Total Recall

Tomatopalooza: Cinema's Greatest Fake Bands

A list of moviedom's greatest hits.

by | August 6, 2015 | Comments

This week, Meryl Streep will attempt to prove she’s hip enough to rock out with the best of them in the musical drama Ricki and the Flash. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a fond look back at some of the greatest fake rockers and rappers to grace the big screen. Sit back and crank that stereo, because it’s time for Total Recall!


The Blues Brothers

Blues-Brothers

As seen in The Blues Brothers (1980) 73%

Other bands on this list may have more interesting backstories, but none of them were on a mission from God — and none of them boast a pedigree as stellar as the Blues Brothers. As Donald Fagen noted in Steely Dan’s 1980 hit, “Hey Nineteen,” “It’s hard times befallen the soul survivors” — and none of them had more soul than Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Willie Hall, Steve Jordan, and Matt Murphy, the Stax veterans who made up the core of Jake and Elwood Blues’ orphanage-saving combo and enjoyed career boosts after the movie was released. It was all too good to last, and soul purists may have taken offense at the band’s very existence, but if they were good enough for Brother Ray, hey, they’re certainly good enough for you.

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Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers

Buckaroo-Banzai

As seen in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984) 68%

Only in the 1980s would you find Peter Weller playing a world-renowned neurosurgeon and particle physicist who moonlights as the frontman for one of eastern New Jersey’s most popular bar bands — a band consisting of many other part-time hyphenates, including a botanist, a linguist, and an entomologist — but The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension owes its cult classic status, at least in part, to the nightclub performances of the Hong Kong Cavaliers. Family Ties fans and sharp-eyed children of the ’80s will recognize Mr. Billy Vera (of Billy Vera and the Beaters, natch) holding down the bass as Pinky Carruthers.

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The Carrie Nations

carrie-nations

As seen in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) 75%

The Carrie Nations might have been a fake band, but they rock and roll like the best of them in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. With songs like “Find It,” “Come With the Gentle People,” and “Sweet Talkin’ Candy Man,” the trio conjures shades of Jefferson Airplane and the Mamas and the Papas, psychedelic rock and flower power ballads alike. Watch and delight as redhead singer Kelly (Dolly Read, who married comedian Dick Martin the following year), brunette bassist Casey (Cynthia Meyers), and soulful drummer Petronella (Marcia McBroom) willfully sacrifice innocence, friendship, and true love for the trappings of fame and glory in Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert’s deliciously groovy exploitation satire. It’s a whirlwind rise to rock stardom for the girls, and you have a front row seat to every show, hook-up, betrayal, drug binge, and orgy along the way — as well as the film’s Manson-esque conclusion, in which flamboyant Svengali Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell has a happening, and it freaks him (and us) out.

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CB4

cb4

As seen in CB4 (1993) 57%

Taking a page from This Is Spinal Tap to lampoon the world of gangsta rap (albeit a few years too late), CB4 follows the meteoric rise of the titular rap group, whose members include Albert “MC Gusto” Brown (Chris Rock), Euripides “Dead Mike” Smalls (Allen Payne), and Otis, a.k.a. Stab Master Arson (Deezer D). Though critics generally compared it unfavorably to Tap, CB4 has enjoyed a cult following in the post-theatrical market — partly because of typically terrific appearances from supporting actors such as Phil Hartman, Chris Elliot, Khandi Alexander, and Charlie Murphy, and partly because of tracks like “Straight Outta Locash.”

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The Commitments

Commitments

As seen in The Commitments (1991) 89%

If true soul music was scarce in 1980, it was an endangered species in 1991 — which is one reason why audiences flocked to Alan Parker’s adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, which depicts the formation and rise of a group of soul-loving Irish musicians. The movie’s soundtrack did as well, if not better, than the film, and for good reason — the performers were chosen for their musical ability, not acting skills, and a number of them (including vocalist Andrew Strong, future Once star Glen Hansard, and eventual Fleadh Festival hottie Andrea Corr) went on to real-life careers in music after the movie. In fact, a touring version of the band is still booking dates to this day — how’s that for Commitments?


Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Hedwig-2

As seen in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) 92%

Aping the high-gloss androgyny of the New York Dolls, David Bowie, and the half-forgotten and openly gay glam rock pioneer Jobraith, John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a band (and a film) lousy with camp ethos and ultra-literate pop culture references. The music of “The Angry Inch” mixes Lou Reed with Iggy Pop, but the aesthetic is pure Diamond Dog — well, Diamond Dog if you replace Bowie with a Streisand impersonator, which, funny enough, this film includes (she goes by the stage name “Krystal Nacht” and her extended medley is mind-blowing!). What began as an off-Broadway, monologue-motivated production, Hedwig and the Angry Inch had big success in ancillaries (like the soundtrack) and now rotates like an anatomically graphic Rocky Horror Picture Show, with costume attendees in tow.

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 Josie and the Pussycats

Josie-and-the-Pussycats

As seen in Josie and the Pussycats (2001) 53%

Boy bands and mall punk pop music. The combination sounds worse than a Raffi benefit concert, but we indeed did live through such dark times. In fact, some probably even liked it! Resurrecting the 1970s cartoon curio, Josie and the Pussycats presents itself as a satire of the pop music industry during its height of audience cynicism; the movie’s plot revolves around three girls (Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson) navigating the biz and uncovering their record label’s conspiracy of brainwashing people into enjoying their music. You have to be lobotomized to like the crap on the radio, the movie almost says.

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N.W.H.

Fear-of-a-Black-Hat

As seen in Fear of a Black Hat (1994) 86%

With the previous year’s CB4 still fresh on the minds of unsuspecting moviegoers, 1994 introduced audiences to another hip-hop satire in Fear of a Black Hat. Unlike its predecessor, Black Hat was filmed documentary-style, and it chronicled the life and times of underground act N.W.H. — we can’t exactly spell out for you what the initials stand for, but if you’re familiar with the legendary Los Angeles crew known as N.W.A., just replace the “Attitude” with “Hats.” Lampooning everything from rapper names (Ice Cold, Tone Def) to song content (the deliriously tasteless “Booty Juice”) to the inevitable group split and solo career paths (one member’s new persona bears a striking resemblance to P.M. Dawn), the film was critically well-received but performed poorly at the box office. It’s become somewhat of a cult classic, however, with its over-the-top script, surprising poignancy, and willingness to take a few powerful and calculated jabs at a still-burgeoning rap industry.

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PoP!

pop!

As seen in Music and Lyrics (2007) 63%

With everyone these days willing to get history lessons through the Internet, the only way to test the authenticity of Music and Lyrics‘ fake music video for a 1984 song called “PoP! Goes My Heart” is through YouTube. Can it convincingly be put in a video playlist with Rick Astley, Flock of Seagulls, and Talking Heads? Our prognosis: the band’s wardrobe is a bit too 1980s exorbitant, and Scott Porter’s performance as the lead singer plays it a bit too hard for laughs, but the song’s insanely catchy and Hugh Grant hits the right note of idiotic earnestness. Best of all, Music and Lyrics
was only a modest hit, so you can stick this song for your 1980s-themed party. Do it quick, though — everyone’s starting to get nostalgic for acid wash and sweaters wrapped around waists.

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The Rutles

The-Rutles

As seen in All You Need Is Cash (1978) 91%

The grandpa of mock rock docs, The Rutles: All You Need is Cash should be manna to any Beatlemaniac. This satirical take on the Beatles’ rise and fall from members of Monty Python and the Saturday Night Live cast was so spot on, Ringo Starr allegedly found the later scenes too painful to enjoy. However, this is a comedy, and though it has its share of barbs (the fake John Lennon and Yoko Ono scenes are pretty rough), it’s still a lovingly detailed look at the Fab Four’s history. Real-life stars like Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, and Ron Wood turn up to sing the praises of the Rutles, and even George Harrison makes a cameo. Featuring songs like “Get Up and Go” (“Get Back”), “Ouch!” (“Help!”), and “Love Life” (“All You Need Is Love”), The Rutles was a profound influence on This Is Spinal Tap. Best visual gag: Eric Idle, playing Paul McCartney doppelganger Dirk McQuickly, is profiled in the “where-are-they-now” segment at the end of the movie as the leader of a punk band called the Punk Floyd — with a safety pin through his head.

