1. The Clash
When The Clash formed in 1976, it amplified many tensions—both musical and social—that were in the air at the time. By the time 1979’s London Calling appeared, the band had become more traditionally tuneful, but at its inception, the music was harsh, abrasive, and full of seemingly jarring genres (as heard on the sprawling new box set, Sound System). No wonder, then, that the onomatopoeic moniker The Clash fit the group so well—especially seeing as how Joe Strummer’s barked vocals and clanging rhythm guitar gloriously clashed with the more classic songwriting of fellow singer-guitarist Mick Jones.
2. The Crack
Influenced by ’77 punk acts like The Clash but nowhere near as popular, the British punk band The Crack pulled its name straight from The Clash’s onomatopoeic playbook. The group’s rowdy, melodic anthems don’t approach the volume or intensity level of, say, a crack of lightning or a gunshot, but they are suitably striking. Too bad the phrase “the crack” also evokes the delivery of far less impressive sounds.
3. Crash Boom Bang
Named after the 1994 Roxette album and song, the Virginia-based Crash Boom Bang doesn’t sound much like its Swedish forebear. Instead, the band plies a more up-to-date iteration of synth-and-guitar-driven pop. There’s nothing in Crash Boom Bang’s generic, post-Killers approach, though, that’s as explosive as crashes, booms, and bangs; in fact, the onomatopoeia of the band’s name may be the catchiest thing about it.
4. Biff Bang Pow!
Bearing a name that bursts with pop-art punch, Biff Bang Pow! isn’t entirely as peppy as its handle suggests. There’s a melancholy undertow to the jangly ’80s band, which featured Alan McGee, founder of the legendary label Creation Records. Accordingly, Biff Bang Pow! is taken from the title of a song by the ’60s mod group The Creation. That aside, the name is something straight out of Adam West-era Batman—but McGee and company never miss an opportunity to throw a minor key into the sound effects.
Numerous bands have recorded under the name Bang (or Bang!), but the first—and most notable in the U.S.—is the ’70s group best known for its minor 1971 hit, “Questions.” Beyond that, Bang didn’t make much of a bang, though its proto-metal sound is revered enough to have warranted a comeback in the early ’00s. As “Questions” amply proves, though, Bang lived up to its name back in the day.
It’s hard to imagine Wham! being called anything but Wham!, seeing as how the bouncy British group hit the ’80s upside the head with songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” The duo could do ballads, but it’s the bubblegum that first stuck. Like the sound behind its onomatopoeic name, however, Wham! faded almost as quickly as it landed—but not before setting up singer George Michael for an iconic, longer-lasting career.
The snapping of fingers to a hooky tune is as old as fingers and tunes. Snap! seems to have had that in mind when naming itself—and when turning rave-era dance music into a massive crossover. On its early-’90s hits “The Power” and “Rhythm Is A Dancer,” Snap! mastered the marketing of huge house beats and epic synth-sweeps. When it came to packaging dance music for the masses, Snap! crackled and popped.
Onomatopoeia is the most direct method of translating sound into phonetic representation. Likewise, Zapp is the most direct method of translating synthesizers into dancefloor fuel. The electro-funk outfit—and particularly its innovative use of the robotic talk box—made a huge splash in the music world, influencing untold numbers of artists in all genres, not to mention providing plenty of electrified material for samplers. Zapp ended in tragedy in 1999 with the murder-suicide of founding members (and brothers) Roger and Larry Troutman. As horrific as that is, the jolt of Zapp lives on.