LEVINE: What's in a name?

The Old Rocker

The Moonglows (Special photo)

The Moonglows (Special photo)


The Skyliners (Special photo)


Barry Levine

Earlier this year, the Old Rocker wrote a column about some of the unusual ways early rock ‘n’ roll groups selected their names. William Brown sent a letter wanting to know how other groups picked their names. Sorry that the Old Rocker couldn’t uncover the genesis of all of the group names that he wanted, but here are some of them as well as a few others.

The Del-Vikings, a Doo-Wop group, had two Top 10 hits in 1857 — “Come Go with Me” which reached No. 4 and “Whispering Bells” rose to No 9. The group formed in Pittsburgh in 1955 when the members were stationed in the Air Force. They selected their name when reading books in a library about the Vikings and simply added Del to it. The Del-Vikings were one of the first integrated groups of the early rock era.

The Skyliners, another Doo-Wop group from Pittsburgh, reached the Top 25 with “Since I Don’t Have You” in 1959 and “This I Swear” and “Pennies from Heaven” in 1960. As most groups of the time, they got their name in an unusual fashion. Joe Bock, the group’s manager decided to change their name from the Crescents to Skyliners from the 1944 song “Skyliner,” a big hit by jazz saxophonist Charlie Barnet.

The Monotones had their only chart hit in the spring of 1958 when “Book of Love” reached No. 5 and it became a rock classic. All residents of a housing project in Newark, N.J., the group “borrowed” their name from another group in Newark called the Monotones, who were not using it. They also liked the name because the “one sound” accurately described their style.

The Moonglows charted three songs that reached the Top 25 during the mid- to late-1950s. The Louisville natives first hit was “Sincerely” in 1955 and they followed with “See Saw” in 1956 and the rock standard “Ten Commandments of Love” in 1958. The group got its name when the members went to Cleveland and met DJ Alan Freed, the man who is credited with coining the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll.” Freed’s radio show was called the “Moondog Show” and Freed suggested using a name similar to the show’s name. The group quickly decided to call themselves the Moonglows.

The Earls parlayed their only chart hit, “Remember When” which rose to No. 24 in January 1963, to a 50-year career as they recently celebrated their golden anniversary. Larry Chance, the lead singer, formed the group when he moved from Philadelphia to New York during the late 1950s. He selected the name Earls when he was thumbing through a dictionary and saw the word earl, which means noblemen of high rank.

Five friends from New Haven, Conn., got together in 1954 to form a Doo-Wop group called the Lyres. The following year, they signed with Herald records and Al Silver, the company’s head, suggested that they change their name. The group decided on Nutmegs to honor their home state, the Nutmeg State. The Nutmegs are believed to be the first group to use their state’s nickname for the group’s name. The group had their only two hits in 1955 — “Story Untold,” which was written by Leroy Griffin, the group’s lead singer, and “Ship of Love.” “Story Untold” has been covered by many groups.

Most people believe that “Barbara Ann,” the Beach Boys’ No. 2 hit in 1966, was first recorded by the California group. It actually was a Top 15 hit for the Regents in 1961. The group was formed in 1959 when the quintet began singing on street corners in the Bronx, N.Y. Fred Fassert, the brother of Charles Fassert, a member of the Regents, penned “Barbara Ann.” The group took its name because lead singer Guy Villari was smoking Regent cigarettes.

The Capris were one of the great one-hit wonder groups as the quintet from Queens, N.Y., struck gold with the cheek-to-cheek classic “There’s a Moon out Tonight.” The song rose to No. 3 on the charts in January 1961. Many thought that the all-Italian group selected their name after the Isle of Capri in Italy. They chose their name because of the 1957 Lincoln Capri.

Barry Levine writes about music and pop culture and can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.