Music as a Muse: “This is Spinal Tap”

This example is notable because it is a work of art inspired not by one individual artist, but as a microcosm of the entire music industry of its time as personified through a fictitious musical group, Spinal Tap.  This is Spinal Tap is a “mockumentary”, a portmanteau of mock and documentary, a cinematographic genre dedicated to satire in the documentary format.

Released in 1984, This is Spinal Tap is regarded among the most timeless films in cinematic history, vastly applauded for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance.  This is Spinal Tap is a notable specimen due to its harsh (though widely received as accurate) criticisms of all facets of the music industry.

The film spares no victim, lampooning every player in the music industry of the time, from the rock stars themselves, to the managers, audience, even to band girlfriends.

Movie depicting a band member’s girlfriend, Jeanine, intruding on professional band meetings and causing tension.  Yoko Ono reference, perchance?  Indeed.

The film plays upon the hagiographic tendencies of the rock music culture, the grandiose culture that surrounds it, and the larger-than-life lifestyles that the major players lived by, on stage and off.  Sometimes, it was played up to the point of absurdity, but the most notable about the film is the commentary from actual rock stars of its propinquity to reality.

A sample of the absurdity that the film parodies: “Big Bottom”, a poke at Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” performed with a band setup of… 3 bass guitars.

So much, in fact, that many rock bands of the time asserted that the film was in fact based upon themselves.  The rock band Foghat accused the producers of the film of bugging their tour van and using the transcripts of their conversations to make the script, initially with indignation, but of course as the film grew in popularity and gained its own following, the indignation turned into pride.  (

Spinal Tap is not only responsible for its contribution to the culture of rock and roll, but also of idioms to the English language.  Anyone who has ever used the phrase “go to eleven” to mean something going to extremes owes this expression to a timeless scene from this very film, where Nigel of Spinal Tap displays his Marshall amp, custom made so that all the knobs go to eleven.

These go to Eleven

One of the most interesting facets of the film, is that although they are fictitious, the audience of the film upon reception was convinced that Spinal Tap was a real group.  Ozzy Osborne is documented having admitted that he thought the band was real because the happenings in the film had happened to him on his own tours.  (

The soundtrack to the film features the songs popularized by the performances portrayed.  The fictitious group’s album “Smell the Glove”, features the same cover art as the actual soundtrack, which enjoyed considerable commercial success.

spinal tap img 3The “highly artistic” album cover of This is Spinal Tap, an parody of The Beatles’ “White Album”

Since its release in 1984, The United States Library of Congress has selected This is Spinal Tap for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, to be appreciated and transferred to future generations.  (

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