 1980. These connections were tragically apropos for a band with a real junkie’s sense of erratic timing. China White’s original lineup only outlived Crash by a few years, and their first full-length album, Addiction, was recorded in 1993 but not released until 1995. [Phil Dyess-Nugent]

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15. Speedball Baby

Mid-’90s blues/punk band Speedball Baby was introduced to me as “a knock-off Jon Spencer Blues Explosion,” and they never did much to transcend that reputation (in fact, guitarist Matt Verta-Ray later formed a side project with Spencer himself called Heavy Trash). But at least the name fit. A speedball is a mixture of heroin and cocaine, for those wild nights when you really just want your heart to explode and kill you. Which is exactly how Speedball Baby styled their Explosion-like mixture of blues and punk—hard and fast, if less likely to put you in the emergency room. [Mike Vago]


If you’re wondering why we didn’t cover the many weed-related band names, it’s because we already collected them here.

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