Behind the Band Name: The Cranberries

The Cranberries were one of the best-selling alternative acts of the ’90s and they were Ireland’s largest musical export since U2. Their ethereal, spacey sound became a rallying cry for an entire generation of teens, particularly those in Northern Ireland weathering “The Troubles.”

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There aren’t many people in the world that don’t know the name The Cranberries thanks to their hit singles “Linger” and “Zombie.” But, how did they find their moniker? Find the story behind their band name below.

The Cranberries Saw Us

Prior to frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan joining the outfit, the group was comprised of brothers Noel and Mike Hogan, Fergal Lawler and Niall Quinn. The four-piece operated under the name The Cranberry Saw Us – a pun that sounds similar to “the cranberry sauce.”

In 1990, Quinn decided to depart from the group, leaving the outfit in need of a lead singer. The Cranberries Saw Us wanted a female singer to match their dreamy sound.

By that time, O’Riordan had already begun writing her own songs. When she heard that the group was looking for a replacement for Quinn, she lugged her keyboard across Limerick, Ireland, and auditioned for the band.

“Dolores came and sang a few songs she had written,” Noel Hogan once recalled. “We were blown away that this small girl from Limerick had such an amazing voice. The fact that she wasn’t already in a band was a miracle.”

O’Riordan left her first audition with the beginning of what would become “Linger.” She returned a week later with the lyrics sorted out, clinching a spot in the band.

After hearing “Linger” in its final form, the group knew they were headed for a different sound. A songwriting partnership was formed between O’Riordan and Noel and the band’s first demos were recorded.

The Cranberries

After their first demos were completed, Noel quit his job and started working on shopping the group’s music out to labels and radio stations.

It was by chance that the group’s name was changed to their enduring moniker. One of the group’s demo tapes was sent back to the band, addressed simply “The Cranberries” and thus the name was changed. A number of labels would soon start hounding the band to join their ranks.

“We had been together six months and had just six songs to our name, and 32 record company people flew in to see us and we were afraid for our lives,” O’Riordan recalled to the LA Times.

Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

The group released their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? in 1993.

The album’s lead single, “Dreams,” gained traction at college and alternative rock stations soon after its release.

The album wasn’t initially a success in Europe. It wasn’t until they reissued the singles “Dreams” and “Linger” a year later that it became a No. 1 album in the U.K.

“It’s very difficult to break in Europe unless you break in England, and it’s very difficult to break in England if you’re Irish,” O’Riordan once said. Nevertheless, the record went on to sell upwards of 6 million copies worldwide.

No Need to Argue

The group’s second album, No Need to Argue, was a bigger hit than their first upon its release. The album’s success can largely be attributed to the single “Zombie.”

“When we did ‘Zombie’, we realized that you can actually be heavy and still have melody,” Noel once recalled.

The song was much harder than anything they had done before. The track was an anti-war anthem that took aim at “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland in the ’90s. At the time of its release, the violence in Northern Ireland left almost 3,500 people dead and tens of thousands injured.

The three decades of religious and nationalistic conflict were mirrored in the lyrics: Another head hangs lowly / Child is slowly taken / And the violence caused such silence / Who are we mistaken?

“I remember being on tour and being in the UK at the time when the child died, and just being really sad about it all,” O’Riordan once recalled. “These bombs going off in random places. It could have been anyone, you know? So I suppose that’s why I was saying, ‘It’s not me.’ Even though I’m Irish, it wasn’t me.”

Island Records reportedly urged The Cranberries to not release the politically-charged song as a single. The label offered O’Riordan one million dollars to work on a different song. O’Riordan ripped up the check.

In the End

In 2018, O’Riordan was found dead after drowning in a London hotel bathroom. The rest of her bandmates confirmed the news and told the fans they would not continue on releasing music.

Their final album, In the End, was released in 2019. The group disbanded shortly after. The record went on to earn a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album.

(Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)

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