Behind the Meaning and History of the Band Name: Counting Crows

Here at American Songwriter, we love Counting Crows.

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The band, which is fronted by songwriter and lead singer Adam Duritz, is a hit-making machine. From the group’s breakout hit “Mr. Jones” to others like “Omaha” and “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,” the emotional, heart-on-the-sleeve songwriting from Duritz is unmatched. And for a while in the ’90s, the band was one of the biggest musical groups in the world.

But how did they get there and what the heck is so important about enumerating black-winged birds?

Let’s dive deep into the history of the band and its memorable band name here.

History of the Band

Counting Crows is originally from the Bay Area in California—specifically, San Francisco.

Formed in 1991, the group includes guitarist David Bryson, drummer Jim Bogios, Duritz, keyboardist Charlie Gillingham, instrumentalist David David Immerglück, bassist Millard Powers, and guitarist Dan Vickrey. Steve Bowman was in the group during its early years and Ben Size and Matt Malley had played in the group for other stints.

The group rose to fame with its debut LP, August and Everything After, which dropped into the world officially in 1993. “Mr. Jones” was on the radio everywhere that year and the album sold more than 7 million copies in the United States.

Counting Crows earned two Grammy nominations in 1994 as a result, including Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Round Here” and Best New Artist.

The band’s sophomore LP, Recovering the Satellites, peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and hit the same mark in several other countries, as well. And all but one of their next albums earned a Top 10 spot on the Billboard top 200.

Big, Big Hits

Counting Crows have hits. Without even diving deep into their catalog, the band boasts Top 10 songs that would rival just about any other artist or group. With poetic lyrics and catching music, the group is known for tracks like “Round Here,” “Rain King,” “A Long December” and their beloved cover of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi.”

The Bay Area-born band also earned a 2004 Oscar nomination for their song “Accidentally in Love,” which was used in the animated film, Shrek 2, starring Mike Myers. To date, Counting Crows have sold more than 20 million albums and they are known for their rollicking live shows.

But What About the Band’s Name?

The alliterative band name Counting Crows comes from a poem. Given Duritz’ emotive sensibilities, this makes complete sense.

The name stems from “One for Sorrow,” a British divination nursery rhyme about the superstitious counting of magpies, which are birds that are members of the larger crow family.

Duritz heard the rhyme in the movie, Signs of Life, which featured his close friend, actress Mary-Louise Parker, and took to the idea. Later, Duritz used the rhyme in the band’s song, “A Murder of One,” which is on the group’s debut LP.

Below is a modern rendition of the famous, old rhyme:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.

Final Thoughts

For those who came of age in the 1990s, it’s likely you have a favorite Counting Crows song or three. It’s likely, too, that some of those tracks appeared on mixtapes (or mix CDs) that you made or were given by a friend or favorite crush.

Truly, the band wrote hits. But they weren’t bubble-gum pop. Not ephemeral tracks that came and went. Indeed, Counting Crows wrote indelible songs that had a message and, more than that, deep emotion behind them.

They’re a band—like their name, itself—not to be forgotten.

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