For Mötley Crüe, inspiration struck – as it often does – under influence.
It was the early 1980s and bandmates Vince Neil, Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx were drinking Löwenbräu beer, a German drink. The umlauts in the name seemed to strike a chord with them.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Neil vanity lounge in 2009. “We were drinking Löwenbräu, and when we decided to call ourselves Mötley Crüe, we put umlauts in it because we thought it gave us a European air. We had no idea it was a pronunciation issue.
They quickly discovered it. “When we finally got to Germany, the crowd was chanting ‘Mutley Cruh! Mutley Cruh!’ We couldn’t understand why they were doing this.
The Crüe, Blue Öyster Cult, Motörhead: For rock musicians, the umlaut has become a strange signature, which only seems to exist because it looks cool. (In fairness, it’s a prerequisite for almost everything in rock music, from hair bands to microphone stand scarves.) But if Neil and company may have helped popularize the punctuation prop , they were not the innovators. The true story of the umlaut begins decades earlier in a decidedly less debauched German music scene. A community, in fact.
Although it has been around since the Middle Ages, the umlaut was named by Grimm’s brother, Jacob Grimm, one half of the morbid storytelling duo. In 1819 he described uh (around) and laut (sound) as a means of indicating how one vowel might influence another when spoken aloud. It was indicated by two dots above the vowel, which were to command the speaker to make a oo-ee sound. (Try to say oo-ee repeatedly freeze your tongue on the eethen move your lips to oh. It should sound a bit like a banjo.)
Although it served a utilitarian purpose, the umlaut had another advantage: it looked exotic in print, especially with non-German speakers. This may be one of the reasons why the German art community Amon Düül opted for a double umlaut. According rolling stonetheir 1969 album, psychedelic underground, was the first to feature the brand on an album cover. (Some also credit the band with introducing the krautrock genre, although the band did not always receive praise. One reviewer dubbed their third album, Disaster, such as “appropriately titled”. They should also not be confused with the reputedly superior group, Amon Düül II.)
That a German group requisitions the umlaut is not so unusual. What made it popular in America was Blue Öyster Cult. The group adopted the style in 1971 after several other group names—Soft White Underbelly and Travesty among them—didn’t seem to resonate with fans. The Cult did, especially when it merged with the Umlaut, the result of band manager Sandy Pearlman and rock writer Richard Meltzer standing outside a restaurant serving Blue Point oysters.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we call it Blue Oyster Cult? ‘” Pearlman said rolling stone. “And Richard said, ‘And we’ll add an umlaut above the O! And I said, ‘Great!’ »
The group accepted. “I think the umlaut had a bit of a wry humor about it,” founder Eric Bloom said in 2013. “Plus, it made the band name cool in a way.”
(Curiously, some self-proclaimed BOCs favored neo-Nazi sentiments, partly because of the umlaut and a German plane on the cover of their Secret Treaties album. Bloom and Pearlman are Jewish.)
The success of Blue Öyster Cult led to some insertions of copied umlauts. Lemmy Kilmister, the frontman of rock band Motörhead, said he was inspired by the cult when naming his own band. Kilmister was not a grammar enthusiast; he just thought the umlaut sounded fierce enough for his aggressive style of music. (It should be noted that Kilmister also collected Nazi memorabilia, which somewhat colors his requisition of German punctuation. Kilmister, who died in 2015, denied having racist beliefs.)
“I pinched the idea of Blue Öyster Cult,” he said. “Then Mötley Crüe pinched it on us and it just goes on and on.”
Before long, the umlaut could not be stopped. The Minneapolis group Husker Dü followed; Queensriche too; Jay-Z used Jaÿ-Z for a 1996 album, Reasonable doubt; Canadian band Voivod titled their 1986 record Rrröööaaarrr, probably ironically; the Guitar Hero the video game series featured heavy metal rocker Lars Ümlaüt.
The cherry atop the umlaut pile may be fake British rockers Spın̈al Tap, the subject of the 1984 mockumentary It’s Spinal Tapwhich deletes the point on the I and places the umlaut absurdly on the NOT. Then again, if the only purpose of umlaut in rock is to sound cool, there’s nothing wrong with that.