Mash-up Repost: Bands with numbers in their name from the Nineties

numbersSo, my brother wrote this post a bit back and I have been thinking about it. I wrote a response. Both generated some debate, so for the first time, I have mashed two of our posts into one terrible Frankensteinian beast. Any ideas for bands we’ve missed or explanations for the phenomenon?

Here’s my brother’s bit to begin:

It occurred to me the other night that there were a lot of  bands with numbers in them from the Nineties. I think  Seven Mary Three was the best. I came to this conclusion after a long conversation with an elementary school friend last week  with whom I enjoyed many of these songs. The football game was not very exciting because the Patriots were like seven touchdowns ahead. I decided to have a mixed drink and this turned into why Seven Mary Three was a better band than Third Eye Blind.  We had to first determine which bands were up for consideration. For instance was 311 up for the best band with numbers in it from the Nineties?

I said no for two reasons. The first is that we would have to include a bunch of bands, few of which I can recall at this time, so we should only allow bands that have numbers and words that existed in the Nineties.  Every argument must have parameters, even if arbitrary ones.

I have decided on three major bands here so I am sure we are missing some so please, feel free to comment and add number word bands of that era that we should discuss at a later date.  The other reason is, I really dislike 311. I don’t know why exactly because I like rap and I like reggae and I should like this band. But I don’t. In fact, I hate them and will turn the station or completely disable the radio if any of their songs come on the radio. Except for “Amber”, which is incredibly cheesy but catchy and I can deal with that one. It’s a nice song for the ladies.

Clearly, Third Eye Blind was in the top few because of the name and the huge fame they experienced in my time of middle school. Steven Jenkins seems to be the face of the band and also seems to have been sued by multiple members of the band throughout his career, according to Wikipedia which also told me they are still a band which is a surprise. My friend thought they should win right away because he and his younger brother definitely had that cassette tape with “Semi- Charmed life” on it.

This band always sounded too much like Matchbox 20 to me, also a forthcoming contender for this list. I think the Third Eye Blind name could be cool but their music sounds too cookie cutter to me and I hear Steven Jenkins is a dick.

True Story: The younger brother with the cassette got to go backstage and meet him three years ago, which also instantly brings up the question of why anyone is going to a Third Eye Blind concert in 2009. Anyway, I guess he’s (Jenkins) a complete weirdo and sort of popped around randomly saying strange things and then locked himself in a dressing room. Fame must be too much for him and he must have a blind third eye.

Now Matchbox 20 was a band I legitimately liked for about twenty five minutes in 1997. They have not aged well; I just listened to a release from this year that was something like “Shes so Mean” and it was not pleasing to my ear. Realistically, it was probably the Santana collaboration that turned me off back in the day because it was like Rob Thomas went from sort of edgy alternative pop rock to just straight homogenized pop. I do love Carlos though and his guitar talents are never a question.

But back to the point, although I don’t like both bands, I do like Matchbox 2o more than Third Eye Blind because at least Thomas seems like a decent guy even though I have no real indication of this. I also don’t like any of their music now that I hear it so it’s not all the personality of the lead singer. I am happy they are still releasing music….even if I don’t like it. Actually, this song makes me think of “Brimful of Asha” by Cornershop which is a good thing.

Seven Mary Three wins the title for me, just as it did during our progressively drunken conversation the other night during the football game. They were never a household name and they may also be kind of formulaic for the time, but I think they have a real unique sound. The lead singer’s vocals are notably gritty which is much more in the vein of what I like than these pretty boy singers in the other number bands of the nineties.

I also really like the content and referring both to yourself and a relationship as being cumbersome. I myself am working out of a weird thing with a girl right now and certainly feeling both cumbersome in mood and body. Drunkenly singing the lyrics to the song “Cumbersome” the other night really made me feel better. Here is another good song by the band.

Guess I always like my alt work as angsty as possible. The bass line gets real crazy for the time too in “Water’s Edge” which seems to be about someone getting shot but almost surely has something to do with some heavy emotional event or issue. My hippie neighbor Steven used to cover these songs when he played up in the woods or out at seedy bars. I remember his beamed out girlfriend yelling the lyrics along with him. In fact, after about the sixth beer, every song Steven sang sounded like Seven Mary Three. Hey could be worse, it could sound like Third Eye Blind.

So why all of the bands with words and numbers in the nineties? I really don’t know and I can’t seem to find the same phenomena in other eras. Sure, you have the Dave Clark Five, Rocket 88, the Tennessee Three and so on from back in the day but never like the mid to late 1990’s. Maybe it was the aftermath of strange names like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden where somebody thought ” well, we need to make a name that stands out so let’s add a number”.

