Ever since Spinal Tap skewered classic rock bands with their excess, egos and miniature Stonehenge stage props back in 1984, many other fictional musicians and bands have popped up in movies and television programs. While Rob Reiner’s fake-rock legends, made up of the amazingly-named David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls, may have set the bar impossibly high, there have been some pretty great examples over the years. Some are composites of real-life musicians, whereas others are just farcical clichés fleshed out on-screen for laughs and satirical value. A few of the most notable acts began as comedy sketch characters and took on real-life existences of their own after popularity soared. Examples of all of these are featured below. Feast your eyes (and ears) on our list of 11 of the very best fictional rock bands/musicians not named Spinal Tap.
While Stillwater might be the name of a real-life 1970s rock band, director Cameron Crowe was allowed to use the moniker for the fictional band featured in his 2000 film Almost Famous. The band, played by Billy Crudup (as lead guitarist Russell), Jason Lee (as vocalist Jeff), John Fedevich (as drummer Ed Vallencourt) and Mark Kozelek (as bassist Larry Fellows) drew its influence from classic rock bands like The Eagles, The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others that Crowe actually toured with as a young writer for Rolling Stone. In the film, Lee and Crudup play embittered rock stars perfectly, snarling at each other and living lives of excess just as many successful musicians did in that era. Nancy Wilson of Heart wrote Stillwater’s “hit” song Fever Dog, and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready recorded the guitar track for the soundtrack album, helping make Stillwater one of the most memorable fictional rock bands in cinema history.
2. Bleeding Gums Murphy
As a young, aspiring jazz musician, Lisa Simpson idolized Bleeding Gums Murphy. The grizzled old sax man first appeared on The Simpsons wailing a solo on a bridge at night, much to the delight of Lisa. Loosely based on jazz legend Sonny Rollins, Bleeding Gums Murphy first appeared in the sixth episode of the show’s first season, and was referenced several times after he died in Season 6. Murphy left Lisa his saxophone when he died, because he was an all-around great guy. While not confirmed, the show does hint that Murphy’s brother is none other than Springfield’s oft-chuckling Dr. Hibbard. Below is a clip of Murphy’s infamous 26-minute version of the Star-Spangled Banner that he sang at a Springfield Isotopes game.
3. The Folksmen
Christopher Guest knows a thing or two about great movies about fictitious musicians. The Folksmen were the stars of A Mighty Wind, the mockumentary film starring Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, and a slew of Guest’s other buddies. The trio, made up of Mark Shubb (played by Shearer), Alan Barrows (Guest himself) and Jerry Palter (Michael McKean) had a folk hit in the movie with the song Old Joe’s Place, which they performed in the film when they finally reunite with The New Main Street Singers and Mitch & Micky for a memorial concert honoring Irving Steinbloom, the music producer who assembled the three groups. The Folksmen were actually conceived in 1984 on Saturday Night Live and performed occasionally until A Mighty Wind, but the film introduced the comedy act to a much larger audience.
4. Citizen Dick (from the movie Singles)
Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film Singles had a lot to do with the exploding “grunge” scene in the Pacific Northwest. In the film, Matt Dillon’s character Cliff Poncier fronts a grungy band called Citizen Dick. The other members of this fake band were actually played by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, who actually lent much of his wardrobe to Dillon for the film. Ament also created fake song titles for Citizen Dick, one of which Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell, (who has a cameo in the film himself) turned into Spoonman, a song that would be a big hit for Soundgarden. Citizen Dick is a spot-on portrayal of your typical “grunge” band in that era, and Dillon plays it perfectly as the brash, fame-seeking musician type. Below is a clip of Dillon’s character meeting with the rest of Citizen Dick (Vedder, Ament and Gossard).
5. The Beets
Nickelodeon’s heyday in the early to mid-1990s was highlighted by Doug, a quirky cartoon series about a dorky high-schooler and his everyday troubles. Within the show, he loved a band called The Beets, who were loosely (and obviously) modeled after the Beatles and other various British Invasion bands. The band appeared intermittently throughout the show’s run on Nickelodeon, and their songs, including Killer Tofu, I Need Mo’ Allowance and Shout Your Lungs Out were humorous jabs at popular culture, as well as pretty respectable pop tunes. Killer Tofu, in particular, features memorable lines such as “I eat my sugar cereal/but it makes my teeth bacterial!” Listen and laugh below.
