This Is Spinal Tap

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Marty DiBergi: (quoting a review) "This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry."
Nigel Tufnel: That's just nitpicking, innit?

Marty DiBergi's This is Spinal Tap (1984) is one of the greatest Rockumentaries of all time. It may not be about one of the legendary bands, but it's a more intimate portrait than would have been allowed if it were about a more well-known band. It really gets inside the head of these rockers, and has more heart than any of those other rock films which consist mostly of filler between the concert scenes.

Not even Tennessee Williams could have written a better character study.

For those of you who don't know Spinal Tap, they're a hard rock band that's been making some of the loudest heavy metal music around for years. David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls and a long line of drummers are musical geniuses. Even if you don't know the band, you know their hits, like "Big Bottom" and "Stonehenge".

The movie chronicles what may have been their darkest time; their infamous US tour in the early 1980s. They nearly broke up, but they proved that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and they came back strong, despite all the mishaps and mismanagement.

For those of you who truly believe in The Power of Rock, this will affirm it like nothing else.[1]

Tropes used in This Is Spinal Tap include:
  • Achilles in His Tent: Due to worsening circumstances on the tour, and increasing personality conflict with David's girlfriend Jeanine, Nigel leaves the band in the middle of the show; only to return during the band's final performance to reunite them for a tour of Japan.
  • Affectionate Parody: As ridiculous as the movie makes rock music in general and heavy metal in particular look, Guest, McKean and Shearer do themselves enjoy the music, which is reflected in the obvious effort they put into writing the soundtrack.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Marty DiBergi, at the introduction of the movie: "I remember being knocked out by their, their exuberance, their raw power... and their punctuality."
  • Batter Up: Ian keeps a cricket bat around for use during "management disputes".
  • British Rock Star
  • Cheap Heat: Parodied - as the band gets lost behind the stage in Chicago, one of the band members yells "HELLO CLEVELAND!"
  • Concept Album: Parodied multiple times, once with an album of "religious rock songs" inspired by the Book of Genesis, and again with the band's ongoing work on a "rock opera inspired by the life of Jack the Ripper".
    • Lick My Love Pump sounds like it'd be on a concept album of sorts as well. And let's not forget about Dr. J reading Washington Irving.
  • Contemptible Cover: Though never actually shown (although easily found online), the original cover of "Smell the Glove" is described on no uncertain terms as representative of this.
  • Dead End Job: Drumming for the band, of course!
  • Dead Man Walking: Given the band's unfortunate history with drummers, Mick Shrimpton realizes he's likely one of these. Late in the movie he explodes on stage during a performance.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight".
  • DVD Commentary: Parodied; Guest, McKean and Shearer do the DVD commentary in character, and spend most of it ripping DiBergi for the "hatchet job" he produced.
  • Fake Band: More or less. See the defictionalization.
  • Follow the Leader: Throughout their history, Spinal Tap seem to be in the habit of jumping on the bandwagon for whatever the latest musical trends are, such as the British Invasion, psychedelic folk-rock and, most recently, glam metal.
    • "Smell The Glove"'s sexist cover meets with a frosty reception by a PR rep, who cites The White Album as an example for why covers don't sell music. The band apparently takes this to heart, and proposes a revised cover that is completely black.
  • Gag Penis: Subverted with Derek Smalls. In the MGM commentary, David is amused at the fact that Derek wrapped the cucumber in aluminum foil.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: An In-Universe example, as Spinal Tap's latest album unexpectedly proves to be very successful in Japan, leading to a much more successful tour in that country.
  • Glory Days
  • Heavy Meta: Parodied with the song "Heavy Duty (Rock And Roll)".
  • Heavy Metal: The band's current phase in the movie is a parody of then popular "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" bands like Iron Maiden.
  • Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut: Parodied and inverted - the umlaut goes over the N, and the "I" is without.
  • Heavy Mithril: Parodied with "Stonehenge".
    • For extra Bonus Points, real-world Celtic-rock band Tempest has has been known to perform "Stonehenge" while playing in concert, giving a knowing wink to the audience as they do so; it even appears on their "greatest hits" box set.
  • High Turnover Rate: The band has gone through quite a number of drummers.

David: 37 people have been in this band over the years!

  • Hit Me Dammit: After a poor showing at a record signing, Artie Fufkin demands this of the band. ("I'm not asking you, I'm telling you! Kick my ass!")
  • Improv: The vast majority of the dialogue in the movie was improvised. Basically, the cast were given extensive back-stories and character sketches, and turned loose in front of the camera. Reiner shot several hours of footage, and distilled the best parts down into the movie. Several hours of additional footage were included on the DVD releases.
  • Lucky Charms Title
  • Lyrical Dissonance: All over the place, but the most prominent example is a delicate piano piece entitled "Lick My Love Pump."
  • Metal Detector Checkpoint: A hilarious example.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: The released cover of "Smell The Glove".

