The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band famously performed "Death Cab for Cutie" at the end of The Beatles' 1967 Magical Mystery Tour film. The Bonzos were asked personally by Paul McCartney to be in the film as they were gaining popularity in Britain at the time.
Written by the group's singer Vivian Stanshall, the initial inspiration for this song was the title of an old American pulp fiction crime magazine he once came across.
The origin of the phrase "Death Cab for Cutie" can be traced to a book by British Academic Richard Hoggart. In 1957, Hoggart published a book called The Uses of Literacy which discussed British popular culture and cultural studies. The phrase appears in Chapter 8, part C which is titled "Sex and Violence Novels."
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band singer Vivian Stanshall wanted to sing this as a comedic send-up of Elvis Presley. Stanshall sang the song in the style of teenage tragedy songs, such as "Teen Angel
" by Mark Dinning.
The Bellingham, Washington indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie named their band after this song. Lead singer Ben Gibbord says that if he knew his band would still be popular 15 years after they formed, he would've picked "something more obvious" for a band name.
The '80s group Culture Club referenced this track in their song "Crime Time," which appeared on Culture Club's 1984 album Waking Up with the House on Fire. The Bonzos singer Vivian Stanshall later died in an unfortunate house fire in 1995.
In 1975, Alex Chilton of the influential American rock band Big Star performed a cover of "Death Cab for Cutie" on Memphis radio station WLYX.