Movies and music are closely entwined, as the name of this site demonstrates, and as we’ve shown several times recently (each word there links to a different recent music/movie feature). But rarer — and frequently more fun — than pre-existing songs or known musicians showing up on screen, are films where the music and the musicians are purely fictional. We looked at the phenomenon last year in a precursor version of this list, but every once in a while we encounter a movie that gives us the ideal opportunity to go back and flesh out an earlier feature. And this week, a film arrives in which the fictional musicians are so good they remind us of what’s so great about movies and music in the first place.
This weekend, you’ll finally be able to check out Lenny Abrahamson‘s “Frank," a film which we’ve been trying to explain to you for months now (not least with an ecstatic A review from Sundance), but here goes one last try. Infused with the offbeat DNA of cult British comedian-musician Frank Sidebottom, who haunted the fringes of various cultural, musical and televisual scenes in Northern England for much of the ’80s and ’90s, “Frank” is a comic road musical about a less-than-talented musician (Domnhall Gleeson) who falls in with an underground band headed up (geddit?) by the very odd Frank (Michael Fassbender, though you won’t really get to see much of his face), who plays —and lives— wearing an elliptical fiberglass head, like a living cartoon character. If that all sounds strange, well… it is. But it doesn’t stop “Frank” from having a heart as big as his fiberglass head. It’s a totally unique, enthralling film, with a spine of genuinely excellent experimental indie music specially composed for the film and performed by the actors (sample the track "I Love You All" right here). The band — unpronounceably called Soronprfbs, because it’s that kind of film — are so good you’ll wish you could go see the band, but you’ll have to content yourselves with seeing “Frank” instead.
So, in the spirit of the film, and with thanks to everyone who chimed in with their suggestions the last time around, here is a bigger, better list of 20 of the most essential fictional movie bands around.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005)
Who were they? Myron Wagtail (Jarvis Cocker) on vocals, Kirley Duke (Jonny Greenwood) on lead guitar, Heathcote Barbary (Jason Buckle), rhythm guitar, Donaghan Tremlett (Steve Mackey) on bass, Gideon Crumb (Steven Claydon) as keyboardist and bagpiper, and Orsino Thruston (Phil Selway) on the drums.
Best Track: “Do The Hippogriff”
How hard do they rock? Surprisingly hard, given that they: a) have a bagpiper and b) are wizards. Massively popular in the wizarding world, apparently, the Sisters come across less like One Direction with wands and more like eccentric glam-rockers, but Hogwarts students are clearly excited to have them as the surprise act at the Yule Ball. Then again, they should be, since the line-up contains two members each of the popular Muggle bands Pulp (Cocker and Mackey), and Radiohead (Greenwood and Selway), making them a kind of Brit-indie supergroup. Cocker also composed the three songs they perform in the film, complete with awful wizardy lyrics (“I spin around like a crazy elf/ Dancing by myself”). It’s far from Jarvis’ finest work — and try not to think too hard about how a school full of wizards probably won’t have their minds blown by a song called “Magic Works” — but it’s one of the few fun moments in one of the weaker Potter films, and presumably those involved got more approval from their kids for one brief movie appearance than for their entire previous careers.
Extra Rock Credit: The band is never actually announced by name in the film, but rather as “the band that needs no introducing,” because of a lawsuit from the entirely real Canadian folk-rock group The Wyrd Sisters. Rock ‘n’ roll.
Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes
"Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977)
Who were they? Figrin D’an on the kloo horn, Nalan Cheel on the bandfill, Tend Dahai on the fanfar, Doikk N’ats on the Dorenian Beshniquel, Ickabel G’ont on the Fanfar and Tech Mo’r on the Ommni Box. Obviously. No one actually knows who played who — they aren’t credited, outrageously — but it was an assortment of special effects experts who happened to be on set, including creature feature make-up legend Rick Baker (of “An American Werewolf in London” and many other classics). Their tunes were written, however, by John Williams, and form one of the stranger components of one of the finest film scores ever written.
