Do you remember the February 9, 1964 American debut of Johnny and the Moondogs on “The Ed Sullivan Show”? Probably not–either because you’re too young, or because a few years earlier the group changed its name to the Beatles. (Interestingly, John Lennon made the name change to honor the then recently-deceased Buddy Holly and his band, the Crickets.)
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Would the Beatles have been every bit as successful had they kept their original name–their original brand, if you will? Quite possibly; certainly a band’s name has no effect on its talent or its performance. But does it affect the way the band is perceived? I think it does. As an 8-year-old watching that Ed Sullivan Show, I remember thinking that “The Beatles” was a really cool name; it was a clever play on words (was I a weird 8-year-old, or what?!?), and their logo looked great on Ringo’s bass drum. It was unlike any name I’d ever seen before, which reinforced the fact that the Beatles looked and sounded unlike any group I’d ever seen before. In contrast, while I like the name “Johnny and the Moondogs” today, I’m not sure how I would have felt about it in 1964. On the one hand, the “____ and the ____” naming format was pretty ordinary then; on the other hand, “Moondogs” was anything but an ordinary term. If nothing else, the name might have sounded a little less wholesome than “The Beatles”. And that’s important, as despite their controversial “long hair”, the Beatles had a very wholesome image. (Of course, this changed a bit as the decade wore on.)
More importantly, “Johnny and the Moondogs” suggests one star and a supporting cast (ala “Jay and the Americans” and “Freddy and the Dreamers”), whereas “The Beatles” were perceived as “John, Paul, George and Ringo”–a/k/a the “Fab Four”. While John and Paul wrote and sang virtually all of the songs, each of the band members was comparably popular at the time. In fact, I can recall fans frequently talking about who was their favorite Beatle. (I was a John man, not that you asked.) Because of this, “Johnny and the Moondogs” would have been an ill-fitting name for this band.
So, how different would our perceptions, and maybe even our enjoyment, of this incredible band have been had it been branded “Johnny and the Moondogs”? It’s impossible to say, but I’m pretty sure it would have been different. After all, I just can’t hear Ed Sullivan saying, “Ladies and gentlemen…Johnny and the Moondogs!!!”