You wouldn’t be able to see them in concert. You couldn’t necessarily find an old favorite of theirs on vinyl or hear their new single on the radio, or download their latest EP as a new discovery. But for the fictional bands of cinema, their music still matters in a deep, powerful way.
With the announcement that one of the most famous fictional bands of all time, Jem and the Holograms, is getting the movie adaptation treatment, it’s about time to look at the other fake bands that stepped onto the silver screen before them.
Their existence may not be true, but their music is.
10. The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers are one of the rare comedy acts that transcended the barrier between fake act and legitimate band. Starting as a skit on Saturday Night Live and graduating to their own movie, the traveling act of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi and their incomparable blues band was on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage in which they grew up from foreclosure.
The formation of the Blues Brothers started a movement that has grown and lasted to this day; is there anything that incites more encouragement to get up and get moving than seeing two dudes in their black suits and hats enter the room? With Jake (Belushi) on lead vocals and Elwood (Aykroyd) on harmonica, they were an unstoppable force, a smooth-talking and fast-moving R&B team that brought magic to every stage – and inspired an endless stream of collaborations, like with James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. It’s just their energy and enthusiasm that make it real; the neck snapping, footwork and duel grooving onstage that they milked to the last drop. Try not to hear their “Soul Man” without getting inspired to move.
9. Spinal Tap
Is there any way to avoid saying that Spinal Tap rocked all the way to 11? There’s not, right? The hardest rocking band in metal may be a joke, but their songs, like the fabulous “Tonight We’re Going to Rock You Tonight” were anything but straight parodies; they were finely crafted labors of love, which yes, were hilarious, but were also truly catchy entries in the annals of metal.
Spinal Tap, which included the likes of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, knew they were great, and continued to assert their dominance even when the world seemed to be conspiring against their sprawling, theatrical stage antics. You can’t blame the guys for trying though; Stonehenge wasn’t built in a day.
8. The Oneders
They may have been a one-hit wonder, but The Oneders (one-ders) left a lasting impression on pop that made them legendary. Not unlike The Beatles, the Tom Hanks-managed Oneders find themselves in the middle of a meteoric rise to fame after their first single makes it big – “That Thing You Do” – causing the loss of band members and a truly fantastic self-implosion.
Even the coolness of having a drummer named Shades couldn’t save the boys. Though they embraced their one-hit status after realizing that the music industry just threw them a bone and left them to fight over it, The Wonders (name changed after everyone kept pronouncing it oh-needers) were never able to top their most famous song. That might be okay, though; “That Thing You Do” is a catchy enough accomplishment for a lifetime.
You know your band is hard rocking when a writer for Rolling Stone calls your guitarist’s work incendiary. The booming bluesy rock of Stillwater’s soulful riffs, courtesy of band members like Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) was the stuff of legends. From the moments that the band walked on stage at each of their tour stops, it was if the rock gods had blessed the very arena with their presence. Why else would an eager young journalist want to spend his days following them on the road? They embodied the prime of a classic rock band’s career – that moment where the fans are loyal, the stage is hot and fame is just starting to become a real thing. “Fever Dog” could give the Black Keys a run for their money.
6. Josie and the Pussycats
The redhead, blonde and brunette from Riverdale who rocked the most liked to do it while dressed as cats. And while they were fixtures in the Archie comics and in the Hanna-Barbera cartoons for years, the 2001 live-action film really brought the girls to life as bonafide rock stars who did more than just jam out on the drums while wearing whiskers. They fought villains, brought down a corrupt record label and wore an impressive wardrobe’s worth of metallic cat-printed outfits and platform sandals while doing so.
Their pop hits like “3 Small Words” and “Pretend to be Nice” were Letters to Cleo-powered pop punk anthems that blurred the lines between rock and bubblegum. But their music made everything that much sweeter – even the death of boy band Du Jour. RIP those frosted tips.
5. Sex Bob-omb
When you’re part of Scott Pilgrim’s beautiful, oh-so Canadian world, it’s the Clash at Demonhead (fronted by a be-wigged Brie Larson) that takes the cake when we’re talking about great music. The colorful adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley graphic novels are centered on music, battles of the bands cropping up left and right as Scott (Michael Cera) and his friends try to make it big and rally attention for their fledgling group.
And attention they should get; Sex Bob-omb is the future of music in their little town, a rough and ragged garage band that produces staticky messes you can’t help but bob your hip little head to – and it doesn’t hurt that Beck wrote their music for the film, either. Drummer Kim’s (Alison Pill) rallying cry of “WE ARE SEX-BOB-OMB” is the signal that it’s time to dance. Or at least that it’s time for Scott to amp up his bass playing enough to duke it out with one of the evil exes they inevitably compete with. So many musicians, Ramona Flowers. She had a type.
The curious German export Autobahn was an electropop group with an agenda. The nihilists came into The Dude’s life at a strange time, when they decided that they would hatch a plan to fake a kidnapping to get rich quick, their music days long behind them. The homage to Kraftwerk (even named after one of their songs) was a glorious mess; their album “Nagelbett”(Nailbed) was a dark and brooding synth-pop masterpiece.
Though Autobahn doesn’t perform live during the film, their stage presence in everyday life is more than enough to get a feeling for their very weird, very real energy. With band members that included Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, and the “kidnapped” girlfriend who cut off her own toe to get ransom money being Aimee Mann, it’s clear that the nihilists actually cared about one thing – the music.
3. Barry Jive and the Uptown Five aka Sonic Death Monkey aka Kathleen Turner Overdrive
Every record store has their resident snob, and Championship Vinyl’s just happened to be Barry (Jack Black). A snob among snobs. When it comes time for Barry to finally walk the walk and play music of his own, Rob (John Cusack) is of the firm belief that it’s going to be a miserable failure and ruin the party where he’s supposed to play.
But oh, how wrong he is; the band formerly known as Sonic Death Monkey, for tonight they’re Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, but they’re just on the verge of becoming Kathleen Turner Overdrive, is good, and they know it.
Jack Black, with his God-given Tenacious D pipes, graces the stage and croons a smooth as silk version of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” It’s a version that only Black could deliver, and it’s somehow incredibly rich. It’s sadly the only song we hear from the band, but they make it count.
2. Crucial Taunt
Wayne Campbell didn’t just have a public access show and a loyal best friend going for him; he also had a totally babelicious girlfriend fronting the hottest rock band in town. Crucial Taunt was the sound of the era, wailing guitar solos, screeching vocals and hard rocking accompanied by so much acid wash denim and teased hair that lighting a match would incinerate the whole place.
Cassandra (Tia Carrere) was the main attraction, the gorgeous, bass-playing lead vocalist with diamond pipes who gets their band signed to a record label – even if they guy signing them turns out to be evil and wants to take down Wayne’s World so Cassandra can be his girl. He should have really listened to their cover of “Ballroom Blitz;” it’s nothing to scoff at. Party on, everyone.
1. Wyld Stallyns
They may have been just a teenage garage band, but the need to keep Wyld Stallyns together was so great for Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) that they altered time and space in order to do so. You see, in 1988, Bill and Ted are just two dumb stoners who are struggling to pass their history class and figure out where they are half the time. But in 2688, all of humanity has come to rest on the laurels of these two upstanding nitwits and their contributions to music and theology; the world has become a peaceful utopia because Wyld Stallyns existed and flourished.
So that’s why it’s crucial that Ted not fail history class and get shipped off to military academy, breaking up the band for good. What we see of the band when they do play isn’t so…polished, but after their time travel adventures, a promise from George Carlin that “they do get better” seems like a good enough promise to have a little faith.