Best Track: “Cantina Band #1,” narrowly beating the more lounge-y “Cantina Band #2”
How hard do they rock? Actually, the question is “how hard do they jizz?” Stop giggling: the Modal Nodes are highly respected players of the galactically popular form of music known as ‘jizz.’ They’re also ethnically (is that the word?) ‘Bith,’ a species of highly intelligent alien. On the other hand, they’re not playing the classiest of venues; the Mos Eisley cantina is the kind of place where someone can get their arm cut off with a semi-legendary energy weapon and someone else can get shot messily in the head (first!) without the multi-species patrons batting an eyelid. The Modal Nodes do briefly stop playing when the blood starts spraying, but, like the consummate bug-eyed professionals they are, they pick up again without dropping a note, so we have to conclude that, yes, they jizz pretty hard.
Extra Rock Credit: If you really can’t get enough of the stylings of D’an and the band, you can punish yourself by checking out the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special," where they play a small role in a plot that’s far too elaborate and stupid to explain.
The Soggy Bottom Boys
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)
Who were they? Ulysses Everett McGill, Pete Hogwallop and Delmar O’Donnell all sang, accompanied where necessary by Tommy Johnson on guitar. The four were played onscreen by (in that order) George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson and Chris Thomas King, but the actual singing and playing was by country and bluegrass stalwarts Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen and Pat Enright
Best track: Their version of the bluegrass standard “Man of Constant Sorrow”
How hard did they rock? Pretty hard, assuming you’re not snobbish about country music (see also Banjo & Sullivan, below). The outstanding, bestselling soundtrack to ‘O Brother’ was curated by producer and frequent Coen collaborator T-Bone Burnett, who assembled a series of rootsy classics for the film and gave arguably the best of them to the Soggy Bottom Boys themselves: both “Man of Constant Sorrow” and their cut of “In the Jailhouse Now” are so good that it’s almost disappointing to realize it isn’t really gorgeous George Clooney and Co. doing the singing.
Extra Rock Credit: The soundtrack was a big enough hit to trigger a collaborative tour from many of those featured, including Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, whose version of “Down in the River to Pray” is the other standout musical moment in ‘O Brother.’ That tour was itself filmed by no less than D.A. Pennebaker, maker of numerous legendary concert films from the ’60s onwards, and released as “Down from the Mountain”: it’s well worth a watch.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
"Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (2001)
Who were they? There have been various incarnations, all centred around Hedwig herself (John Cameron Mitchell). For most of the film, the rest of the Angry Inch consists of Yitzhak (Miriam Shor), Skszp (Stephen Trask), Jacek (Theodore Liscinski), Krzysztof (Rob Campbell) and Schlatko (Michael Aronov).
Best track: “The Origin of Love”
How hard did they rock? As hard as only a wronged, transgender, surgically maltreated and fabulous East German woman can. Mitchell’s 2001 cult film of his own equally cult musical is a queer riot of colour and anger in which Hedwig, jilted by the American soldier she married in order to escape Communist Berlin and now back on that city’s transformed, ex-Communist streets, forms a band to tell her story and find a new love, even if it is by playing fractious gigs in scuzzy seafood restaurants. Backed by an assortment of other lowlifes and gender rebels, Hedwig storms her own stage night after night, despite being repeatedly screwed over by life and the unscrupulous superstar Tommy (Michael Pitt). Hedwig and the Angry Inch are half-glam, half-punk, a band so preposterous and necessary that, since they didn’t exist, Mitchell was forced to invent them, demonstrating at once how boring the world had been before.
Extra Rock Credit: 2003 saw the release of an album of covers of Hedwig songs, “Wig in a Box,” featuring Rufus Wainwright, They Might Be Giants, Cyndi Lauper, The Breeders … and Stephen Colbert.
Nick Rivers/The Nick Rivers Band
“Top Secret!” (1984)
Who were they? Well, it’s really just the fictional character Nick Rivers, a teen idol in the vein of ‘50s pop hearthrobs Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson, as played by actor Val Kilmer. Touring in Europe during WWII, Rivers stops off in East Germany and becomes embroiled in a French resistance movement that is trying to stop the Nazis and rescue a brilliant scientist who has been forced to help create a deadly naval mine that could change the course of the war.
