Feb 28, 2010

Rock Royalty

What is it about the music industry that inspires aristocratic, even royal, nom de plumes?

I'm not talking about nicknaming Madonna the "Queen of Pop", Michael Jackson the "King of Pop" or Kylie Minogue or Britney Spears "Pop Princesses". That's understandable: artists at the top of their field will be given easily-digestible honorifics, and royalty is about as recognisable as you can get.

(Although it doesn't tend to stretch much beyond music; I have yet to hear anyone describe scientist and former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer as "King of Cervical Cancer Vaccine Research").

But some artists/bands cut straight to the chase, giving themselves aristocratic names from the get go - I imagine as an easy, if subconscious, way of gaining status.

Look at Kings of Leon. It's royal, and kind of alternative. Even sounds a bit biblical. These days we know them best as winners of all sorts of awards about sex being on fire, without anybody even stopping them to suggest a topical cream could've helped avoid all that discomfort.

The real kings would of course be Queen, a tongue-in-cheek band name that referenced Freddie Mercury's sexuality to be sure, but also paid homage to the head of the British state. 

It was a Queen song, in fact, that inspired young Stefani Germanotta's stage name. A big fan of Mercury's flamboyant ways, she adopted an aristocratic prefix and became the rather outstanding Lady Gaga.

She's not the only Lady currently active, of course - Lady Sovereign is a cheeky young UK rapper, and LadyHawke an enigmatic Kiwi indie artist, who would really like you to stop playing with her delirium.

We can't forget Prince of course; no matter how many freaky symbols he tries to use instead of a name, we know he's using Prince as a way of making up for the fact that while he may be a musical genius he is looks like a four-foot-ten chimney sweep.

Of course, my absolute favourite musical aristocrat is Sir Mix-a-Lot, he of Baby Got Back fame. Back in the early 90s, he was THE Knight Errant of Booty Appreciation.  I assume he'd have the Order of the Garter, but I daresay he wouldn't stop there (is now the right time to mention Baby Got Back was the first rap song I ever learned off by heart, and can still recite if prompted?).

It doesn't always work. King Missile had a fantastically bizarre song called "Detachable Penis" back in the 90s, but according to Wikipedia, they're not doing all that much apart from changing line-ups. There's a joke in there to be made about a "missing member", but I'll let you assemble it yourself.

What I'd like to see more of is the use of some of the other royal/noble ranks. For example, I'm yet to see a "Baron" or "Baronet" (the slightly shittier baron). Is there no one willing to step up and be a "Viscount of Rock"? And surely there have got to be some Counts out there somewhere...

The closest we've come is probably Duke Ellington, so nicknamed because of his graceful manner and dapper dress sense. David Bowie was known as the Thin White Duke there for a while, although it was never specified that he was simply a noble duke, and not a royal duke.

Any other examples of self-described rock royalty/aristocracy?


  1. Ozzy is called The Prince of Darkness

  2. James Brown, aka Godfather/King of soul

  3. Eagles of Death Metal. In my mind, when it comes to death metal, Eagle is of the highest order.

  4. Great read GC x bedes

  5. I Like. Big. Butts and I Can Not Lie. You other brothers can't deny... *cough* Sorry about that.

    Good call on the Biblical nature of the Kings of Leon - I think they're all sons of a Southern Baptist preacher or something. And yes that'll be the last time they get the personal lubricant and the Deep Heat mixed up I dare say.

    A couple off the top of my head
    Royal Crown Revue - very briefly prominent off the back of the 'Swingers' soundtrack
    Custom Kings - Melbourne band, kinda reggae-dub, a bit like the Wellington trumpet bands that get played a lot in NZ
    King Crimson - cult UK prog-metal band from the 70s-80s
    Queen Latifah
    Count Basie
    BB King (see also Carole King, Nat King Cole et al)
    Duke Fame from Spinal Tap
    The Fresh Prince before he reverted to being Will Smith... OK now I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel. Artistically if nothing else.

  6. Who else but The King himself - Elvis.

    Baby Got Back, to this day, remains the only rap song I ever knew all the words to ;)

  7. Dan put me on to Jonathon Coulton, who does a great cover of Baby Got Back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gW6yQZyx5w