Oh my god, I almost forgot the most honorable mention of a number word band of the era and you can even sing along!

(and, if you haven’t had enough of this topic from this post, my brother takes it up again)

And Here’s What I said:

So, my brother’s recent post about bands with numbers in their names originated not just from a conversation he had with a childhood friend, but also from some riffing that he and I did on the subject. Yes, as the commenter Jake keenly observed, my brother left far too many bands out of consideration. And, as my brother insisted, this is not accidental: he really just wanted to (1) denigrate Third Eye Blind while (2) defending an under-remembered and muscular-sounding band named Seven Mary Three.

The list below will be going through “Changes” too

To add to the chaos, I insisted that the fact that there was a brief glut of bands with numbers in the their names and the putative quality of Seven Mary Three were separate issues worthy of their own hypotheses and debates. So, let’s start with a new list of 90’s bands with numbers in their names (this first one is in no particular order.

  1. U2
  2. Blink 182
  3. Eve 6
  4. Boyz II Men
  5. 98 Degrees
  6. .38 Special
  7. Nine Inch Nails
  8. Ben Folds Five
  9. 2Pac
  10. Sevendust
  11. Third Eye Blind
  12. 311
  13. 4 Non Blondes

From this list I will exclude U2 and .38 Special because they really come from the 1980’s. In addition, I want to subtract 2Pac and Boyz II Men for two reasons: first, 2Pac belongs to a totally different aesthetic category and comparing him to Third Eye Blind is like comparing Shakespeare to Haiku (the only common ground is that both are music and poetry respectively).

Second, in both 2Pac and Boyz II Men the ‘numbers’ in the name, at least at my hearing, are homonyms—2Pac was often written as Tupac and therefore the number signification is secondary just as the Roman numeral II in Boyz II Men  is a ‘clever’ stand in for the preposition ‘to’ and therefore not really a number at all.

(That’s not to say I don’t love both. “End of the Road” was one of those songs that was so successful that it destroyed the band. Tupac should still be with us).

So, after extracting bands for the sake of temporal, generic and semantic parameters, we’re left with (note, the list still is not ranked in any order):

  1. Blink 182
  2. Eve 6
  3. 98 Degrees
  4. Nine Inch Nails
  5. Ben Folds Five
  6. Sevendust
  7. Seven Mary Three
  8. Third Eye Blind
  9. 311
  10. Matchbox 20
  11. 4 Non Blondes

Now, I for one am tempted to follow my sister’s suggestion and leave 98 Degrees in there just because some band needs to be the worst of the lot. And, furthermore, I will not extract 311 from the list even if it gives my brother the ‘screaming fantods’. So, let me take a first stab at ranking (and, for this post I will partially concur with my brother’s high rating of Seven Mary Three):

  1. Nine Inch Nails
  2. Ben Folds Five
  3. *Seven Mary Three
  4. 4 Non Blondes
  5. Blink 182
  6. Third Eye Blind
  7. Matchbox 20
  8. Eve 6
  9. Sevendust
  10. 311
  11. 98 Degrees

There are two interesting things to note about this list before continuing. First, despite the fact that there were many trans-Atlantic acts in the 1990s, all of these bands are American with too many coming from California (Third Eye Blind; Blink 182; Eve 6; and 98 Degrees). Second, I don’t think it is fair to include Ben Folds Five and Nine Inch Nails on this list.

Why? First, both bands have a sound that immediately separates them from anyone else. Second, because of that sound and the cultural space they occupy, they are so clearly better than the other bands as to distort the list. The distance between the second and third spots above might as well be in miles or light-years.

And, my Trent, who does not?

Pray-tell, from where do the other bands hail? 311 is from Nebraska. Seriously, Ne-fucking-Braska. We can blame Matchbox 20 on Florida. Seven Mary Three are from Virginia: they met at The College of William and Mary (the alma mater of Jon Stewart!). According to Wikipedia, they named the band after a radio call sign they heard on the show CHiPs. Sevendust is from Georgia and I care so little about the band that this is the last thing I will say about them. I will also reserve comment for 4 Non Blondes until a later time (as a one-hit wonder, the band may be dismissed; as a songwriter, however, the lead singer deserves a little more notice).

Blink 182 is defensible for the following reasons. For a period of time, they put out decent music and amusing videos. I never owned an album by them, but I never got angry when they came on the radio. In this video, I especially like the send-up of bands like the bottom-dweller 98 Degrees.