Best track: Lots to choose from, but "Spend This Night With Me" is easily the film’s best musical and funniest moment, though only by a hair as all six original songs are terrific.
How hard did they rock? It really depends on who the filmmakers —Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker— were trying to musically emulate in any particular scene. "Skeet Surfing" is an an obvious Beach Boys spoof that is credited to Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and also Chuck Berry since the opening riff is pretty much lifted wholesale from "Johnny B. Goode." “Are You Lonesome Tonight?" is a Lou Handman/Roy Turk cover made famous by Elvis, "Tutti Frutti" is obviously a Little Richard song, and the aforementioned ballad ""Spend This Night With Me" is actually credited to the filmmakers and producer/musician Mike Moran.
Extra Rock Credit: There’s a Maurice Jarre score CD released through Varese Sarabande, but getting your hands on those silly and ridiculous pop spoofs means buying a rare vinyl edition via Passport Records, which was released a few years back. But it can run you about $100 as it’s now out of print.
Film: "The Big Lebowski" (1998)
Who were they? Nihilists Uli (Peter Stormare), Kieffer (Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) and Franz (Torsten Voges).
Best Song: "Technopop (Wie Glauben)"
How hard do they rock? Rock is perhaps not the right word. Of all the curious and colorful tangents in the Coen Brothers‘ "The Big Lebowski," perhaps the strangest is German electropop group Autobahn. An obvious homage to the legendary Kraftwerk (down to being named after one of their most famous songs), the band, fronted by a sometime porn star also known as Karl Hungus, are a group of German nihilists ("nothing to be afraid of," according to John Goodman‘s Walter) who, their recording career seemingly behind them, have a half-baked plan to get rich by faking a kidnapping, with one of their girlfriends losing a toe to make it more convincing. They come a cropper thanks to Walter (though not without casualties on the other side), and with Uli having his ear bitten off, it’s unlikely that they’ll be following up their album Nagelbett (translated as "Nail Bed") any time soon. We don’t actually see them perform live at any point, but the moody synth-pop of the song we do hear in the background is certainly enough to get them included on the list.
Extra rock credit: Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann cameos as the girlfriend of the band, who chopped her own toe off.
The Bang Bang
Film: "Brothers Of The Head" (2005)
Who were they? Conjoined twins and joint-frontmen Tom and Barry Howe (Harry and Luke Treadaway, real-life twins), plus bandmates Paul Day (Bryan Dick), Tubs (Nicholas Millard) and Spitz (Stephen Eagles).
Best Song: "Two-Way Romeo" is probably the most memorable.
How hard do they rock? One of the most detailed fictional bands in cinema, The Bang Bang are the subject of this mockumentary, even convincing some they were a real band. They weren’t, but the history of punk in the ’70s is so replete with freak shows and bizarre footnotes that it is no great stretch to believe that a pair of conjoined twins could have fronted a band. Part of the film’s beauty is the way it’s cleverly embedded in the actual history of the time: Ken Russell makes an entirely believable cameo to discuss a film he supposedly made with the punk rock twins; the documentarian who follows them is a protégé of famous cinema verite pioneer D.A. Pennebaker; and the films strongest suit, the convincing set of punk rock numbers The Bang Bang thrash out, is written and arranged by real life ’70s musician and producer Clive Langer. The band’s manager, who essentially purchases them with the intention of forming the band, feels like a low-rent compound of Malcolm McLaren and every other sleazy rock manager who ever weaseled his way into a music scene. The grimness of the windy and wet south coast, the stale beer and fags of British pubs in the ’70s and the scuzzy violence of the punk scene are all perfectly recreated around the electric central performances of the Treadaway twins.
Extra Rock Credit: The Treadaways were in a band together in their teens, called Lizardsun.
Banjo & Sullivan
Film: "The Devil’s Rejects" (2005)
Who were they? Lead singer Roy Sullivan (Geoffrey Lewis) and banjo player Adam "Fingers" Banjo (Lew Temple).
Best Song: "I’m At Home Getting Hammered (While She’s Out Gettin’ Nailed)" surprisingly lives up to its title as a jokey honky-tonk knee-slapper that lends itself easily to singalongs.
