Gimme Fiction: Our Favorite Fictional Bands

Treble staff
Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap, shredding

We spend most of our time here at Treble writing about our favorite bands…actually, that’s all we do. That and our favorite songs and albums by our favorite bands, and occasionally our least favorite bands. Yet some of our favorite bands aren’t actually real. I don’t mean we made them up, necessarily, but someone else did. In TV, in movies, in books, in online cartoons, and even within other bands’ songs, there exists a rich tradition of fictional bands. There’s even a website dedicated to this phenomenon: www.fakebands.com.

After a few reruns through old TV episodes and replaying of scenes in our heads, we assembled a shortlist of our favorite fictional bands. They don’t all have the chops that their real counterparts do, but they sure keep us entertained.

Dingoes Ate My Baby (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

After a few growing pains and missteps in the first season with some terrible and unknown Southern California bands acting as the entertainment for local (and apparently all-ages club), the Bronze, Joss Whedon finally got it right by inventing a fictional band to introduce Oz, understated cool guy who wooed Willow Rosenberg. Dingoes Ate My Baby was really just a front for Four Star Mary, a rocking five piece band from L.A. Dingoes posters appeared throughout the series, until Oz’s departure, usually in Willow’s bedroom. They weren’t exactly the most genius fictional band on television, but they were ever present in three seasons of the show, and had a shining moment backing up Giles for his “Exposition Song.” One of the best, and only, comments on rock and roll was when Xander asks Oz if it’s hard to play guitar. Oz replies, “Not the way I play it.”

My Pretty Pony (from Veronica Mars)

Paul Rudd guest starred on a season three episode of Veronica Mars as Desmond Fellows, half of the pop duo My Pretty Pony, of whom Piz and Veronica are big fans. The backstory is that Fellows’ songwriting partner commits suicide, the band breaks up, and Fellows himself becomes a drunk and a burnout. Rudd himself described the character as `Andrew Ridgeley with a massive drinking problem.’ My Pretty Pony’s one song shown in the episode was actually played by the band Cotton Mather, though Rudd, himself, performs solo later on. There was much speculation on blogs as to who the band was modeled after, suggestions running the gamut from The Lemonheads to the Gin Blossoms (who had a similar story involving suicide) to Matthew Sweet. The funniest part, however, was Fellows’ constant fuck-up of Piz’s name, calling him “Fez” and “Pus” on separate occasions.

Stillwater (from Almost Famous)

In the world of fictional bands, you can either go camp or realistic, and likely no band was portrayed more realistically than Stillwater from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. They were an amalgamation of the first few bands that Crowe interviewed for Rolling Stone, including the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the squabbling frontmen of the Eagles and they made for one hell of an interesting subject for a feature film. Billy Crudup played the womanizing lead guitarist, Russell Hammond to a tee (a role he later mimicked in real life, leaving the pregnant Mary Louise Parker for the much younger Claire Danes) and Jason Lee his arrogant foil of a frontman, Jeff Bebe. Jeff Fedevich, and real life musician Mark Kozelek round out the rest of Stillwater. The film is peppered with rock and roll mythology, stories, cameos and homage, but the real stars are Stillwater. The actors went to rock and roll school before filming and it paid off. Songs like “Love Comes and Goes” and “Fever Dog,” though written recently, can stand alongside any of the real classic rock staples and nuggets from the ’70s. I guess it helps when you have Peter Frampton and Nancy Wilson writing songs for you.

School of Rock / No Vacancy (from School of Rock)

Jack Black has had two career-defining roles tied to the world of rock and roll, the insensitive and opinionated Barry in High Fidelity, and the more well-meaning, but equally arrogant Dewey Finn, the failing rock star turned fake substitute teacher turned successful rock mentor. The truly amazing thing about the kids who made up the band, School of Rock, is that they played their own instruments. After learning about “Rock History,” “Rock Appreciation,” and the music of Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Who and Black Sabbath, the kids, originally duped into becoming Dewey’s backing band, end up making one hell of band themselves. Then there’s No Vacancy, the original band from which Dewey was fired. They undergo a change themselves, ending up looking and sounding a little like Creed. And, as always, flash wins over substance, but School of Rock get the encore.

