With the long-awaited sequel "Bill and Ted Face the Music" set to be released Sept. 1, I've been discussing fictional bands from movies and TV with my friend Brian McElhiney. We'll be diving into the subject matter in our podcast "Two Broke Nerds" next week.
Fictional bands are often employed in films as tool of satire or as a stand-in for a real band. Sometimes, though, the fake bands, comedic or otherwise, create material that could top the charts, and in some cases, actually do.
So, here are some of my favorite fictional bands. Alas, Bill and Ted's Wyld Stallyns don't make the cut because the one song the band plays is a Kiss song that isn't worthy of a band said to bring balance to the universe.
The Rutles from "All You Need Is Cash" (1978)
The Rutles, Eric Idle's loving parody of The Beatles, started as a sketch for the BBC television series "Rutland Weekend Television" before getting a Lorne Michael-produced TV mockumentary, "All You Need Is Cash." The film features several "SNL" cast members, including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, as well as appearance by Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and George Harrison himself. The songs by Neil Innes, who doubles as the John Lennon stand-in, are more affectionate homages than outright parodies and the film slyly lampoons the career of The Beatles.
Josie and the Pussycats from “Josie and the Pussycats” (2001)
I make no secrets about my love for the music in this underrated adaptation of the comic book (see my recent review), and I'll keep doing so until more people discover the joys of the film's shiny pop-punk songs. The pedigree of the songs includes a songwriting and producing team that includes the late Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, Babyface and Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, who also provides Josie's vocals.
Robin Sparkles from "How I Met Your Mother" (2004-2015)
The alter ego of Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), Robin Sparkles was a parody of pre-fame Alanis Morrisette. Sparkles is a sunny pop star pumping out songs like "Let's Go to the Mall." Despite releasing music in the '90s, her sound and style is pure '80s because it is Canada and there always a decade behind, eh. Sparkles inevitably has a grunge phase but you oughta know it doesn't pan out as well as it did for Morrisette.
Sing Street from “Sing Street" (2016)
Set in Ireland in the 1980s, "Sing Street" centers on an awkward teen (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who forms a band to impress a girl (Lucy Boynton) he has a crush on. With the help of his older brother (Jack Reynor), he begins an exploration of the best of early '80 New Wave, which each new band directly influencing the songs being written. The songs, many of which were co-written by writer/director John Carney, are catchy, authentic tributes to the era with "Drive It Like You Stole It," "Up" and "The Riddle of the Model" being stand outs.
Sex Bob-Ombs from “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)
Between battles with the seven evil exes of his mysterious girlfriend Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) plays bass for Sex Bob-Ombs, a garage band with a crunchy, imperfect but appealing sound. The four songs that quirky rocker Beck wrote for the film clock in at less that eight minutes, but they are short, raw blasts of rock bliss.
Mitch and Mickey from “A Mighty Wind” (2003)
Directed by mockumentary master Christopher Guest, “A Mighty Wind” was essentially the folk version of “This is Spinal Tap.” There were several fictional folk acts in the film — including The Folksman featuring the members of Spinal Tap — but it is Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara) that provide the film with a heart. Their song “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" received an Oscar nomination.
Crucial Taunt from “Wayne's World” (1992)
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey's goofy cable access duo were one of the few “Saturday Night Live” sketches to successfully make the transition to the big screen. Wayne and Garth worship two things: rock and babes, so it is no surprise that Crucial Taunt's lead singer Cassandra (Tia Carrera) is Wayne's dream girl. Plus, she wails on a killer cover of “Ballroom Blitz” that may well be the definitive version of the song.
The Wonders from “That Thing You Do” (1996)
Tom Hanks made his debut as a writer and director with this playful look at the rise and fall of a one-hit wonder in the 1960s. This isn't a look at the dark underbelly of rock, but in its cheery way it does have some shrewd things to say about the music industry. The Oscar-nominated title track written by Schlesinger, making his second behind-the-scenes appearance on the list, is sensational and just about impossible to dislike.
Soggy Bottom Boys from “O Brother Where Art Thou” (2000)
The Coen Brothers depression-era reworking of “The Odyssey” featured a trio of chain-gang workers on the lam that by chance become the Soggy Bottom Boys, a singing sensation the sweeps the South. Life imitated art and, quite unexpectedly, the blues soundtrack raced to the top of the charts giving the fake band real success.
Stillwater from “Almost Famous” (2000)
Writer/director Cameron Crowe's shares a fictionalized version of his time writing for Rolling Stone magazine as a teen. The stand-in for several bands, including Bad Company and Led Zeppelin, is Stillwater. The real life musicians behind the band include Pearl Jam’s McCready on guitar, Heart's Nancy Wilson on rhythm guitarist and songwriting from Peter Frampton. The original material is good, particularly “Fever Dog,” co-written by Crowe and Wilson, but it is the tour bus singalong of Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” that is the movie's magic moment.
The Blues Brothers from "Saturday Night Live" and "The Blues Brothers" (1980)
On the April 22, 1978, episode of "Saturday Night Live," John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd opened the show as Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues with performance of "Hey Bartender" and later returned with "Soul Man." By the fall of that year, they had recorded an album, "Briefcase Full of Blues," that would go double platinum. Two years before the release of "The Blues Brothers" film, a fictional band from a sketch comedy show had become a real sensation. Over the years, there have been discussions about the band's cultural appropriation, but it is hard to deny that Jake and Elwood introduced a new generation to the blues.
Spinal Tap from “This is Spinal Tap” (1981)
Rob Reiner's mockumentary about a washed up hair band's disastrous comeback tour is a classic that is quite possibly the most on-target satire of rock music ever made. The songs performed by Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, such as “Big Bottom” are absurd, but only a hair more so than some real metal bands. In the wake of the success of the film, the fictional band became real and actually toured and released albums.