How hard do they rock? Banjo & Sullivan‘s "collection" (a greatest hits record, essentially) dates back to the mid-’70s, before they disappeared in the middle of a horrendous murder spree. Or so "The Devil’s Rejects" director Rob Zombie would have you believe. With songwriter Jesse Dayton and star Lew Temple, Zombie actually produced a full-length album for minor characters in his film that we never see performing, only being tortured by Zombie’s bloodthirsty protagonists. It’s a curious experiment for such a small film, made doubly intriguing by the fact that, despite the fact that the songs rely on Zombie-style double entendres and cheap jokes, they’re pretty catchy period-specific country tunes.
Extra Rock Credit: Geoffrey Lewis, who plays Sullivan, is the father of actress Juliette Lewis, who has her own rock career as frontwoman of Juliette and the Licks and as a solo artist.
The Blues Brothers
Film: "The Blues Brothers" (1980)
Who were they? John Belushi as "Joliet" Jake Blues, lead vocals; Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues, harmonica and lead vocals; Steve Cropper as Steve "the Colonel" Cropper, lead guitar, rhythm guitar and vocals; Donald Dunn as Donald "Duck" Dunn, bass guitar; Murphy Dunne as Murphy "Murph" Dunne, keyboards; Willie Hall as Willie "Too Big" Hall, drums and percussion; Tom Malone as Tom "Bones" Malone, trombone, tenor saxophone and vocals; Lou Marini as "Blue Lou" Marini, alto saxophone and tenor saxophone and vocals; Matt Murphy as Matt "Guitar" Murphy, lead guitar; and Alan Rubin as Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin, trumpet, percussion and vocals.
Best Song: Probably "Shake A Tailfeather" with Ray Charles, that turns into a street party, though Jake Blues’ religious experience at the church of James Brown is kind of amazing (though technically, he doesn’t really perform during the song).
How hard do they rock? "Blues Brothers" is a odd one in that the musical duo spend most of the film getting the band back together for a charity gig, which mostly results in a relentless chase movie. It’s hard to imagine any studio greenlighting a 2-hour-plus surreal comedy about blues revivalists, especially in today’s climate, but Belushi and Aykroyd (who created the characters on “Saturday Night Live”) make it work. Their energy and passion not only for the concept, but more importantly for the music, is infectious. Their use of the guest musicians is carefully thought out, resulting in sequences (like Aretha Franklin‘s "Think" in a diner) that are sublime, paying respect to both the artists and music, while still being plenty of fun. Of course, a car chase through a mall also helps. However, once they manage to shake off everyone they’ve pissed off —including Good Ol’ Boys, Illinois Nazis and jilted ex-lover— and get to the gig, they make a solid case for why getting everyone back together was worth the effort. Belushi and Aykroyd aren’t the greatest singers, but they are great performers and it shows through and through. Like the best rhythm and blues material, they find the neck snapping breaks and grooves that make the best of the genre so infectious, and milk it for all it’s worth. And of course it certainly doesn’t hurt the Blues Brothers to have some of the most esteemed rhythm and blues players of all time in their band, including members of Booker T & The MGs and The Movement (Isaac Hayes‘ band). So yes, they definitely rock it.
Extra Rock Credit: David Letterman‘s bandleader Paul Shaffer was the musical director of the band early on, but Belushi fired him, angered that, in his eyes, Shaffer was spending too much time working on a record for fellow SNLer Gilda Radner. He later cropped up in belated sequel "Blues Brothers 2000."
Film: "Hustle & Flow" (2005)
Who were they? DJay (Terrence Howard) provides the flow while Al Kapone of Three 6 Mafia penned the lyrics.
Best track: "Whoop That Trick" wins out over the Oscar-winning "It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp" with dark grooves and an aggressive delivery from Howard.