Barry Jive and the Uptown Five/ Barrytown/ Sonic Death Monkey (from High Fidelity)

They were this close to being Kathleen Turner Overdrive, but Barry’s (Jack Black) band, which infamously performed “Let’s Get It On” in High Fidelity, went through several name permutations. Before settling on Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, they were Sonic Death Monkey, and in Nick Hornby’s novel they were actually Barrytown, inspired by the Steely Dan song of the same name. Yet the band was a source of ridicule for his Championship Vinyl co-workers Dick and Rob. In one particularly hilarious scene, Barry arrogantly, and guardedly, claims “our influences are mostly German,” to which Rob Gordon replies, “Kraftwerk? Falco? Hasselhof?” Being that Black is the frontman for Tenacious D, however, he eventually proved he could belt out a Marvin Gaye classic with the best of `em, even if he’s mostly a goofball in the long run.

The Kinky Wizards (from High Fidelity)

Rob Gordon was plagued by injuries and shoplifting perpetuated by punk skaters that hung out outside of High Fidelity, though when he discovered that what they stole included Serge Gainsbourg, Sigue Sigue Sputnik and a guide to home recording, their identities were revealed as not just angry young men, but angry young artists. All the more annoying to Dick, Barry and Rob is the fact that the Kinky Wizards’ demo is…gasp…good! So, Rob makes an offer to release their first EP, I Sold My Mom’s Wheelchair, on his own imprint, Top 5 Records, and plans a release party where, of course, Barry Jive and the Uptown Five perform.

Licorice Comfits (from High Fidelity)

Okay, last High Fidelity one, I swear. This band never actually makes an appearance in the book or the film, and rather is brought up in a conversation between Rob and Dick. Licorice Comfits exists merely to emphasize how nerdy music nerds can be, the entire conversation becoming more ridiculous, and more irritating to Rob, with each passing second. Their first record is Japanese import only, released on Testament of Youth, and Dick offers to tape it for Rob, who he recalls liking second album Pop Girls, Etc., the one with Cheryl Ladd on the cover, though he didn’t actually see the cover because he only had a dubbed tape. I’ve had actual conversations like this I’m sure—it’s funny because it’s true, though the band isn’t.

Monster Eyes (from You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem)

We all do it. We think of great band names even though we have no musical ability. Song titles wash in and out of our lives instantly with nothing coming from them but a brief glimpse of the rare turn of phrase. Jonathan Lethem turned those into a novel about a breakup between two band members. The female then goes to work for an art project / complaint hotline and turns her regular customer’s words into hit songs that propel the band to a record contract. The original impetus for success is the song “Monster Eyes,” which then becomes the band name. Other song titles such as “Hell is for Buildings,” “Canary in a Coke Machine” and “Sarah Valentine” show Lethem’s affinity for realistic rock writing. The band’s rise to success might not be entirely believable, but Lethem captures the `real’ rock and roll lifestyle of regular jobs and occasional practice expertly.

Fat, Black, Horny and Joe (from Family Guy)

In case you need a legend, Fat=Peter Griffin, Black=Cleveland, Horny=Quagmire, and Joe is, uh, Joe. This Family Guy supergroup began with some intense “Don’t Stop Believin'” karaoke, which even prompted a funeral procession to stop and ask `hey, is that Journey?’ The band books their first gig at a prison, only to realize seconds before they perform that they don’t actually have any songs, which causes a riot. This is the part of the episode where Meg becomes the star and saves the show. Stewie and Brian start writing their own song later on, which goes something to the tune of “I want to have intercourse with you…relations!

Ming Tea (from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and its sequels)

When Mike Meyers needed a backup band for Austin Powers’ credit sequence, he turned to Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, amongst others, as his principal musicians and songwriters. Their lush ’60s pop sensibilities played right into the Austin Powers mythology as he sang about the BBC and danced through act breaks. Inspired partly by Laugh-In and other ’60s free-love, hippie kind of psychedelic showcases, Ming Tea might have just seemed like a parody, but in actuality it was well-crafted and serious pop to back slightly humorous, but pointed lyrics.

