The 1984 album This Is Spinal Tap was the soundtrack to the mockumentary of the same name and contained full parodies of metal songs with titles like Big Bottom, Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight and Sex Farm.
The album, which featured an all-black cover like the controversial Smell the Glove record in the movie, was the perfect accompaniment to the film - positioned so much like a real metal album that it kept the nagging “Are they or aren’t they?” question alive in the heads of fans who saw the movie and thought there just might really be a British band called Spinal Tap.
All of the misfortune the band experiences throughout This Is Spinal Tap, including malfunctioning stage props, disastrous promotional appearances and mid-tour lineup shifts are both funny and entirely plausible.
Clearly, co-writer and director Rob Reiner is not only familiar with the traditional music documentaries he parodies, but he’s also familiar with the lifestyles of musicians and bands and many of the predicaments they encounter on endless international tours.
Reiner chose a perfect cast of actor/comedians and encouraged his actors - Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (Nigel Tufnel), Harry Shearer (Derek Smalls), David Kaff (Viv Savage) and Ric Parnell (Mick Shrimpton) - to improvise dialog to fit the absurdity of the scenes.
Had the actors turned their noses up at the music that their imaginary band was supposed to be celebrating, the movie wouldn’t have worked. Instead, the entire cast embraced their characters and treated all the ridiculous antics and circumstances as realistic situations, which, in the world of metal, they are.
Granted, it’s unlikely that any metal drummers have spontaneously combusted, but countless bands have gotten lost underneath the stage, stood slack-jawed as record label promoters and publicists proposed one inane idea after another and dealt with inadequate hotel and backstage accommodations. Ask any metal musician if he or she can relate to This Is Spinal Tap and many will tell you it’s the story of their lives.
What is a Spinal Tap moment?
We’re pretty sure that - by now - everyone out there knows what a Spinal Tap moment is. But, just in case, let’s just call it an unplanned, unfortunate, embarrassing and (obviously) comical rock ‘n’ roll happening.
Two years ago, we asked Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls if he found the term offensive. “No, it’s a tribute,” he said. “Look, mate, any time they say your name, it should be - if you don’t have someone like [former manager] Ian Faith running the cash register - a cha-ching, shouldn’t it?
"So please, have some more Spinal Tap moments, or some Derek Smalls moments - on me! If somebody says they’re having a 10cc moment, you wouldn’t know what that meant. But if they say it’s a Spinal Tap moment, you know exactly what they mean."
Rex Brown (Pantera, ex-Down, ex-Crowbar, Kill Devil Hill)
"Let me put it this way. [Pantera drummer] Vinnie Paul, God rest his soul, thought This Is Spinal Tap was an actual movie, not a satire, until I said, 'Vince, it’s a joke. It’s a spoof.' He thought it was about a real band. But you can understand why.
"Everything that happened in that movie is based on shit that happened or easily could have happened to any touring band. We were a professional touring machine and Spinal Tap shit happened to us every day."
Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest)
"We used to go to this pub that happened to be in the center of the Hells Angels chapter. They were having a festival not too far from the studio where we were recording so we got to know them a bit. We’d talk to them and they invited us over to their headquarters.
"When we got there, I saw the leader had this incredible chopper. The forks on it just went on forever. I was looking at it and he said, 'Oh, you’ve got songs like Hell Bent for Leather and Leather Rebel. You must be able to drive a bike.”
“Yeah, I can drive a bike,” I said without thinking. I have got what we call track bikes, which go through forests. But I’m not a road-bike man. The guy threw his keys at me and said, “Feel free.” I couldn’t very well step down from that. I’d gotten myself into trouble and dug a bit of a hole.
"I thought, 'It can’t be too difficult.' So I started it up. Fortunately, it was a key start, not a kick start. I put it in first gear and went across this field, and halfway across was a great big mound of rubbish. I managed to turn around it a little bit because I could turn the machine left okay but I really couldn’t turn it right. I realized I was in over my head so I drove the bike just far enough to be out of view.
"'Okay, I’ll put it in neutral and then I’ll do a three-point turn until I face the other way and I’ll go back as if I’ve driven all the way around the field,” I thought. As I was turning it around, it fell over on my leg and the exhaust pipe started burning through my trousers and burned my leg.
"I was trapped underneath. I managed to get up. I was covered in mud. But fortunately, as I picked the bike back up it turned around a little bit and it was still running. So I got back on it, put it back into first and pulled back up to the bikers. It had been quite a long time since I’d vanished, so it appeared as though I’d driven all the way around the field.
"When I got back to the guy, I accelerated a bit and I did a little bit of a skid to come to a stop and quickly put the rest down. I got off the bike and gave the keys back. One of the other Hells Angels came up and said, 'Hey, dude.'
"'Yeah, what?' I asked.
“'I had a guy just this morning who couldn’t fuckin’ turn the thing right,' he said. That was an experienced Hells Angel who had a bike himself. So that was a real test that I came through with flying colors even though it was falsely achieved. Honestly, I’m lucky I didn’t kill myself on the thing."
