blink of a pop culture eye

by Art Chantry (

back in the mid-sixties, just as the ‘british invasion” of the american pop music charts was peaking and the post war baby-boom overkill of teenage culture was reaching a fever pitch – acid hit. in the pop culture world, that was a tremendously awkward transition. imagine teenagers trying to be hip and cool tryng to look and sound like the beatles suddenly having to deal with dramatic mind-altering drugs as peer pressure dominated you? you went from “cute and loveable moptops” to seriously surreal alternative universes in the blink of a pop culture eye.

---this idea of 'the band making the name" and not the other way around is something that we graphic designers all need to teach our clients. when we design a logo, the coolest squiggle in the world with make a bad business any good. nothing we can do denotes or promises success. that always have to come from the client. we can only 'help.'---AC

in the top 40 rock-n-roll world of teeny-bop puberty and hormones this was a crisis. how does one suddenly turn on a dime from adorable puppy to psychedlic journeyman? what sort of “image” or ‘branding” does a rock band need to do to get the chicks? believe me, i was just barely old enough to see my ‘elders’ go through this phase and it was pathetic even to my child’s eye. try as you might, but zits and the concept of “psychedlic ranger” just don’t go together. watch old roger corman “drugsploitation” movies from the era and you can get your fill of that real quick. the way the whole transition came off was a sort of idiot children copycatting anything they didn’t understand at all. such a path is fraught with silly and boorish behavior – and the 1960’s youth culture was filled to the eyeballs with that sad stuff.

one of the ways i really enjoy getting my jollies out of the follies of our elders is to look at what they thought was cool when they were dumbshit kids. i especially enjoy the bad fashions and the ‘good taste’ and the ‘high culture’ of that period . it’s all so utterly silly and stupid. andy warhol was the epitome of self-imposed stupid. haight-ashbury was devoured by it’s own stupid. the political “revolution” was so stupid they actually thought they levitated the pentagon through sheer thoughts of “love”. everywhere you look, it’s completley cringe-worthy. of course, we all romanticize it now and get all misty-eyed about our ill-spent youth. ever watch those PBS beg-a-thon shows reminiscing abut their glory days? good lord, that’s horrible to see. (but, them punk rockers are next – just watch. nobody is immune.)

i love the NAMES of the bands that emerged during this transition period. the bands that began in suburban garages as ‘fake beatles’ and were forced to morph into psychedelic rangers – same kids, same songs, same world. but, they had to suddenly become cool and hip – with nothing at all to work with. they had to even change the NAMES of their bands!!! you couldn’t be cool with a band name like “dickie do and the don’ts” or “the golliwogs” any more (real band names by the way). a band’s name is a very special design problem. you have to be very very careful and be very very smart. band names that work are beyond brilliant (the grateful dead, led zeppelin, cream, et al). but those without a lyical genius in the group had to struggle to figure out first what was school, then how to copycat it.

names like the strawberry alarm clock, the chocolate watchband, ultimate spinach, the peanut butter conspiracy, the electric prunes, etc. were obviously self-defined as ‘contradiction’ names. take a mundane object and slap on a crazy inappropriate adjective – iron + butterfly. another easy ploy was to grab a name “from the headlines” that referred to the counter-culture itself – the other half, love, 13th floor elevators, we the people. these all have inside joke references to being one of “the other” and not a boorish middle-culture commoner. it was romantic and elite. and stupid, too. and of course, there were the wondrous drug references – big brother & the holding company, the seeds, the smoke, the leaves, the daily flash.

but, my favotrite cataegory is “cool book titles as band names.” this category denotes intellectualism – “hey look, we’re smart.” this sort of band name seems to indicate that at least somebody in the band has actually read a book. never mind it’s almost always a book so hip as to be a virtual underground pop smash as well. the most famous bands with names like these are the velvet underground, the doors (originially “the doors of perception”), mott the hoople, the amboy dukes, steppenwolf, even as late as generation x, etc. the potential list of bands with lifted book tiles as names is really huge and really fun to work on. i requires a LOT of cross research and sometimes dumb luck to spot where the name was nicked from.

to this list, i have to add the band “the balloon farm”. not much is really known about this mid-sixties psych rock garage band, but they had a big hit record on the charts in 1967 titled “a question of temperature.” it’s a great garage rock/early psych single and still a popular oldies format item. their only real claim to immortality is that there was a guy in the band named Mike Appel, who later in life became a songwriter for the partridge family and even later managed Bruce Springsteen to stardom. go figger, eh?

i found this children’s book in the goodwill trash bin. i saw the cover and immediately grabbed for it. classic bad DIY psychedlic lettering of exactly the right period (my favorite period of amateurism and incompetence.) this book was originally written in 1955 and is about a farm that grows balloons. but, the illustrations inside are totally bonkers in that squiggly colorful style that we now glance at and think “psychedelic, maaaaan!” but, it’s an older childrens’ book. this particular version was published in 1968 (possibly in reaction to the hit record). but the artwork seems to be from 1955. at any rate, i think that this book is the source of the band’s name.

now, some of you authorities out there may jump in here and say, “nope, they were named after a night club in nyc called the ‘balloon farm’. but, i counter with, “well, then where do you think the club got THEIR name?” the phrase ‘balloon farm’ is so obtuse and surreal that it had to have been coined and/or concocted somewhere. and th

ook is an obvious mindblower of crazy artwork and, well, there it is. for your pleasure.

all this serious effort to have JUST the right name, the “coolest” band name, is always so funny. the bands with the very worst names in history seem to do just fine. it’s not the name that makes the band, but the band that makes the name. even a lousy name will become full of unspoken intellectual reverence if the genius of the creative effort carries it in that direction. think, “the beatles”, “creedence clearwater revival”, “nirvana”, etc. TERRIBLE UNCOOL DORKY names – all of them. but, these words now fill us with awe.


and if you really wan tho get into the origin – where do you think dylan got the phrase? did he really make that up on the spot? i don’t think so. his writings are chock-full of lifted phraseology. he liked that ‘irony’….oh, and dylan worked in a folk-art tradition of ‘passing the idea along’. most of his early tunes were lifted melodies with new words – just like the tradition of folk singing. this ‘cult of originality” and copyright selfishness we suffer from today is a recent development….

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