How hard does he rap? The three songs performed by DJay in the course of Craig Brewer‘s junkyard-underdog-rising film are hard Southern gangsta rap, heavy on the bass and dispersing misogynistic lyrics with ease. Howard does well to keep up his end while Al Kapone’s rhymes are serviceable at worst and include such gems as "I don’t think you understand this one right here might get banned/Setting off a riot like we living in Afghanistan." In reality, the tracks, most notably the Oscar-winning "It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp" was penned by Memphis hip-hop collective Three 6 Mafia, with their protege Cedric Coleman (aka Frayser Boy). Music-wise, we’d get the three songs and avoid the soundtrack, which is peppered with guest appearances of songs that only get brief airtime in the film.
Extra Rap Credit: Terrence Howard turned down the chance to perform the song at the Oscars, but nearly three years later, released his own jazz/soul record, Shine Through It. In the long tradition of actors making records, it’s not very good.The Folksmen
Film: "A Mighty Wind" (2003)
Who were they? Alan Barrows (Christopher Guest) sings tenor vocals and plays guitar, banjo, and mandolin; Jerry Palter (Michael McKean) sings baritone vocals and plays guitar and mandolin, and Mark Shubb (Harry Shearer) sings bass vocals and plays acoustic bass.
Best Track: “Old Joe’s Place” (a Top 70 hit in 1962)
How hard do they rock? An American folk trio, they rock as much as Peter, Paul & Mary, which is not too much outside of certain circles and folk revivals. There is some dispute over how the Folksmen formed, whether the group’s members met at Ohio Wesleyan University or University of Vermont. Either way, they met amidst the college folk scene in the early ’60s. Within 26 months, the trio released no fewer than five albums. In 1968, their last and least successful Saying Something marked the end of the group “who were too popular to be purist and too purist to be popular." The Folksmen would reunite in 1984 in a one-off appearance on ‘SNL,’ in 1993 at the “Troubadours of Folk” festival at UCLA, in 2001 for “The Harry Smith Project,” and a 2003 tribute concert for their former manager Irving Steinbloom that was documented in “A Mighty Wind” and where Shubb came out as a Trans woman. Adding to their rock cred, the trio was last seen opening for the heavy metal band Spinal Tap at their "One Night Only World Tour" concert at London’s Wembley Arena on June 30, 2009.
Extra rock credit: While performing at the Troubadours of Folk festival alongside real folk acts, McKean recalled that “Paul Stokey of Peter, Paul & Mary looked at us and muttered, ‘Too close, too close.’ ”
Hong Kong Cavaliers
Film: "The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension" (1984)
Who Were They? Frontman Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), pianist Rawhide (Clancy Brown), sax player Reno Nevada (Pepe Serna), guitarists Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith) and Pinky Carruthers (Billy Vera) and backup dancer and pianist New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum).
Best Song: The instrumental "Bonzai Jam" sounds like something in the ’80s that would have had us tapping our toes and nodding our heads at the bar.
How hard do they rock? W.D. Richter‘s cult classic sees Peter Weller star as the title character, a physicist, neurosurgeon and pilot who also happens to double up in the Hong Kong Cavaliers, who ends up having to save the world from a group of aliens known as the Red Lectroids, with his principal backup coming from the rest of his band, who are all scientists too. The score of the film, from Grammy winner Michael Boddicker, riffs off the very little we do hear of the Cavaliers, so you could suggest we spend the entire film listening to physicist/neurosurgeon/rock star Bonzai’s eclectic band. There seems to be a heavy reliance on period-appropriate synth and keyboard, though the reliance on sax and piano suggests a futuristic melding of big band aesthetics and frisky jam band-age.
Extra Rock Credit: The film’s music coordinator and sound engineer was Bones Howe, who was the recording engineer on The Mamas & The Papas‘ "California Dreamin,’ " and worked with Tom Waits, The 5th Dimension and Elvis Presley, among others.
Marvin Berry & The Starlighters
Film: "Back To The Future" (1985)
Who were they? Harry Waters, Jr. (as Marvin Berry) lead vocals and guitar, and the Starlighters: Tommy Thomas on saxophone, Granville ‘Danny’ Young on the upright bass, David Harold Brown (as Reginald) on drums and Lloyd L. Tolbert on the piano (he also played drums).
