Widely considered to be the best mockumentary of all time, This Is Spinal Tap was released in 1984 and was such a convincing parody that many viewers assumed it was real. Spinal Tap, dubbed England’s loudest band, was about to embark on a big American tour to promote their latest album, Smell The Glove. Director Marty DiBergi (played by the film’s actual director and co-writer, Rob Reiner) films their every move for his epic “rockumentary.”
The band – David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) – has already been around for two decades, but the aging rockstars do not appear to have learned a darn thing. The actors, all of them seasoned improvisers, ad-lib line after hilarious line, creating a film that’s wall-to-wall quotable quotes, many of which have stayed with fans for nearly forty years. A long-awaited sequel has recently been announced, so it’s a great time to revisit some of the film’s zestiest lines.
On The Band’s Lineup
Nigel, David, and Derek are all frontmen. Over the years, they’ve had several drummers, but they tend to meet mysterious ends. One died in a bizarre gardening accident, another choked on vomit that was not his own. According to Nigel, a third “exploded on stage,” to which David adds “You know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.”
It does not seem like any of these deaths has particularly bothered the band. The show must go on. It’s a weird and perhaps concerning pattern, but also just another crazy thing that typically happens on tour.
On The Evolution Of Their Sound
Spinal Tap started out in the 60s, gaining popularity with a feel-good flower power anthem called Listen To The Flower People. To stay relevant, however, their sound has evolved into heavy metal.
The band is quite proud of their growth, with Derek stating to Marty that “We’ve grown musically. I mean, you listen to some of the rubbish we did early on, it was stupid, you know. Now, I mean a song like Sex Farm, we’ve taken the sophisticated view of the idea of sex and music…” which Marty finishes for him “and putting it on a farm.”
On The Poetry Of Their Lyrics
When the band plays an Air Force Base, they meet Lt. Hookstratten (the already-missed Fred Willard), he proclaims himself a fan of their records, but then amends with “I’m not speaking of yours personally, but the whole genre of the rock and roll.” Perhaps not their biggest fan, he does make one request: “play a couple of slow numbers, so I can dance.”
Cut to David singing “Working on a sex farm, plowing through your bean field, getting out my pitchfork, poking your hay.” Subtle and nuanced they are not. They do, however, go on: “Sex farm woman, I’ll rake and hoe you down. Sex farm woman, don’t you see my silo rising high?”
On Side Projects
The camera finds Nigel playing something soft and pretty on the piano. Nigel explains that “D minor is the saddest of all keys, I find” and sensing Marty’s surprise at such a musical departure, goes on to say that Mozart and Bach are particular influences. It’s an unexpected side of Nigel, at least until he introduces it. “This piece is called ‘Lick My Love Pump.’” Perhaps not such a departure after all.
Nigel isn’t the only one to be working on side projects. David and Derek have been working on a British rock musicalabout Jack The Ripper. They treat the audience to a small taste: “You’re a naughty one, saucy Jack,” they sing, and it’s clear that Spinal Tap truly is the best these guys have to offer.
On Their Sexy Album Cover
Record label CEO Bobbi Fleckmann (Fran Drescher) vetoes the new album cover, declaring it sexist. “You put a greased naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck and a leash, and a man’s arm extended out up to here, holding onto the leash, and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it. You don’t find that offensive?”
In fact, this album cover is already a compromise, according to their manager. In their original vision “It wasn’t a glove, believe me.” When the news is broken to the band, Nigel protests “Well, so what? What’s wrong with being sexy?” This is literally how Nigel learns the difference between sexy and sexist, not that he’s particularly convinced.
On Their Black Album
With both Sears and Kmart refusing to stock an album covered with filth, the label steps in to mitigate the loss. When the band receives copies of the album, they’re shocked that the album cover is plain black.
As Nigel puts it, “It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” Clearly the band isn’t used to being told no, and this is perhaps the best indicator of how much their popularity has fallen. Used to playing sold-out arenas, they’ve been touring tiny venues instead, and many of those have been canceled due to a lack of sales.
On Their Dwindling Ticket Sales
Their gig in Memphis is canceled due to “lack of advertising funds.” No one shows up to their record signing in Chicago. In Albuquerque, their only gig is opening for a magician at a children’s birthday party. Even their gig in Boston gets canceled, though their manager reassures them “I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s not a big college town.”
When documentarian Marty wonders whether this is a sign that their popularity is waning, their manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) is quick to deny it. “Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. No, not at all. I just think that their appeal is becoming more selective.”
On Their Lack Of Female Fans
When asked about why so few women attend Spinal Tap shows, Nigel becomes quite philosophical. “They’re quite fearful, that’s my theory. They see us on stage with tight trousers. We’ve got armadillos in our trousers. It’s really quite frightening.”
That’s the answer that helps the band sleep well at night but fails to account for dirty album covers or degrading song lyrics such as “The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin’. That’s what I said. The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand, or so I have read.” All things considered, it shouldn’t be surprising that women don’t respond to their material, but as Nigel puts it, “We’re not university material.” Indeed.
On Their Critics
Spinal Tap’s particular brand of terrible seems to inspire some pretty harsh reviews, with one critic reviewing their album Rock ‘n’ Roll Creation (aka The Gospel According to Spinal Tap) “This pretentious ponderous collection of religions rock psalms is enough to prompt the question ‘What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn’t He have rested on that day too?’”
A presumably different critic took on their album, Shark Sandwich, with just two words of their own: “Shit sandwich.” Suffice to say they aren’t exactly critical darlings. Luckily, the band has thick skin when it comes to reviews. When Marty reads a review for their Intravenus de Milo album “This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical intervention within. The musical growth rate of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry,” Nigel seems unfazed and responds, “That’s nitpicking, isn’t it?”
On Their Equipment
When Nigel shows off various instruments to Marty, he comes off as both spoiled and clueless in equal measure, but perhaps not as a serious musician. Referring to a guitar that’s never been played and still has a tag on it, Nigel admonishes Marty not to touch it, not to even point at it. When Marty sarcastically asks, “Can I look at it?” Nigel replies “No. No. That’s it, you’ve seen enough of that one” as if Marty is somehow using it up with his eyes.
If Nigel seems particular about his guitars, he’s downright crazy about his amps. He’s exceedingly proud to show off the dials on his amp because “The numbers all go to eleven” and most only go to ten. Marty seems skeptical that this actually makes the amp any louder, to which Nigel applies the most basic logic: “Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”