Stinky Wizzleteats (from Ren and Stimpy)

The name may not sound immediately familiar, but everyone know’s Stinky’s hit song, “Happy Happy Joy Joy.” Though there isn’t much of a back story behind this cartoon artist, his song seems to speak for itself, a simple and to-the-point folk tune that descends into madness, Stinky speaking rather than singing, “a fly marrying a bumblebee?/ that’s very funny!/ they don’t know that they’re ugly!

Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem (from The Muppet Show and films)

Out of all the fictional bands here, I think that the Electric Mayhem is my favorite. You have the bandleader / organist Dr. Teeth, based on Dr. John and Elton John with a gruff voice and a fierce sense of integrity. There’s Sgt. Floyd Pepper, the guitarist, of course, an amalgamation of Pink Floyd and the epauletted and mustachioed look of the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Janice, the bassist, was named after Janis Joplin, but was more inspired by Carly Simon and Mick Jagger. Zoot, the saxophone player, is part Zoot Sims, part Gato Barbieri and part Lou Marini. Then there’s everyone’s favorite, Animal, most likely based on a mix of wide-eyed Mick Fleetwood and the manic Keith Moon. They played everything from Billy Joel to the Beatles and even Chopin’s “Polonaise in A Flat,” but their crowning achievement happened in the first Muppet Movie when they sang the trippy rocker, “Can You Picture That.” If there is one fictional band here that could probably sell records, it’s Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem. I’d buy them.

Mystik Spiral (from Daria)

Mystik Spiral is a rare case of a band that progresses over time. On Beavis and Butthead offshoot Daria, Mystik Spiral begins as a duo consisting of Jane’s brother Trent and his dopey friend Jesse. They search for other names at one point (Jesse suggesting that `Helpful Corn’ is a good name), though they eventually begin playing their own gigs later on in the series. Rhythm section Nick and Max didn’t appear until a season later, however, leaving the first season’s incarnation of the band as a mostly aimless project devised by a couple of slackers. But hey, man, so was every grunge band, right?

Spinal Tap (from This is Spinal Tap)

The ultimate fictional band, the one that nearly defines fictional bands, is Spinal Tap. Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel, Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins and Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls were, and still are (they played LiveEarth!) the most rocking and funniest fictional band in history. In fact, they barely qualify as fictional as they have two albums, but they remain fictional in terms of being alternate identities and existing in mostly a mockumentary form. From their accident-prone drummers to their tragically mismeasured stage props, Spinal Tap wrote the book on heavy metal comedy. With such classic album names as Intravenous de Milo, Shark Sandwich (which had the great two word album review, `Shit Sandwich’) and hilarious song titles as “Big Bottom,” “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” “Sex Farm” and “Lick My Love Pump,” there was seemingly no end to the hilarity, but Spinal Tap took other journeys as well, including that of the Jazz Odyssey performed by Derek and David. Their legend lives on far past their one film, though, as numerous appearances, including a classic one, where they apparently `die,’ in The Simpsons, have kept the band alive.

The Folksmen / The New Main Street Singers / Mitch & Mickey (from A Mighty Wind)

Nearly twenty years after Spinal Tap hit the big screen, and the hearts of rock fans everywhere, the three mock stars went folkie and brought a bunch more improv masters with them. Actually, the trio that once was Spinal Tap had been moonlighting as the Folksmen for years. I actually got to see the Folksmen perform at UCLA in the early ’90s, long before they graced the silver screen with their dulcet tones. Whereas Tap skewered the metal scene, A Mighty Wind captured the folk years with hilarity and panache. The Folksmen, aka `Folk Tap‘, were a parody of the Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul & Mary. The New Main Street Singers spoofed the collaborative efforts of bands like the New Christy Minstrels, and Mitch & Mickey were a nebulous form of a few different male / female duos including Dylan and Baez, though far more spacey. A lot of people didn’t like A Mighty Wind as much as Tap, but that’s probably because most people didn’t understand the folk references. Because my parents were big-time folkies, (their wedding song was “Today” by the New Christy Minstrels for cryin’ out loud!) I found the movie uproarious and on-the-nose.

