Spinal Tap (band)

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This is Spinal Tap DVD

Spinal Tap is a semi-fictitious heavy metal rock band that first appeared in the 1984 Rob Reiner film This Is Spinal Tap. The band is portrayed as being British, although several of the band members are played by Americans. The film was a make-believe documentary (a mockumentary or "rockumentary") that satirized the wild personal behaviour and musical pretensions of bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, the latter-day Beatles, Judas Priest, and Queen among many others. Today, the band exists both as a fictitious entity, whose members are the characters portrayed by the actors, and also as a real entity, in that the actors have performed and released recordings under the band's name.

Spinal Tap was originally created by actors and comedians Michael McKean (as "David St. Hubbins"), Christopher Guest (as "Nigel Tufnel") and Harry Shearer (as "Derek Smalls") for a 1978 ABC comedy special, The TV Show. Soon after, the three comedians teamed up with Reiner to turn the idea into a full-length film. Much of the film was ad-libbed, and several dozen hours of footage were shot before Reiner edited it down to the released film. A 4.5 hour bootleg version of the film exists and has been traded among fans and collectors for years. A ten hour version is also rumored. The most recent DVD editions of the film include one hour of deleted footage as an extra.

In addition to the three members of Spinal Tap plus Reiner, who appeared as "Marty DiBergi", the maker of the documentary, the film starred Paul Shaffer, Fred Willard, Fran Drescher, Bruno Kirby, Howard Hesseman, Ed Begley Jr., and Anjelica Huston. Dana Carvey and Billy Crystal also had small roles in the film.


The name

The band's name is officially rendered with an umlaut (two dots) over the letter "n", in satirical reference to the spurious use of heavy metal umlauts by bands such as Motörhead and, later, Mötley Crüe. It is possible to represent the umlaut-n in Unicode (Template:Unicode), but not all browsers will render this properly.

This "n" with an umlaut actually exists in the minor Jacaltec language of Guatemala and in the Malagasy tongue, though it is questionable whether the writers of This is Spinal Tap knew this at the time.

The Companion Book states that the band - assuming that the word was actually spelled 'spynal' - decided to call themselves "Spinal Tap" as a deliberate mis-spelling, in a style similar to that of the real-life band Stryper (and, later on, "Wyld Stallyns", the band from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure).

Plot overview

This Is Spinal Tap chronicles the group's waning popularity during a tour of the United States while promoting their latest record, Smell The Glove. The sexist, misogynist and overly-masculized elements of heavy metal music are parodied throughout. Marty DiBergi (Reiner), a director of television commercials, films the tour and interviews the musicians.

St. Hubbins and Tufnel were childhood friends, and began their career as The Thamesmen before renaming themselves; they had an early hit with the flower power anthem "Listen to the Flower People" before turning to heavy metal.

The film notes early on that Spinal Tap—"One of England's Loudest Bands"—have had a succession of drummers, all of whom have died under odd circumstances: one died in a "bizarre gardening accident"; another "choked on vomit," though it may not have been his own (Tufnel notes that "you can't really dust for vomit."); and one seems to have fallen prey to spontaneous human combustion. St. Hubbins reports that "Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported." This run on drummers was a nod towards several bands; both Led Zeppelin's John Bonham and The Who's Keith Moon had died years before, the former having actually choked on his own vomit, whilst Judas Priest were, for a variety of reasons, on their seventh drummer at the time of the film's release. The Grateful Dead had a similar run in relation to their keyboard players dying and being replaced.

Their concert appearances are repeatedly cancelled due to low ticket sales, and tensions rise when several major retailers refuse to sell Smell the Glove due to its sexist cover art, and when St. Hubbins' girlfriend—a slightly spacy yoga and astrology devotee—joins the group on tour.

"Polymer Records" (not Polydor Records) decides to release Smell the Glove with an entirely black cover, though without consulting the band (four years after The Damned's Black Album, some versions of which were genuinely all-black, but embossed; and seven years before Metallica's eponymous 1991 album, which featured a nearly-all black cover). This prompts more distress from the band.

A memorable segment of the film occurs when a miniature replica of Stonehenge is lowered onto the stage behind the band and two dwarves come on stage to dance around it. The band members were expecting a full sized 18-foot replica, but were instead presented with an 18-inch model, made exactly as indicated on the original plan that Tufnel had sketched hurriedly (with 2 tick marks after the "18") and handed to the band's manager. St Hubbins laments during the gig debrief, "I think that the problem may have been... that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed... by a dwarf."

