The recent announcement of the upcoming Mötley Crüe/Poison/Def Leppard tour inspired pangs of hair-metal nostalgia among a certain generation. But there’s another, perhaps more important reason to celebrate the news: It marks yet another moment in the return of the umlaut, one of rock’s most wonderfully deranged obsessions.
Sticking two little dots over sometimes random letters in a band name, even if it makes no phonetical sense, is a tradition that dates back 50 years, to a German prog band, and continues sporadically to this day. The return of the Crüe isn’t even the only current example of the umlaut’s own comeback tour: Director Jim Jarmusch’s side project band, Sqürl, is releasing an album (Some Music for Robby Müller) next month, and one of the recently announced Grammy nominees, in the World Music category, is the eclectic Amsterdam-based band Altin Gün, who blend Turkish folk with prog and other out-there genres.
All of which means that the time has come to survey the highs, lows and in-betweens of umlaut history during the past five decades — of which there are surprisingly many.
Best Pre–Blue Öyster Cult Use of an Umlaut
Credit for the first major use of an umlaut in a band name has generally gone to Blue Öyster Cult, who had the inspired if nonsensical idea to stick dots above the “O” in their name around 1971 after going through several previous monikers. But for daring to go where no copy editor would dare, let us bow down before Amon Düül, the groundbreaking krautrock ensemble that emerged from a late-Sixties commune; their 1969 album Psychedelic Underground is seemingly the first to feature umlauts on a cover. The more musically accomplished and enduring Amon Düül II continued the tradition.
Best Copycat Umlaut
In interviews, the late Lemmy Kilmister admitted that he was inspired by Blue Öyster Cult to add an umlaut over the second “o” in Motörhead. For him, it made his band’s name seem scarier and more intense, and no one would care argue with him.
Best Explanation for Using Umlauts to Begin With
During a brainstorming session in their formative days, the members of Mötley Crüe were drinking Löwenbräu beer — and felt a genuine moment of inspiration (as well as thirst). “When we decided to call ourselves Mötley Crüe,” Vince Neil has said, “we put some umlauts in there because we thought it made us look European.” Things could’ve turned out very differently had they been chugging domestic beer at the time.
Best Incorporation of Multiple Umlauts
The winner is, naturally, the Canadian metal band Voivod, who titled their 1986 album Rrröööaaarrr.
Best and Most Desperate Use of an Umlaut
In the face of a copyright-infringement lawsuit, the comedy-rock band Green Jellö changed its name to Green Jellÿ in the Nineties. In so doing, they made even better use of the umlaut over a “y” than Queensrÿche did.
Best Umlaut Inspired by a Children’s Game
The eternally awesome Minneapolis indie band Husker Dü named themselves after a Swedish board game. That game opted for two macrons and a question mark in its packaging (Hūsker Dū?, which translates as “do you remember?”), so let’s applaud Bob Mould, Greg Norton, and/or Grant Hart for the inspired tweak.
Best EDM Use of Umlauts
Dance music acts generally did not go for the dotted logo, but one important exception is Röyksopp, the Norwegian duo who named themselves after their country’s term for either a smoke cloud or mushroom cloud, depending on the source. The umlaut is one of many things that set them apart from their electronic counterparts.
Best Use of an Umlaut in Hip-Hop
Before he was Jay Z, he was Jaÿ-Z on the cover of his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. Hova also gets a secondary award for being smart enough to ditch the diacritic on every album cover he released after. “I had umlauts over one of the letters,” he admitted in 2013. “I removed that too.”
Best Satirical Use of an Umlaut By a Not Entirely Serious Band
Spın̈al Tap, who never did explain why they went that phonetical route in the movie that made them famous.
Best Satirical Use of an Umlaut By a Serious Band
Jarmusch and drummer Carter Logan’s Sqürl project, which has provided atmospheric guitar drone for the soundtracks of projects like Jarmusch’s Adam Driver–starring Paterson in 2016.
Most Natural Use of an Umlaut
That’s easy — Björk, born Björk Guðmundsdóttir. No beer, board games, or lawsuits required.