Best track: "Earth Angel" (Will You Be Mine)
How hard do they rock? The amusing conceit of Marvin Berry and the Starlighters is that Marvin is the cousin of rock ‘n’ roll icon Chuck Berry. When Marvin’s hand is sliced trying to get Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) out of a car trunk, he can’t play guitar for the night at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance. McFly steps in to play guitar, teaches the band the chord changes to “Johnny B. Goode” and rips a crazy solo in the middle of the song so good, Marvin calls his brother Chuck on the phone and let’s him listen in. The gag is that McFly essentially births rock ‘n’ roll to Chuck before he’s even invented it (get that timehole logic) and history is sort of reborn. Do they “rock”? Not necessarily, but the version of “Earth Angel” they play in the movie (actually performed by this group of real musicians) is just magical; smooth as silk and so romantic, you’ll fall in love with a strange opposite any time that you’re under their spell.
Extra Rock Credit: “Earth Angel” is an American doo-wop song by The Penguins. “Night Train,” the first song the band plays in the film, is a twelve bar blues instrumental standard made popular by both Duke Ellington and Jimmy Forrest.
Film: "That Thing You Do" (1996)
Who were they? Frontman Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn), their never-named bassist (Ethan Embry) and drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott).
Best Song: For a film about a one-hit wonder, it could only be the impossibly catchy "That Thing You Do!"
How hard do they rock? Rock, not so much. Pop, you betcha. In Tom Hanks‘ directorial debut, set in 1964, a small-town band in Erie, Pennsylvania called the Oneders (One-ders) creates the next great American pop song that gives the movie its title. Heavily inspired by the rise of The Beatles, the group loses members and self-implodes after their single makes it big. The Wonders (renamed due to frustration over how to pronounce their first name) are a group of clean-cut boys who discover that the music industry is founded on luck and chance; at least, that’s what happens to them. When they finally make it to television, it’s asked “How did we get here?” Small town band makes good is nothing new; it’s the question of what happens after you’re “here” that makes the story. The band never tops their seminal hit because it’s the song that defines them. They embody the “one-hit wonder” (encompassing both their band names), and it’s through no fault of their own other than luck and fate.
Extra Rock Credit: Musician Chris Isaak has a small role as Guy’s uncle, who records their first record for them. Also look out for Bryan Cranston as astronaut Gus Grissom.
Film: "All You Need is Cash" (1978)
Who were they? Dirk McQuickly (Eric Idle), styled after Paul McCartney; Ron Nasty (Neil Innes), styled after John Lennon; Stig O’Hara (Ricky Fataar), styled after George Harrison; and Barry Wom (John Halsey), styled after Ringo Starr.
Best Song: “Ouch!” (parody of “Help!”) and “I Must Be in Love”
How hard do they rock? “The Pre-fab Four” are the spitting image of The Beatles, arguably the greatest band of all time, and therefore rock pretty darn hard. The story of The Rutles began on January 21, 1959 at 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool when Ron Nasty and Dirk McQuickly bumped into each other and began “a legend that will last a lunchtime." Later, guitarist Stig O’Hara and drummer Barrington Womble join Nasty and McQuickly to form The Rutles. On joining the band, Womble changes his name to Barry Wom (reminiscent of Richard Starkey becoming Ringo Starr). From a sketchy manager, to Ron claiming the band is bigger than God, to the Rutles’ break-up, “All You Need is Cash” follows The Beatles’ timeline rather closely. The film also includes an incredible cast of cameos from the ’70s rock and comic elite: George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Paul Simon, Bianca Jagger, Michael Palin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Al Franken.
Extra rock credit: All four Beatles watched “All You Need is Cash” – John Lennon loved it, Paul McCartney was “icy” towards Idle at an awards but has softened since, Ringo was a mixed bag (loving the funny parts but feeling the sadder parts hit too close to home), and George Harrison, a friend and producing partner of Idle’s, had been involved with the film from the beginning and appeared as The Interviewer.