6. Dr. Funke’s 100 Percent Natural Good Time Family Band Solution
In the tragically short existence of Mitchell Hurwitz’s irreverent ensemble sitcom Arrested Development, the character of Tobias Fünke (played by David Cross) dabbled in a number of job prospects throughout his ridiculous life. Toward the end of the first season, he talks to Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) about “reuniting the band”, which refers to Dr. Fünke’s 100 Percent Natural Good Time Family Band Solution, a folk band that he, his wife Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) and daughter Maeby (Alia Shawkat) performed as in the mid 1990’s. The three of them basically sang the fine print of over-the-counter prescription drugs, in the awkward-yet-hilarious style that came to characterize the show. If it all sounds like an “in-joke”, you should probably go buy the DVDs and get started.
7. Dewey Cox
Walk Hard: The Legend of Dewey Cox was both a satire of biopics in general and a parody of Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash film starring Joaquin Phoenix. Written by Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan, the movie is filled with humorous homages to all kinds of rock star clichés, including nods to the careers of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, The Big Bopper, and The Beatles, who are the source of many jokes in one particular scene. John C. Reilly plays the lead role, and also sings Walk Hard, Cox’s biggest hit within the film.
8. The Wonders
Tom Hanks wrote and directed That Thing You Do!, the 1996 comedy/drama chronicling The Wonders, a fictional one-hit wonder band from the early 1960s. The band’s ridiculously infectious hit song, That Thing You Do, was written by Fountains of Wayne songwriter Adam Schlesinger. The song, coincidentally, peaked at #41 on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1996. The Wonders (or “The Oneders” as they called themselves in the film until people didn’t know how to pronounce it) were played by Steve Zahn, Johnathon Schaech, Ethan Embry and Tom Everett Scott, but the vocals and music for the song were recorded by Schlesinger and vocalist Mike Viola. Had the song actually existed in the 1960s, it’s likely it would have been just as much of a hit as it was in the context of the film. Good luck getting it out of your head, by the way.
9. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
The resident rock band on The Muppet Show in the mid 1970s, Electric Mayhem was the name of the all-Muppet band made up of Dr. Teeth on keyboards and front-puppet duty, Animal on drums, Sgt. Floyd Pepper on bass, Janice on the lead guitar, Zoot on sax, and occasional trumpet player Lips. After The Muppet Show came to an end, the group appeared in various Muppet-related productions, including The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and A Muppet Family Christmas (1987). Indie rock/jam band My Morning Jacket was in talks with Disney to embark on a real-life tour as Dr. Teeth’s backing band this year, with the band performing the music and animatronic puppets doing the movements, but the red tape proved too sticky, and the project was canned. That’s too bad, really. Below, enjoy Dizzy Gillespie’s 1980 appearance on The Muppet Show, where he performed St. Louis Blues alongside Electric Mayhem.
10. The Soggy Bottom Boys
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? featured a sparkling cast and a fresh take on Homer’s Odyssey, coupled with the great bluegrass/country music on the soundtrack. When chain gang escapees Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) break free and go on the run, they get into all sorts of misunderstandings. At one point, they stumble upon a blind radio station owner and pose as a singing group, recording the song Man of Constant Sorrow to make some quick cash. They call themselves the Soggy Bottom Boys, a nod to the Foggy Mountain Boys, a bluegrass band led by Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. While Clooney, Turturro and Nelson didn’t actually record the music or vocals on the song, the scene is one of the film’s funniest moments. The song becomes a big hit, but since they were on the run from the law they don’t realize that until later in the film. Naturally.
11. The Blues Brothers
Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, respectively) may have started out as a fictional duo in a Saturday Night Live musical sketch, but before long the fiction became reality. What began as a one-off skit turned into something much more real, after cast members jammed together at Aykroyd’s Holland Tunnel Blues Bar in NYC. Before long, Aykroyd had taught Belushi all about the blues, and they began singing with local blues groups. The duo took on the name The Blues Brothers, and released a hit album in 1978, which was followed up by the now-classic film The Blues Brothers in 1980. Perhaps one of the rare cases of SNL skit-turned successful, funny motion picture, The Blues Brothers seem to have withstood the test of time to be one of the most-loved “fictional” musical groups of all-time. Below, watch their performance backing up Ray Charles as he plays the song Twist It (Shake Your Tail Feather).