This List Goes to 11!: Eleven Trends Predicted by 'This is Spinal Tap' - Rolling Stone
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This List Goes to 11!: Eleven Trends Predicted by ‘This is Spinal Tap’

From multiple Black Albums to a real amplifier that goes “one louder,” we find the facts that came from the fiction

this is spinal tap

Photofest/Retna Ltd.

Three decades ago this week, the movie This Is Spinal Tap hit theaters, parodying hard rock bands and heavy metal culture so well that phrases like "none more black" now verge on becoming clichés. The mockumentary followed the exploits of a trio of headbangers – comedians Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer as vocalist-guitarists Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins and bassist Derek Smalls, respectively – and filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (played by the movie's real director, Rob Reiner), as the group toured and promoted an album called Smell the Glove

See Where 'This Is Spinal Tap' Ranks on the Greatest Soundtracks of All Time

But while it all looked like fun and Stonehenges, it all seemed very real to some people. A 1984 Rolling Stone feature on the movie recalls people at a rare L.A. club gig for Spinal Tap exclaiming "Nigel's here!" as though they didn't know the guitarist was really a "Christopher." "The closer we dared to get to the real thing, the closer the real thing dared to get to us," Shearer said in the article. "It's like reality is calling our bluff at every step along the way." As it happens, the rock and roll satire managed to predict several very real music trends and events that have come into focus over the past 30 years. Rather than listing 10, Rolling Stone goes one louder: Here are 11 things This Is Spinal Tap anticipated. By Kory Grow

metallica black album

Courtesy of Elektra Records

Black Albums

Spinal Tap didn't want to put out an album with an all-black cover for Smell the Glove: They wanted "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 on to the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it." (Incidentally, that cover did eventually come out as the sleeve for Spinal Tap's 1992 single "Bitch School.") Changing it to a black cover was the decision of the label and eventually they embraced its "none more black look."

Since then, Metallica, Jay Z and Prince have all opted to put out black albums. But Metallica, whose "Black Album" still sells between 2,000 and 3,000 copies a week according to Billboard, was the only artist to be taken to task for releasing a black album by Spinal Tap. "We've got a bone to pick with these [guys]," Tap's David St. Hubbins once said when cornering James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett at a show. "You know, it's called the 'Black Album.' Now where did the idea come from to do an all black album, Metallica representatives?" Hammett just coughs awkwardly and later said, "It was an homage."

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Exploding Drummer Syndrome

Although there are no known instances of drummers actually exploding à la Spinal Tap drummer Mick Shrimpton – not to mention deaths by bizarre gardening accidents, choking on somebody else's vomit, spontaneously combusting or any of the other drummer fates in This Is Spinal Tap – there have been several bands whose drum throne has been more like a revolving door. Spinal Tap may have had four drummers between 1964 and 1982, but Pearl Jam have had five drummers since 1990. And in Spinal Tap's heavy-rock world, Megadeth have had an astounding seven drummers since forming, Guns N' Roses and Gwar have had six, and Slayer and Dillinger Escape Plan have each had three, among innumerable examples.

soldano amp

CC Image courtesy fvancini on Flickr

Amps That Go to 11

"It's one louder," insists frontman Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap, as he shows off a guitar amplifier whose knobs go up to 11. "It's not 10," he says. "Most blokes we be playing at 10." Amplifier manufacturer Soldano bought into that theory when creating its 100-watt Super Lead Overdrive amp and made it so it could go one louder. The company's Lucky 13 Head, however, beats that: Its dials don't stop until they reach 13.