Now, my brother wants to discount this group because they are, at best, tertiary punk (the first generation coming at the end of the 1970s; second at the beginning of the 90s with acts like Green Day and Rancid). But I don’t think that this is necessarily fair. Blink 182 had serious air time and a lot of fans.

This song was positively inescapable in 1998.

Eve 6 is mediocre 90’s faux-alt rock. I place them above 311 because they only dominated the airwaves once and that hit song was anodyne enough (catchy at times, but too many words. Way too many words).

So that leaves me with Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 (I will leave my brother’s contention that Seven Mary Three is better than either band unquestioned). I have some issues with Third Eye Blind, but they are not as severe as my brother’s antipathy. The single “Semi-Charmed Life” dominated 1997 and it is a catchy and well-done song.

What always pissed me off about it was that people misunderstood the song as praising a certain life style when it was really lamenting it. I distinctly remember a girl with a lip ring waxing poetic about how the song reminded her of doing ecstasy with her boyfriend who was on the Appalachian trail all the while her associate in another room was selling little bags of a wide variety of reality-altering substances.

Yes, you read that right. Drugs. Appalachian Trail. Third Eye Blind. That is my word-association list. Yet, I must admit, that this band’s reputation was saved for me by the clip above—that unexpected moment in the surprisingly good Yes Man when Jim Carrey sings “Jumper”. I am, truly, a sucker for surprise singing in movies and television (“Afternoon Delight” in Anchorman still cracks me up; Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s musical episode still makes me weepy). But this scene made me rethink both the song and the band. Covers can do that kind of thing, right?

This brings me back to Matchbox 20. Contra my brother, I cannot rate this band higher than Third Eye Blind. In agreement with my brother, I hate this band mostly because of Rob Thomas. By all accounts (and I have read about him and listened to interviews with him), he is a decent and kind human being. But his music is thoroughly mediocre, uninteresting and annoying. The summer of 1997, which witnessed the release of Matchbox 20’s debut album (along with Third Eye Blind’s debut and other horrors) was the final and painful nail in alt-rock’s coffin.

So, another thousand words wasted on bands with numbers in the name. What have we learned? Primarily, the phenomenon was a 90s American trend that seems to have crested around 97/98. Whether or not Seven Mary Three deserves my brother’s admiration is a question for another time (like, 1996 or something).

Are there bands that aren’t on this list? Any suggestions for a cause of this alpha-numeric agglomeration?

And, for fun, here’s a great response to one of the posts from one of our friends, Another J:

“My best theory for the emergence of band names with word-number combinations in the 90s is that a similar strategy used to create unique email addresses was applied to create unique band names. When someone wanted the email address and found that it was not available, they often added a number to the end of their name ( to create a unique email address. However, this theory really does not hold up to a number of the bands on this list, as most were formed prior to 1996 and the launch of Hotmail.

When looking at the origin of each band’s name it is also difficult to come to one overlapping theory that encompasses each band’s reason to incorporate digits into their name. Ben Fold’s added the number five for alliterative purposes. The same reason I suspect was used in naming Nine Inch Nails. Eve 6 was named after an X-Files episode. Third Eye Blind is based on the metaphysical idea of a mind’s eye. Sevendust was named after weed killer. 311 was named after a police citation. Blink 182 seems to be the only band where my theory above works, as they were originally named Blink until an Irish band of the same name complained. None of these name origins seem to have anything tying them together, or identifying a new appreciation for numbers.

I suspect it is merely a coincidence that many numeral-themed band names happened to have some radio success in the same decade. It is likely not due to their names, but that they contributed to the genres that were popular at the time. Bands have been using numbers in there names for decades. The B-52s, Three Dog Night, Jackson 5, UB40, 10,000 Maniacs, and Take 6 all come to mind. And even since the 90′s we’ve had Three Doors Down, Sum 41, Five for Fighting, Maroon 5, 50 Cent, 30 Seconds to Mars, +44, and One Direction. The variety of these bands genres tells me that use of numbers is not exclusive to any one genre.

Perhaps, the use of numbers makes it easier to remember a band’s name? Maybe, bands had lucky numbers that they wanted to use? Probably, there have always been a large number of alpha-numeric band names, just with the wider variety of music more have had some commercial success, and we’ve become more aware of them.”

Anything left to say? Anyone?

4 comments on “Mash-up Repost: Bands with numbers in their name from the Nineties

  1. Kirk says:

    Jurassic 5 and Powerman 5000, also 90’s bands, correct?

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