Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) in the hit 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap.

SPINAL TAP

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SPINAL TAP (1964–1982-FICTIONAL, 1984, 1992, 2001, 2007, 2009–PRESENT). David St. Hubbins, played by Michael McKean (vocals/guitar), Nigel Tufnel, played by Christopher Guest (guitar), Derek Smalls, played by Harry Shearer (bass), Mick Shrimpton, played by R. J. Parnell (drums, usually Mick Shrimpton, or his brother Rick, many other previous drummers died in accidents, including bizarre gardening accidents, so too many to mention here), Viv Savage, played by David Kaff (keyboards).

Spinal Tap may or may not be the best metal band of all time, featuring lead singer and guitarist David St. Hubbins, guitarist Nigel Tufnel, bassist Derek Smalls, in later years keyboardist Viv Savage, and a variety of drummers who usually died in bizarre gardening accidents or by choking on someone else’s vomit. The band started as the Thamesmen, before becoming the Originals and then the New Originals, when they found that another band already had that name.

Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) in the hit 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap.

Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) in the hit 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap.

After leaving their garage rock and psychedelic phases, Spinal Tap began to tour more regularly and as their sound became more metallic, they began to adapt a more tolerant misogyny as epitomized in songs such as “Big Bottom,” “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You, Tonight,” in which lyrics such as “you’re too young and I’m too well hung” epitomized exactly what the band wanted to do with the ladies backstage. Spinal Tap were also maligned unfairly by critics, who hailed their concept album Shark Sandwich as “shit sandwich.” Although Spinal Tap failed to chart in later years, they did help expand the metal lexicon with their grandiose stage sets, including in one notable instance clear plastic pods, one of which failed to open, trapping bassist Derek Smalls inside. In a notably metal moment, the band designed a giant Stonehenge prop to come down, but because the designer mistook inches for feet, the Stonehenge set was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

Although the band went through its sets of ups and downs, they remained popular in Japan, where they were last seen doing a successful comeback tour to rapturous fans. The band was largely forgotten by many Americans (who also failed to remember the Rutles, the legendary band who were a “legend that would last a lunchtime”), but most metal fans know them from the documentary that acclaimed filmmaker Rob Reiner did about them in 1984 called This is Spinal Tap. There is an urban legend circulating in the metal community that the documentary is actually a “mockumentary” due to the extreme silliness of the events chronicled in the film, but when comparing it to the film The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II: The Metal Years or a Dio or W.A.S.P. stage set, it is clear that This Is Spinal Tap is just a well-shot documentary about a typical British metal band.

Sadly, few of Spinal Tap’s records are in print, but the two compilations listed below are well worth investing in for serious students of metalology. (Note for gullible readers: This Is Spinal Tap was actually a “mockumentary” directed by Rob Reiner and created by McKean, Guest, and Shearer).

Discography: This is Spinal Tap (Polydor 1984, 2000); Break Like the Wind (MCA, 1992). There were many other Spinal Tap albums, such as Shark Sandwich, which are naturally long out of print due to the incompetence of record label owners and the bad taste of various jealous A&R men, but are well worth seeking out at yard sales or at Salvation Army stores.)