If there is, as David St. Hubbins intelligently observed, a fine line between stupid and clever, the film This is Spinal Tap and its accompanying soundtrack fall into the latter category.
Spinal Tap represented everything that was right (in a kitschy way) and wrong (in the wrong way) with heavy metal. Garish, immature, misogynistic and poorly dressed, the big-haired guitar gods strutted around, vamping in leather or spandex pants while plowing mysticism and pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo for a hint of artistic or magical legitimacy. This is likely what led Michael McKean, David St. Hubbins’ civilian alter ego, to proclaim that their metal music caricature band represented everything that a 14 year-old believed was sexy (i.e., things that weren’t all that sexy).
The thing that makes This is Spinal Tap and the film’s soundtrack so great is the sincere attempt at verisimilitude. The best satire, as they say, is done without a wink or nod to the audience. In the case of Spinal Tap, though, the best satire was accomplished with a cucumber wrapped in foil. Spinal Tap did indeed seem like a real, though ridiculous, band. Conversely, Eric Idle’s send-up of The Beatles, The Rutles, was more of an entertaining Bizarro world version of the Fab Four.
Similarly, the music that Spinal Tap put out seemed authentic, though, like the band, ridiculous. Choice lines from the chaste and romantic “Sex Farm,” for instance, included the type of sexual equivocation that some metal heads would’ve found clever rather than stupid. Okay, so yes, “ Scratching in your henhouse / Sniffing at your feedbag / Slipping out your back door / I’m leaving my spray” are clever lines. So are the following, well crafted odes that open “Big Bottom”: “The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’ / That’s what I said / The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand / Or so I have read.”
Yet while the mockumetal is a feat in itself, especially since McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer (Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls, respectively) wrote and played their own music, it’s the pre-metal Spinal Tap songs that are equally worthy of note given their odd placement of the band throughout the course of rock and roll history. The Beatles-esque “Gimme Some Money” is fittingly bouncy like other tunes from the early days of the initial British invasion. Following through the course of Tap’s odd musical history, the where-are-they-now worthy “Cups and Cakes” gives a fine copy of prim and proper chamber pop while “(Listen to the) Flower People” provides a pastiche of pop psychedelia with flower in its unkempt hippie hair.
McKean’s, Guest’s and Shearer’s love for music and knowledge of musical history would lead to the creation of their other alter egos, a folk act called The Folksmen that would later become one of the subjects of the Guest mockumentary A Mighty Wind. When the actors went on tour as Spinal Tap, the tame and timid The Folksmen would occasionally open for the raucous and raunchy Spinal Tap. Occasionally audience members weren’t in on the joke, which led to The Folksmen being booed off stage on several occasions.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Spinal Tap was how it just seemed and sounded like a couple of friends getting together and making great yet authentic mock music. The fake band is something that nearly anyone and their friends have conjured up while bored. Well, my friends at least. We’ve all had out share of fake groups who swagger around with the reckless abandon of ’80s metal bacchanalia. Mine was Rock and Rule; their album was The Devastation Proclamation which featured the band members all dressed as Abraham Lincoln. And yet still, they will never be Spinal Tap and that—like the fact I haven’t made a joke about going to 11 yet—is for the best.
N.W.H – Fear of a Black Hat
The Rutles – The Rutles
Manowar – Battle Hymns