After the Stonehenge debacle, Spinal Tap's manager quits in disgust when St. Hubbins suggests his girlfriend co-manage the group. She takes over his duties, and begins plotting astrology charts for the entire group, even basing their concert appearances on the stars' alignments.

When the group performs at an Air Force base (managed by Fred Willard, who calls the group "Spinal Tarp"), Tufnel's wireless guitar-amplification system receives interference from an air traffic control broadcast, and he walks offstage.

After Tufnel leaves the group, DiBergi asks St. Hubbins how he feels about his longtime-collaborator's departure and St. Hubbins replies, "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation."

Spinal Tap regroup, and attempt to rearrange some of their songs to account for the absent guitar, which leaves them with about 20 minutes of material. Against St. Hubbins' initial reluctance, the group launches "The new birth of Spinal Tap mark two" with Small's fusion-esque "Jazz Odyssey," which is roundly rejected by their already-diminishing fan base.

St. Hubbins and Smalls reconsider "Saucy Jack," their long-abandoned idea for a musical play based on Jack the Ripper.

Tufnel returns to tell the group that "Sex Farm", one of their Smell The Glove songs, is a big hit in Japan and their former manager would like to arrange a tour. His entreaties are initially rebuffed, but St. Hubbins relents, and invites his friend back onstage.

The film ends with Spinal Tap performing in Japan, and with yet another drummer's sudden death—again from spontaneous human combustion.


This Is Spinal Tap was a modest success upon its initial release, suffering from, among other things, the failure of many viewers to understand that it wasn't a real documentary. Audience feedback cards from early screenings had comments such as "Too shaky. Get new cameraman." However, the film found greater success, and a cult following, after it was released on video. Many musicians can recite entire scenes from memory, and it's common to hear lines from the movie sprinkled throughout any gathering of two or more rock musicians.

Film critic Roger Ebert selected This is Spinal Tap as a Great Movie alongside Casablanca, Taxi Driver and others. [1] (http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/spinal_tap.html)


Spinal Tap reunited in 1992 for an album of new material, partly produced by T-Bone Burnett, and a concert tour.

They later made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, a television show in which Harry Shearer is also one of the principal voiceover actors. In this animated appearance the band continued their disastrous track record, as a balloon "dark lord" prop failed to inflate properly over the heads of the crowd ("We salute you, our half-inflated dark lord"), and one of the band members was blinded by the laser light show. Later in the episode, Otto's school bus runs Spinal Tap's bus off the road. The bus then overturns and catches fire, an obvious homage to the untimely and bizarre deaths suffered by Spinal Tap's drummers.

In 1994, The Return of Spinal Tap was released on video; most of this was live material from a 1992 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, but it also included some interviews and follow-up on the band members.

In 2000 a new song, "Back from the Dead" was made available for download from the official Spinal Tap website (http://www.spinaltap.com/home.html).

In 2001, the band reunited for the 9-stop "Back from the Dead Tour" that began on June 1st at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The tour ended in Montreal in mid-July at the Just for Laughs festival. The tour also included a show at Carnegie Hall in New York City. None of the shows were cancelled.

This Is Spinal Tap has been released twice on DVD. The first release was a 1998 Criterion edition which used supplemental material from the 1984 Criterion laserdisc release. Sales of this edition were discontinued after only two years and the DVD has become a valuable collector's item. In 2000 a "Special Edition" was released with new supplemental material. The two editions both contain unique supplemental material: the Criterion edition has an audio commentary track with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer; a second audio commentary track with Rob Reiner, Karen Murphy, Robert Leighton, and Kent Beyda; 79 minutes of deleted scenes; a documentary Spinal Tap: The Final Tour; a mock promo film, Cheese Rolling; a TV promo, Heavy Metal Memories; and a music video, Hell Hole. The Special Edition has a new audio commentary track with Guest, McKean, and Shearer performing in character throughout, commenting on the film entirely in their fictional alter-egos, and often disapproving of how the film presents them; 70 minutes of deleted scenes (some of which were not on the Criterion DVD); a new short, Catching Up with Marty DiBergi; a shorter version of Cheese Rolling; the Heavy Metal Memories promo and six additional TV promos; music videos for Hell Hole, Gimme Some Money, Listen to the Flower People, and Big Bottom; segment of Spinal Tap appearing on The Joe Franklin Show; and the theatrical trailer.