Zack Attack/ Hot Sundae (from Saved By The Bell)

Okay, well, these bands aren’t exactly the greatest fictional bands, but they certainly elicit a good laugh in retrospect. Saved by the Bell was a frequent source of fictional music, all featuring some fraction of the six main characters. Zack Attack once played the Bayside Prom, and in another episode went on to great success and eventually being torn apart by jealousy and Zack’s inflated ego. Yet these instances were very inconsistent, as Jessie Spano was in the band in one episode, and was replaced by Kelly Kapowski in another. Yet Jessie, Kelly and Lisa Turtle had their own girl group called Hot Sundae. They made a video involving the three of them in age and audience inappropriate thong leotards jumping on trampolines, while later in that episode, we learn the dangers of drug use as Spano develops an addiction to…ahem…caffeine pills. “I’m so excited, I’m so excited…I’m so…scared….

Limozeen/ Kissy Boots (from Homestar Runner)

Many of the ongoing jokes on Homestarrunner.com originate from Strong Bad’s Emails, one of which spawned the band Limozeen, an ’80s hair band parody among the likes of White Lion and Skid Row, as well as a lightning bolt “Z” in their name that parody’s AC/DC’s logo. The Brothers Chaps even wrote a handful of songs for the band, including “Nite Mamas” and “Because, It’s Midnite.” In a really amusing and unexpected turn of pop culture references gone amok, “Because, It’s Midnite” actually ended up on a version of the game Guitar Hero. Kissy Boots was spawned from Strong Bad’s `Teen Girl Squad’ cartoon, in which the four characters start a band in So-and-So’s stepmom’s basement. Interestingly enough, it’s the only episode in which all four characters die.

The Weird Sisters (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

Only one fictional band in history can boast that they were `booked by Dumbledore,’ that being the Weird Sisters, their name based Norse mythology and possibly Macbeth. While it’s difficult to capture the essence of a band, albeit a fictional one, in a book, the film version took the Weird Sisters to an entirely new level. The Sisters were originally supposed to be played by Franz Ferdinand, but after a scheduling conflict, the roles were usurped by Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey of Pulp as well as Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway of Radiohead. Members of All Seeing I and Add N to (X) were also part of the band. All of the songs, including the classic “Do the Hippogriff,” which just sounds nasty, were written by Cocker. The DVD bonus features of the movie contain a longer scene of the band at the Yule Ball, rather than just the short snippet in the final theatrical version.

Ziggy Stardust The Spiders From Mars (from David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars)

David Bowie was often called a musical chameleon, so it would only make sense that he would create a fictional persona for himself, the alien rock star Ziggy Stardust. Where the album begins with the looming threat of the end of the world and this “Starman” coming to save earth, it soon turns into a story of fame and destruction. The song “Ziggy Stardust” is almost like a cowboy ballad, telling of the titular character as if he were a hero, albeit a flawed one devoured by his own fame. He took it all too far, but boy, could he play guitar…

The Be Sharps (from The Simpsons)

What seemed like just another Simpsons episode about one of Homer’s failed enterprises, in this case a barbershop quartet, turned into an incisive parody of the Beatles. There was the `Pete Best,’ the original member quickly drummed out of the band (pun intended), in the form of Chief Wiggum. They said their name should be witty, but get less funny every time you heard it. The Be Sharps even named their second album, Bigger Than Jesus. Plus, there’s Moe’s Cavern, numerous photo and film recreations of the Beatles’ career, including the rooftop concert to which guest voice George Harrison retorts, “It’s been done.” After Wiggum was out, the Be Sharps consisted of Homer, Apu, Principal Skinner on the low end, and the Irish lullaby singing drunkard, Barney Gumble. What could have been yet another episode of Homer in another wacky adventure ended up to be one of the most obsessive fan fests and…best…episodes…ever.

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