School of Rock
Film: "School of Rock" (2003)
Who were they? Dewey Finn (Jack Black), vocals and guitar; Zack Mooneyham (Joey Gaydos Jr.), lead guitar; Katie (Rebecca Brown), bass guitar, Lawrence (Robert Tsai), keyboards; and Fred (Kevin Clarke), drums.
Best Track: “School of Rock” aka “Zack’s Song”
How hard do they rock? Rock can change the world —there is no doubt— but this band does something way more difficult; they change their parents’ minds. By the end, Zack’s need for his dad’s acceptance, Fred’s rebellion, Lawrence’s shyness (we love Lawrence), the self-confidence of the entire class and, of course, Dewey’s salvation, all hang on one song, one performance, one shot. And they kill it. So the song itself is a wee bit paint-by-numbers (to be fair, it was supposedly written by an 11-year-old) and we might wish there were just one more notch they could crank when they hit their second chorus, but really, that’s nitpicking when you’re grinning and humming along with the audience. These kids don’t just rock hard, they rock cute.
Extra rock credit: Summer, the band’s pint-sized manager, was played by Miranda Cosgrove, who’s come to fame more recently as the star of the Disney Channel’s “iCarly.” Despite her “School of Rock” character not being able to sing a note, she released a solo album in 2010.
Film: "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010)
Who were they? Stephen ‘The Talent’ Stills (Mark Webber) on lead vocals and guitar, Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) on bass and backing vocals, and the deadpan genius of Kim Pine (Alison Pill) on drums and backing vocals. A line-up change saw Scott replaced with ‘Young’ Neil Nordegraf (Johnny Simmons) on the bass.
Best Song: "Garbage Truck"
How hard do they rock? Pretty damn hard. Music is central to Edgar Wright‘s pop culture fever dream adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s graphic novels, with a number of fake bands cropping up, including The Clash At Demonhead, fronted by Brie Larson‘s Envy Adams, and the ill-fated Crash & The Boys. But it’s Sex Bob-Omb who are the center; the closest thing the hero has to a job is playing in this three-piece garage rock band with friends Stephen and Kim. And while some of the other characters are a bit sniffy about the band, they’re actually fairly decent, thanks to fuzzy, catchy two-minute numbers penned by Beck, and the band’s nervous but charismatic stage presence. And they rightfully end up getting some attention. While they only win the first round of the Battle of the Bands contest when the competition are accidentally incinerated by a fireball, later on they’re rocking out to the extent that their musically-conjured yeti is able to crush the Katayanagi Twin’s techno dragons (yeah, it makes more sense when you’ve seen it…).
Extra rock credit: After the film came out, Michael Cera went on to play bass for Mister Heavenly, a side project by Islands frontman Nick Thorburn, also featuring members of Modest Mouse and Man Man.
Film: "This is Spinal Tap" (1984)
Who were they? David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), lead vocals and guitar; Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), lead vocals, guitar, mandolin, etc.; Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), bass guitar; Vic Savage (David Kaff), keyboards; and Mick Shrimpton (R.J. Parnell), drums.
Best Track: Tough call, but “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” wins out because of its disturbingly pedo lyrics, catchy riffs and redundant second ‘Tonight.’
How hard do they rock? [Tries valiantly to resist the obvious ‘they go to 11’ line.] You knew they’d be here, and they are. While the troupe behind the film went on to parody folk music, dog shows, amateur theater and the Oscar race, nowhere else was it so obvious that they just adored the thing they were sending up: the music is a piss-take, yes, but one done with such absolute love, craftsmanship and commitment to rocking that it never feels snide. An integral part of one of the most hilarious films ever made, the songs are both parodies and perfect examples of the cock-rock genre. Spinal Tap were so great as a fictional band they became a real one… oh fuck it, they went to 11.
Extra Rock Credit: The band have toured in real life several times, last playing in 2009 in support of studio album Back From The Dead. The band were supported on the tour by The Folksmen (also played by Guest, Shearer and McKean, see above).
Film: “Almost Famous” (2000)
Who were they? Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), vocals and guitar; Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), guitar; Larry Fellows (Mark Kozelek of the Red House Painters), bass guitar; and Ed Vallencourt (John Fedevich), drums.