In 2002 the United States Library of Congress deemed the original film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

McKean, Guest, and Shearer also performed as the traditional, Kingston Trio-esque folk band The Folksmen in the film A Mighty Wind.

Other rock parodies

This is Spinal Tap was predated by a similar British heavy metal satire; The Comic Strip Presents... Bad News Tour (Channel 4, 1983), which was followed by a sequel, More Bad News, in 1988. Bad News was a direct parody of New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, and featured contemporary alternative comedians Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Rik Mayall of The Young Ones. Bad News also guested on some TV music shows and released an album, although the project was overshadowed by Spinal Tap.

In a similar vein, the British film Still Crazy (1998) starring Jimmy Nail, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly and Bill Nighy depicts the chaotic comeback tour of a 1970s glam-rock band. The film was written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

Other notable spoof rock bands include The Rutles (a Beatles parody band created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes, who predate Spinal Tap); psychedelic parodists, The Dukes of Stratosphear (actually XTC in disguise); Beatallica, a band that play "Beatles songs in the key of Metallica"; and The Hee Bee Gee Bees, who parodied the Bee Gees, and were largely the brainchild of Philip Pope, who also wrote satirical songs for the BBC's Radio Active, Not the Nine O'Clock News and ITV's Spitting Image.

Related Works

'This is Spinal Tap: The Official Companion' was published in 2000. (ISBN 074754218X) It featured a "Tap'istory", full transcript of the film, (including outtakes), a discography, lyrics and an A-Z of the band.

See also

Back Catalogue


  • Spinal Tap Sings Listen To The Flower People & Other Favorites, 1967
  • We Are All Flower People, 1968
  • Silent But Deadly, 1969
  • Brainhammer, 1970
  • Nerve Damage, 1971
  • Blood To Let, 1972
  • Intravenus De Milo, 1974
  • The Sun Never Sweats, 1975
  • Jap Habit, 1975
  • Bent For The Rent, 1976
  • Tap Dancing, 1976
  • Rock 'n Roll Creation, 1977
  • Shark Sandwich, 1980
  • Smell The Glove, 1982
  • This Is Spinal Tap, 1984 (actual release)
  • Break Like The Wind, 1992 (actual release)


  • Listen To The Flower People, 1967
  • We Are All Flower People, 1968
  • Breakfast Of Evil, 1969
  • Silent But Deadly, 1969
  • Big Bottom, 1970
  • Swallow My Love, 1970
  • Nerve Damage, 1971
  • Blood To Let, 1972
  • Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight, 1974
  • Stonehenge, 1975
  • Nice 'n Sticky, 1975
  • Heavy Duty, 1976
  • Bent For The Rent, 1976
  • Tap Dancing, 1976
  • Rock 'n Roll Creation, 1977
  • Hell Hole, 1980
  • No Place Like Nowhere, 1980
  • Sex Farm, 1982
  • Chrsitmas With The Devil, 1984
  • The Majesty Of Rock, 1992 (actual release)
  • Bitch School, 1992 (actual release)

Compilations, Bootlegs and Unreleased Material


  • Heavy Metal Memories, 1983


  • Top Hit For Nows, 1968
  • Audible Death, 1969
  • Live At Budokkan, 1975
  • Openfaced Mako, 1980
  • Got Thamesmen On Tap, (unknown date)
  • Maxium Tap, (unknown date)
  • It's A Dub World, (unknown date)
  • Ultra Rare Tap, (unknown date)
  • None More Black, (unknown date)
  • Vinyl Hell, (unknown date)


  • Here's More Tap
  • Flak Packet
  • Lusty Lorry
  • SEXX! (Original Motion Picture Soundtrck)
  • Hernia
  • Break Like The Wind II

Solo Releases

Derek Solo:

  • It's A Small World, 1978

Nigel Solo:

  • Nigel Tufnel's Clam Caravan, 1979
  • Pyramid Blue, (unknown date)

Ross Solo:

  • Doesn't Anybody Here Speak English?, (unknown date)

External link

es:Spinal Tap fr:Spinal Tap


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