photo & text by nacrowe
there comes a point at times where PARODY is so cutting and on the nose that it becomes in effect INDISTINGUISHABLE at times from the subject of which it is serving up. such feels that way in retrospect when considering SPINAL TAP's actual debut (as opposed to FICTIONAL discography from the film) in SPINAL TAP (POLYDOR, 1984), the soundtrack to the LEGENDARY ROB REINER-directed MOCKUMENTARY film THIS IS SPINAL TAP (EMBASSY, 1984).
it is not a coincidence that ROCK AND ROLL royalty from SLASH (GUNS N' ROSES) and JOE PERRY (AEROSMITH) to STING (THE POLICE), ROB HALFORD (JUDAS PRIEST), EDDIE VAN HALEN (VAN HALEN) and OZZY OSBOURNE (BLACK SABBATH) have admitted to having a difficult time watching this film starring the generationally gifted IMPROVISATIONAL comedy team of CHRISTOPHER GUEST (lead guitarist NIGEL TUFNEL), MICHAEL MCKEAN (singer and rhythm guitarist DAVID ST. HUBBINS) and HARRY SHEARER (bassist DEREK SMALLS). to them it was an accurate depiction of their actual lives. much of the actual film was based on the reported real-life experiences of bands ranging from YES, LED ZEPPELIN, DEF LEPPARD, BLACK SABBATH, URIAH HEEP, STATUS QUO, THE ROLLING STONES, VAN HALEN, THE BAND and FRANK ZAPPA among many others. the cumulative effect was that even a much later musician like KURT COBAIN (NIRVANA) was rumored to have been vocally hyper-aware of that thin line separating PARODY and REAL-LIFE so expertly depicted in the film. like others, that dynamic was a real-world trap and occupational hazard.
the songs themselves absolutely hold up decades later. besides the WELL-KNOWN tracks that PARODY the inane lyricism ("TONIGHT I'M GONNA ROCK YOU TONIGHT"), macho posturing / rampant mysogyny ("SEX FARM" and "BIG BOTTOM") and outlandish iconography ("STONEHENGE" and "ROCK N ROLL CREATURE") of 1970s METAL (BLACK SABBATH, RAINBOW, DIO) and PROGRESSIVE ROCK (RUSH, KING CRIMSON, GENTLE GIANT), there are also those less CELEBRATED tracks that PARODY earlier phases of 1960s ROCK AND ROLL history such as LAUREL CANYON-inspired FOLK ROCK ("LISTEN TO THE FLOWER PEOPLE") and the BRITISH INVASION ("GIMME SOME MONEY"). the fact that they depict the inherent RIDICULOUSNESS of each stage so convincingly is really quite a creative achievement. its also the reason that generations of musicians love this FICTIONAL band, as evidenced by the LEGENDARY LIVE EARTH performance at WEMBLEY STADIUM in 2007 when over 18 musicians (from bands ranging from the BEASTIE BOYS, METALLICA, FOO FIGHTERS, BLOC PARTY, MADONNA's backing band and so on) came on stage to slap bass with DEREK SMALLS on, of course, a very MEMORABLE and INSPIRED self-effacing CHEEKY rendition of "BIG BOTTOM."
the GUEST, MCKEAN and SHEARER comedic triumvirate have gone on to make other loosely IMPROVISATIONAL films, some even with a musical flourish like the FOLK send-up A MIGHTY WIND (WARNER BROS, 2003), but in my humble opinion the only other MOCKUMENTARY film that comes close to SPINAL TAP in terms of the quality of the music and PARODY is the much earlier NEIL INNES (BONZO DOG DOOH-DAH BAND) and ERIC IDLE (MONTY PYTHON) led THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH (NBC, 1978) TELEVISED (and GEORGE HARRISON approved) send-up of THE BEATLES cultural phenomenon. now if only i could find a RUTLES cassette tape...
regardless, SPINAL TAP is a CLASSIC album with music culled from a CLASSIC comedy. it all holds up decades down the line and is essentially required viewing and listening in my opinion. definitely worth checking out for the uninitiated. should also mention there is a rumored sequel in the works for 2024 for the 40th anniversary of the original film. why not? the dreaded cash-in sequel of an established intellectual property seems like as good an opportunity for RIDICULE and PARODY as any other these days.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
arguably the greatest parody film of all-time and the most painful for touring musicians to watch. i can't even count the amount of musicians in interviews i've read who namecheck this film as the most painful thing they've ever seen. SLASH himself said that THIS IS SPINAL TAP (MGM, 1984) ruined an entire GUNS N' ROSES tour for him since it hit the mark with such precision.
where this film excels is in its mocking of the utter ridiculousness of nearly all forward-facing aspects of ROCK N ROLL, everything from album covers, lyrics, gear, stage set design to JESUS-complex surrounding musicians that drank the kool-aid on their image.
in my estimation all the classic lines of this film have that core ribbing as its moral center. i remember once GENE SIMMONS saying that all bands (at the time he was referencing the then-current GRUNGE bands out of SEATTLE) were in the KISS business. they all sold records and merchandise. such is true. no matter how "serious" or "artistic" your band is and no matter how respected they are by those whose opinion carries sway, at the end of the day you are a product that is being sold. THIS IS SPINAL TAP showcases a band that didn't get that memo and seemingly trample over every fault-line a band has to negotiate throughout their recording and touring cycles. having been around musicians in studios to some extent, the ridiculous nature of it all has never been lost on me. that is what makes it compelling and not part of the straight world.
the music is also classic. its obvious they are mocking specifically post-OZZY BLACK SABBATH and DEEP PURPLE and late 70s/early 80s METAL in general with their silly set designs and focus on the macabre. but my favorite song in the movie is their send-up of BRITISH INVASION-era songwriting in "GIMME SOME MONEY." never fails to make me smile.
classic movie with classic lines that still stings its subjects. quite an accomplishment.