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The Soggy Bottom Boys

Soggy-Bottom-Boys

As seen in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) 77%

The music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? was so extraordinary that it almost eclipsed the film itself. The Coen Brothers’ twisted take on Homer’s The Odyssey was something of a musical journey itself into the roots of American country, gospel, and blues. The the SBBs (played by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson) are based (albeit very loosely) upon the musical stylings of such old timey groups as the Foggy Mountain Boys, and the O Brother soundtrack featured such roots stars as Ralph Stanley, Allison Krauss, and Emmylou Harris. But the group’s secret weapon is an itinerant bluesman named Tommy (Chris Thomas King, singing for himself), who, like the real-life Tommy Johnson (famous for “Canned Heat Blues,” about the pleasures of getting drunk on Sterno), has sold his soul to the devil in order to acquire his mind-blowing guitar skills.

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Sonic Death Monkey/ Kathleen Turner Overdrive/ Barry Jive and the Uptown Five

Jack-Black-Singing

As seen in High Fidelity (2000) 91%

Jack Black spends much of High Fidelity stealing scenes; his turn as an obnoxiously opinionated (but strangely endearing) record snob was a breakout performance. Still, he saves his coup de grace for the film’s penultimate scene, in which he and his band of metalheads (with more band names than songs) lay down a convincing version of Marvin Gaye’s come-hither anthem “Let’s Get It On.” Black had been doing the comedy/rock thing for years with Kyle Gass as Tenacious D, and he would later lend his irreverent rockist persona to Richard Linklater’s School of Rock.

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Spinal Tap

Spinal-Tap

As seen in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) 95%

They’ve done everything from flower power folk to the lewdest of heavy metal, played for sold-out arenas and opened for puppet shows, and blurred the lines between fact and fiction for nearly a quarter of a century. Spinal Tap — made up of guitarists Nigel Tufnel (a.k.a. Christopher Guest), David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), plus whichever drummer happens to be foolhardy enough to be sitting behind the kit — has parlayed its appearance in the original mockumentary, 1984’s “This Is Spinal Tap,” into a series of concerts (including the Hear ‘n Aid benefit), albums (such as 1992’s Break Like the Wind), and, of course, a guest spot on The Simpsons. We love all the bands on this list, but only the Tap goes to 11.

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Stillwater

Stillwater

As seen in Almost Famous (2000) 89%

A composite of the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many, many more, Stillwater is a distillation of the rock monsters that roamed the earth in the 1970s — and that were profiled by a teenaged Cameron Crowe in Creem and Rolling Stone. Crowe wrote,  directed, and co-composed some of the songs (with his wife, Heart singer Nancy Wilson, and Peter Frampton), and Almost Famous oozes period detail, serving as a reminder that rock in the 1970s was still a seat-of-the-pants enterprise. Stillwater lays down some convincing stoner rock that recalls the heyday of AM radio — with help from Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready on guitar, Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon on bass, and impressive vocals from star Jason Lee.

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The Wonders

The-Wonders

As seen in That Thing You Do! (1996) 93%

Writer-director Tom Hanks makes his influences clear. See The Oneders have a Monkees-style clown-around on a map of the U.S.! Hear as The Oneders ape the lesser-known British pop invaders the Dave Clark Five (a fave of Hanks’)! The band’s name, “The Oneders,” is a cute reach to U.S. Beatlemania, but that little stab at cleverness goes south when the MC of the band’s first show hollers “The Oh-Nee-Ders!” Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains of Wayne), Howard Shore (composer for Lord of the Rings) and Tom Hanks are three of the songwriting contributors to the film’s sassy 1960s pop soundtrack. Though their contributions were all stellar, Schlesinger earned an Oscar nom for the film’s title track.

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Wyld Stallyns

Bill-and-Ted

As seen in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) 81%

Few movies with bands actually let their bands end up sucking; even the jokiest of them of all, Spinal Tap, in reality possesses the power to bring sold-out stadiums to their knees. Bill Preston and Ted Logan (Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves) of the Wyld Stallyns have no such power. They rarely ever get to play more than a few sloppy seconds before something divine intervenes, like an amp blowing out or the credits rolling. It’s all part of the joke in their legendarily excellent adventure involving time travel, referring to Napoleon as a dick, and the late, great George Carlin. But all is not lost! In their further travels as chronicled in Bogus Journey, Bill and Ted do indeed rock the world, fulfilling their destiny as depicted in Excellent Adventure.

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  • Dennis

    I wish Strange Fruit, from the movie Still Crazy had made it on the list. I actually like the music.

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