Richard Christy (Charred Walls of the Damned, ex-Death, ex-Iced Earth, ex-Public Assassin)
"With Iced Earth, we had an amazing Spinal Tap moment in Greece in 2002 on our last show of the tour. Some of the road crew had a tiny Stonehenge monument, which they lowered down to the stage in the middle of our last song just like in the movie. We were all dying laughing. It was hilarious.
"I don’t know if This Is Spinal Tap is that popular in Greece because our singer Matt Barlow had to explain to the crowd why we were dying laughing and why we could barely finish the song. A lot of people in the crowd just looked confused."
Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe, Methods of Mayhem)
"For our farewell shows, we built this Crüecifly rollercoaster that I was strapped into. Every day, I looked forward to getting into the thing. That was my time to fly over everybody’s head and get an insanely awesome bird’s eye view of the arena. I’d high-five the scoreboard on the way out and on the way back. I loved that shit, dude. We knew we wanted to make a movie of the concerts, so we filmed all three nights.
"And on the last night it broke down! I was hanging there upside-down and had to be rescued. We were talking about not using that footage of the thing breaking down and using the shots from another night. And I said, 'Hell, no. That was New Year’s Eve and that’s how it went down.' I actually think it was fuckin’ hilarious. It was totally Spinal Tap. And it’s definitely in true Mötley style. If it can go wrong, it’ll go wrong."
Willie Adler (Lamb of God)
"There was a really important show we played at L’Amour in Brooklyn. Before we went on, we were all like, 'Okay, we gotta put on the greatest show ever.” We had labels that were checking us out, including Nuclear Blast. And within 30 seconds of the first song, [vocalist] Randy [Blythe] knocked himself out.
"He stage-dove and kind of tripped. The next thing I knew, he was out like a light and he was being carried out. I thought, 'What is going on? Of all the shows for this to happen!' But the crowd was totally cool about it. Without any planning, this dude from the audience came up onstage and sang the whole set and he killed it.
"And in an interesting twist of irony, the people from Epic Records asked us to dinner. When we were there, they said it was by far the most dangerous thing they’d ever seen and they needed to sign us immediately."
Will Carroll (Death Angel, ex-Machine Head, ex-Vicious Rumors)
"When I was in Vicious Rumors, we played the Wacken Festival in 2002. I had just seen Candlemass and I walked over to the other stage to watch Destruction. On the way, I saw [guitarist] Rick Hunolt from Exodus, who were playing that year. We walked over together. It had been raining all weekend and all morning so there was mud everywhere but there were still thousands of people in the crowd. Rick’s not that tall and I’m kind of short so we couldn’t really see the stage.
"'Fuck, this sucks, man. I can’t see shit,” he said. Then I noticed right in front of us was a mound of mud. 'Dude, how come no one’s utilizing that? C’mon!' I said. We both stepped up on this mound and we were a couple feet higher than everyone else. We highfived each other, started watching Destruction and all of a sudden - BAM! - someone shoved us off of the mound from behind.
"I turned around and it was some woman and she was screaming at us in German. She pointed at the mound. We were confused for a second so we looked back at the mound and someone rolled it over. The mound turned out to be a fat guy with no shirt on and mud all over him. We had been standing on him watching the show!"
Gary Holt (Exodus, Slayer)
"We left [Drummer] Tom Hunting at a Midwestern Roy Rogers truck stop for 18 hours in around 1987 when we were touring for Pleasures of the Flesh. We stopped there to get some food and this was before the era of cellphones so there was no way to communicate with the bus.
"Everyone got off at this Roy Rogers, including Tom’s drum tech, Todd, who was also blonde. And for some stupid fucking reason, Todd crawled into Tom’s bunk. The tour manager did a headcount and counted Todd before he got into Tom’s bunk. And then the tour manager opened the curtain, saw what he thought was the back of Tom’s head and counted him again. So he thought everyone was there and we left.
"We didn’t realize Tom wasn’t with us until we got to the next venue. He used a pay phone and called management to tell them that he was not on the bus. He was sitting at this truck stop with no money and no jacket. Some people fed him out of the kindness of their heart. We had to cancel the show and go back and get him."
Matt Heafy (Trivium)
"We were playing on a really crappy old stage in Rochester, New York, and all of a sudden my entire leg fell through it. I didn’t get hurt. I was just scuffed up a little bit. But I couldn’t get out by myself. So [guitarist] Corey [Beaulieu] grabbed my arm and helped to pull me out, which was more than a little bit embarrassing."
Michael Sweet (Stryper)
"We did a gig and there were tons of people in the crowd. There was also a pit bull roaming loose. My brother [drummer] Robert [Sweet] had feathers on his legs and the dog came onstage and started to attack my brother’s feathers.