"It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."

Nigel Tufnel: Authorities said... best leave it... unsolved.

    • The band members are shown with cold sores at some point, without any explanation. A deleted scene reveals that Spinal Tap's opening band for the tour has a female singer with a cold sore.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: They all slip at times. To a British ear, most of the time.
    • McKean's strays into Australian on occasions. Listen to how he says "purpose" in particular!
  • The Power of Rock: Mercilessly lampooned.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Inverted! This was so close to the real thing a lot of people—particularly rock stars (see Dude, Not Funny on the YMMV tab) -- thought that they were watching a real documentary.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: David and Nigel. Derek describes their complementary but conflicting personalities and musical instincts as "fire and ice", with him being somewhere in the middle, "sort of like lukewarm water".
  • Retraux: The band's songs from The Sixties.
  • The Rock Star: Three of them, in fact, though more in their own heads than in reality.
  • Rule of Funny: This trope is actually less applied directly than it seems. Some outrageous things are based on real events, even if comically exaggerated.
    • Why would a British band be confused by the 24 hour clock? Well, this is Spinal Tap we're talking about.
  • Running Gag: Several, such as the Ho Yay between David and Nigel, the propensity of the drummers to die in unusual ways, and the band playing before ever smaller crowds in ever lamer venues as the tour goes along.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll: Played for laughs and turned... well... yeah.
    • Mick Shrimpton says he literally lives for the three things and that if he gets kicked out of the band, sex and drugs will be enough for him to scrape by on.

Viv Savage: (on his epitaph) Have a good time all the time.

  • Shout-Out: In Guitar Hero II, after you complete "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" in Career Mode, the drummer explodes.
    • Note: it works only if you're playing in the "Battle of the Bands" stage, which corresponds to the first song tier, for which "Tonight..." is the encore song.
    • And Fran Drescher appears as Bobbi Flekman on The Nanny.
    • Of all the heavy metal references, the most obvious is the fact Cheap Trick was far more popular in Japan than anywhere else, as evidenced by "Live at Budokan".
  • The Sixties: Parodied with one of the band's previous hits, "(Listen To The) Flower People".
  • Special Effect Failure: Subverted by the Stonehenge monolith that the band orders, which Ian remarks is very realistic and well-sculpted. Unfortunately, it's twelve times too small, and in serious danger of being knocked over by a dwarf.
    • The embryonic pod that froze shut trapping Derek Smalls during the band's performance of "Rock and Roll Creation".
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: The fate of three of the band's drummers—one whom is said to have gone up in "a flash of green light," leaving "a little green globule" on his drum seat, and two more who explode on the band's tour of Japan.

David St. Hubbins: You know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported.

DiBergi: They've earned a distinguished place in rock history as one of the loudest bands in Britain.

  • Stealth Parody: Just like the page description is written straight, the film is done with a straight face no matter what, to the point where some rock stars find the movie hits a bit too close to home.
  • Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks
  • Stylistic Suck: Many of the songs, particularly the lyrics.
  • Team Mom: Jeanine believes herself to be this. In reality she isn't terribly good at it, and tends to create as many (if not more) problems as she solves.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Nigel tells DiBergi that the most treasured guitar in his collection "can never be played" (or touched, or pointed to, or looked at).
  • Too Dumb to Live: Granted, Tap's drummers tend to die at an incredible pace, but Mick is shown in one scene in a filled bathtub with a plugged in toaster on the side of the tub.
  • Tragic Hero: A depressing undertone of the movie is that Hubbins and Tufnel are genuinely talented composers and musicians, but squander their talents due to their immaturity and infatuation with the "rock star" life.
    • Indeed—without the hilariously terrible lyrics the music wouldn't really be the least bit bad at all.
    • One scene has Nigel showing the director his latest piece, a beautiful piano instrumental, citing influence from a range of classical composers. He calls it 'Lick My Love Pump'.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: The released cover of "Smell The Glove" gets played up as this in a scene. David doesn't buy it.
  • Truth in Television: See Life Imitates Art.

The Edge, guitar player of U2: "I didn't laugh, I wept. It was so close to the truth."

    • Also: Getting lost in backstage hallways? Many performers, whether professional or amateur, musician, actor, or otherwise, can attest to being in precisely such a predicament.
  • Two Words: Obvious Trope: The review of "Shark Sandwich" which only read "Shit sandwich."
  • Unfortunate Implications: In-Universe. The original cover of "Smell The Glove".

"You should've seen the cover they wanted to put out. It wasn't a glove, I can tell you that."

  1. Alright, so it's actually a Mockumentary spoofing the egos and mishaps of other rock stars, starring Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Rob Reiner who also directed. It's become a cult classic, with the actors even making appearances elsewhere in character.