Our ever-litigious society has contributed to innumerable stories of ridiculous legal demands. Like when a band from the United Kingdom is forced to change its name in the United States because an (almost invariably obscure) American band who happened to snag the name first sues them over the rights. Rather than fight these Yank musicians and their lawyers, most Brits cave in - at least for a little while. Here are some examples:
- Wham! (Wham! UK). George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley formed Wham! in 1981; by the time they became international superstars in 1984, they had to add the "UK" for American sales because there was already a Nashville-based funk/disco band called Wham! who recorded one album, in 1978, for the GRT label. ("WHAM! UK" stickers were hurriedly slapped onto the British duo's debut, concealing the band's UK-less name.) The American Wham!, who had most likely broken up by 1984, sold the US rights to the name to Messrs Michael et al for a reported £50,000.
- The Beat (The English Beat). Growing up in California, it wasn't until just a couple of years ago that I learned that the ska group I always knew as The English Beat - you know, "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Save It For Later", etc. - was actually just plain old The Beat in their native country. Amusingly, after frontmen Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger went their separate ways, Wakeling began touring as The English Beat (mostly playing US clubs), while Roger tours as The Beat in Europe. As for the completely unrelated Los Angeles band known as The Beat? Well, they're still at it after all these years - and in 2012, they even went on tour with The English Beat!
- Yazoo (Yaz). Another early '80s duo that broke up too soon but left us with a couple of memorable new wave hits: "Don't Go" and "Situation" (which you might know as "Move Out"). Depending on which story you believe, they dropped the "oo" in the States either because of a lawsuit from a Texas band named Yazoo or because of a lawsuit from Yazoo Records, an American blues label.
- Suede (The London Suede). The most cringe-worthy name change in history came fairly late in the game for these '90s Britpop icons, after they got sued by a middle-aged chanteuse who performs as Suede throughout East Coast piano bars. The UK band had already released their self-titled debut when their label panicked and saddled them with the clumsy new moniker. US fans looking for their music in the "S" section of record store bins were no doubt flummoxed.
- Squeeze (U.K. Squeeze). Even these well-known '80s songsters - "Black Coffee in Bed", "Tempted", and so forth - were, in 1978, briefly known as "U.K. Squeeze" because of some frivolous threats from an outfit called "Tight Squeeze" (possibly a Hollywood, Florida bar band). Evidently the threats amounted to nothing, and Squeeze was just plain Squeeze in the US from their second album onward. However, they remained "U.K. Squeeze" in Australia all the way up through their sixth album in 1985, because of an Aussie band who also called themselves Squeeze.
- Verve (The Verve). In 1994, five years after they formed, Richard Ashcroft and his "Bitter Sweet Symphony" cohorts gave in to legal pressures from the famous jazz label Verve Records and added a "The" to their name. What's interesting about this case is that the modification was universal: even in their native England, they would become forever known as The Verve.
- The Charlatans (The Charlatans UK). Ask anyone who went to college in the early '90s to name a British band that underwent a Stateside name change. Most will cite The Charlatans, who recorded the 1990 alt radio hit "The Only One I Know". According to The Guardian, a San Francisco taxi driver who once fronted a psychedelic group called The Charlatans back in 1969 sued the lads for $6 million(!). Their label backed down and "UK" was added to prevent any further squabbling. Ironically, upon the release of their third album, when The Charlatans were cleared to drop the "UK", their American fans got confused, so the band kept it as it was.
- The Mission (The Mission UK). The Mission is perhaps best known for their goth-tinged 1990 single "Deliverance". Still touring and recording 17 years after their founding, The Mission has, like The Charlatans, been stuck with that pesky "UK" ever since a Philadelphia R&B unit flexed their legal muscle. Other English groups to give in to the dreaded letter from attorneys include The Chameleons (The Chameleons UK), Witness (Witness UK), The Bees (A Band of Bees), and The Shapeshifters (dreadfully renamed Shape:UK). However, Britain's scarily popular boy band One Direction actually trumped an eponymous California punk outfit who sued them; a settlement (which probably involved cash) forced the Americans to redub themselves "Uncharted Shores".
- The Dust Brothers (The Chemical Brothers). Ubiquitous 1990s electronic dance musicians The Chemical Brothers actually called themselves The Dust Brothers during their early years, from 1992 to 1995. It was an explicit homage to The Dust Brothers, a pair of American producers famous for their work with the Beastie Boys (and who would later compose the electronic score for Fight Club). The real Dust Brothers were not amused by the confusion and sicced their attorneys on their British rivals, who quickly transformed into The Chemical Brothers, as they would soon be known at home and throughout the world.