Best Song: "Fever Dog"
How hard do they rock? When Rolling Stone writer William Miller calls your guitar incendiary you know you have accomplished something. Stillwater’s arena blues rock, with Jeff Bebe’s soulful swagger and Russell Hammond’s undeniable presence as an emerging guitar God, encompassed the greatness of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Eagles, amping it up with a aura of cool that few bands of the era could touch. The scene where Russell Hammond walks onto the stage before "Fever Dog" can only be described as electric. Their fans are as hungry as the song’s subject, knowing that they are tasting a rare moment. The Stillwater performance we see brings us the best part of being a music fan. They are on the cusp of greatness but still are small enough to be your little secret.
Extra Rock Credit: The Stillwater songs were written by Nancy Wilson of Heart (also director Cameron Crowe‘s then wife), Crowe, and Peter Frampton.
The Venus In Furs/Wylde Ratttz
Film: "Velvet Goldmine" (1998)
Who were they? Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a Bowie/Bolan mash-up) leads the Furs, and Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor as a Iggy Pop/Lou Reed surrogate) fronted the Wylde Ratttz. But in reality, the musical members of The Venus In Furs (itself a Velvet Underground reference) were a supergroup that included Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, David Gray, Suede‘s Bernard Butler, and Roxy Music‘s Andy Mackay. The musicians behind The Wylde Ratttz were a complimentary American supergroup that featured Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley, Minutemen‘s Mike Watt, Gumball‘s Don Fleming, The Stooges‘ Ron Asheton, and Mark Arm of Mudhoney (anyone remember when they tore the roof off the MTV Video Music Awards in 1998?).
Best Song: Best is relative, as covers can’t compete with these originals, but "2HB" as sung by Thom Yorke doing his best Bryan Ferry imitation is… interesting, and Jonathan Rhys Myers singing Brian Eno‘s "Baby’s On Fire" with the Wylde Ratttz was surreal enough that it’s worth taking another listen to.
How hard do they rock? Anyone who thinks riffing on Bob Dylan in "I’m Not Here," was Todd Haynes‘ first foray into movie-rock meta-textualness needs to go back and revisit his glam-rock paean "Velvet Goldmine," which did a lot of rock-star character compositing to create new figures (while McGregor’s character is clearly physically based on Iggy Pop, the electroshock therapy to "cure" his homosexuality reference is ripped straight out of the Lou Reed biography). The film is littered with rock and cinema references: The Slade character has a persona named "Maxwell Demon" who is named after one of Brian Eno’s early bands, the members of Placebo all appear as the fictional band Flaming Creatures, which is named after a graphically sexual 1962 experimental film by filmmaker Jack Smith, The Wylde Ratttz are a reference to Ziggy Stardust guitarist Mick Ronson‘s early band (The Rats), and the list goes on and on. The bands were fine, but it’s an excuse to delve into the glam rock milieu —Roxy Music, Stooges, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, T-Rex, Slade, New York Dolls, etc.— that were referenced in the film. Pulp, Shudder to Think and Grant Lee Buffalo also wrote original music for the film.
Extra Rock Credit: Curiously enough, there are zero David Bowie songs in the film, even though his character and music were obviously integral to the story and musical scene at the time. This is because Bowie was shepherding his own film project and didn’t want the competing film to get all his songs. Of course that film has never materialized.
Honorable mentions: There are plenty more fake bands to check out, and maybe we’ll revisit some of these the next time life gives us an excuse to update this feature: the title bands in "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains," "Eddie and the Cruisers" and "CB4," Barry Jive and the Uptown 5 in "High Fidelity" and Bad Blake in "Crazy Heart" should get you started. You commenters also have soft spots for Citizen Dick of “Singles”, Crucial Taunt, whose outstanding version of “Ballroom Blitz” is better than the contributions of many of the excellent real bands in “Wayne’s World”, Blueshammer from “Ghost World”, and the perfectly named Swanky Modes from “Tapeheads”, not to mention Steel Dragon from 2001’s “Rock Star”. But don’t stop there: keep on rockin’ in the comments section.
—Ben Brock, Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Diana Drumm, Kristen Lopez, Kieran McMahon