"He stopped playing drums and sat down. The dog left. So we started playing again and the dog came back. This went on for 20 minutes. Nobody could get this dog under control."
Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan)
"At this crazy show in Sydney, Australia, people in the crowd were throwing garbage cans all over the place. Some people were bleeding from the violence in the pit and we were going nuts onstage. After the show, all these young girls ran up to me and asked for autographs like I was a rock star.
"I started signing stuff like I’m David Lee Roth, and more kids showed up. I slowly backed up as I signed shit. Then, SHTOOMP. I literally fell into a garbage can full of water and was stuck in it. It was like my ass was suctioned to the sides. A security guard came over and had to help pry me out.
"It was like, man, I can’t savor just one moment of glory. No matter what it is, the world just won’t let me have it. So eventually I got out of the trash with a soaking-wet ass and I just kind of shuffled away from the crowd."
Buzz Osborne (Melvins)
"We opened for Nirvana on their very last round of touring. It was literally within three or four shows of them being completely finished. Their crew was not being particularly nice to us on that tour and the Nirvana guys were oblivious to it. Kurt [Cobain] was certainly oblivious as a result of what his lifestyle was like at that point.
"We weren’t getting paid a lot of money and the crew said if we wanted lights for the show, we had to pay their light person. 'Well then fuckin’ turn them on and leave them on,' I said. 'We don’t need a light person.' They said no. It wasn’t the Nirvana guys; it was the people working for them. 'Great, we have to pay some fucking asshole to do lights. I can’t believe you guys are extorting money from us to do this as well as having us pay to use the monitors.'
"They wouldn’t just leave the monitors off and let us play without them either. Our set was supposed to go from 8 p.m. to 8:40 because Nirvana were starting at 9 sharp. We were all ready to play and the house lights went off. We were there at the side of the stage ready to go on. The audience was cheering. No lights… No lights… No lights.
"Suddenly, the audience was no longer cheering, they were murmuring. We sat there for 15 fucking minutes in the dark because this girl forgot that she had to do lights for us. Finally, someone reminded her. The lights came on and we got to do a 15-minute set. Did we get our money back? No. We didn’t even get an apology."
Kyle Shutt (The Sword)
"The Sword were playing with Metallica in the spring of 2008. We were flying from Saint Petersburg to Riga, Latvia. [Pantera vocalist] Phil Anselmo was on our plane, which was so cool to me since I was such a huge Pantera fan when I was younger.
"He always seemed like a ferocious bad-ass. So, the flight lands and there was a luggage mix-up, but the only people that lost their bags were me, [the Sword frontman] J.D. [Cronise] and Phil.
"The three of us were stuck in the baggage area filling out these forms ’cause there was nothing else we could do. Phil had a cut-off-sleeve shirt, cut-off cargo shorts, and he was wearing crocs. To a young me at the time, that was pretty hilarious. I didn’t think this was where I’d be 10 years after first seeing the Pantera video for “Five Minutes Alone” on MTV. And I definitely wouldn’t have pictured him wearing crocs."
Dino Cazares (Fear Factory, Brujeria, Asesino, Divine Heresy)
"We played this show in Hollywood as part of Foundation Forum. There was no water backstage in our dressing room, so when we were done I was thirsty as hell. There was a plastic tray full of melted ice in our dressing room that had held drinks, but they were all gone.
"So I thought, 'Fuck it, I’m gonna drink the melted ice.' I picked up the tray and put my mouth up to it. And [vocalist] Burt [C. Bell] yelled, 'What are you doing?!' and pushed the tray out of my mouth. 'Dude, I was getting a drink. I’m thirsty!' I said.
'I just washed my feet in there!' Burt said.
Dave Ellefson (Megadeth)
"The album cover for [Megadeth’s 1985 debut album] Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! was absolutely embarrassing. Dave [Mustaine] did a cool drawing of a skull with its eyes covered, its mouth bolted tight and metal plugs over his ears.
"It was supposed to symbolize the old saying, 'Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.' He sent the drawing to Combat Records and said, 'We want the cover to look like this, but better.'
"Fast forward many months. We had a P.O. box since we were homeless at the time. We were so excited to see the finished artwork. Dave and I went to the box one day and opened it up and we see a vinyl copy of Killing Is My Business, and we were like, 'What in the world is this?!' It looked absolutely nothing like what Dave gave them. It was a picture of this cheap-looking plastic skull with metal hooks keeping his mouth closed and this shitty tin can visor over his eyes - totally low budget.
"There were chains next to the skull and a knife sticking into the ground and a lit candle. It was awful. We immediately called Combat and they had their excuses and their reasons they did such a bad job… 'We have our own artist who does all of our artwork and the costs would have been exorbitant to do it the way Dave drew it.” They didn’t even use the right logo. They just used some Gothic font. So basically, they just disregarded everything we wanted."
This is an excerpt from Raising Hell: Backstage Tales from the Lives of Metal Legends by Jon Wiederhorn, available now from Amazon.