No Presents for Christmas king diamond

Courtesy of Roadrunner Records

“Christmas With the Devil”

When the "band" was "promoting" This Is Spinal Tap, they made an appearance on Saturday Night Live to perform the seasonally appropriate song "Christmas With the Devil." The track eventually  made it onto the CD release of the movie's soundtrack. Since then, enough metal musicians have put out their own seasons bleatings for Rolling Stone to compile a list of them. Most notable among them are former Mercyful Fate frontman King Diamond's "No Presents for Christmas," AC/DC's "Mistress for Christmas," Rob Halford's post–Judas Priest band Fight's "Christmas Ride" and "the world's loudest band" Manowar's not-so-taciturn take on "Silent Night." Twisted Sister and Halford have even put out full Christmas albums.

this is spinal tap shark sandwich

Courtesy of Embassy Pictures

“Shit Sandwich” Reviews

In the years since Spinal Tap received a two-word review for their album Shark Sandwich – it read, "Shit sandwich" and Tap bassist Derek Smalls insisted, "You can't print that!" – bands have gotten similar treatment from the press. The most notable incident occurred in a 1986 issue of Musician magazine, when critic J.D. Considine reviewed an album by a band called GTR by writing simply "SHT." 

this is spinal tap

Courtesy of Embassy Pictures

Pod People

In one This Is Spinal Tap scene, the band members all attempt to emerge triumphantly from clear, crystalline bubbles onstage – and it works, except for the one encasing bassist Derek Smalls. All the members of U2 suffered a similar indignity in 1997 when a 40-foot fiberglass mirror-ball lemon did not open up at the band's performance in Oslo. "Somebody had to out-Spinal Tap Spinal Tap," guitarist the Edge told Q magazine in 2007. The lemon now resides in a Dutch warehouse after it reportedly failed to sell on eBay. 

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Big in Japan

Much like how Spinal Tap's "Sex Farm" reached Number Five on the Japanese chart after it bombed everywhere else, bands have since taken advantage of popularity in interesting ways. For Marty Friedman, one of many guitarists in Megadeth who have suffered the six-string version of Exploding Drummer Syndrome with eight guitarists to date, he had so much success in Japan that he moved to Tokyo in 2003. Since then, he has hosted the Japanese television programs Rock Fujiyama and Jukebox English.

Courtesy Freebass

A “Big Bottom” Band

Although the members of Spinal Tap stuck to typical rock instrumentation, their song "Big Bottom" – a pretty obvious double-entendre that was likely inspired by Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" – featured all three non-drummers playing "lead bass." For a brief period in the late 2000s, one band was all "Big Bottom" all the time. In 2005, the bassists of the Smiths, Joy Division and the Stone Roses joined forces for a group called Freebass. They even managed to keep from rumbling a recording studio to the ground and put out an album in 2010 titled It's a Beautiful Life.

Carrie the Musical

Brian Ach/WireImage

A Murderous Musical

Toward the end of This Is Spinal Tap, the band members talk about composing a musical based on the life of Jack the Ripper, affectionately titled Saucy Jack. Although Sweeney Todd got its debut in 1979, it was a hit, making Carrie: The Musical the heiress apparent to Saucy Jack. That musical, based on Stephen King's novel, earned a Broadway run in 1988. It lasted only five official performances before closing. If only Saucy Jack and its lyrics like "You're a naughty one, Saucy Jack/ You're a haughty one, Saucy Jack," made it to Broadway it might have gotten through four.


Pete Cronin/Redferns

This Is. . . Anvil?

This Is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner has said that people approached him around the time of the release talking about the group as if they were "a real band." When the cheekily titled rockumentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil came out in 2008, it was hard to believe any of it was real. While that group has managed to keep one drummer since starting out in 1978 (though he is improbably named "Robb Reiner"), their bass and guitar slots have changed often. In the doc, the group is told it is "big in Europe" but a European tour falls apart. Later, frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow has to borrow money from his sister to record the group's 13th album. Luckily for them, the tour following the release of the doc allowed them to do more than just rock out; they also screened their documentary on the road.

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Jazz Odyssey

Although free-form jazz oddities are a rare occurrence for most bands – at least the way it's depicted in This Is Spinal Tap when the group attempted to play without Nigel Tufnel – at least one headbanger has ventured into even headier territory without the assistance of Michael Kamen. Eighties guitar idol Yngwie Malmsteen, who put out an album called Odyssey in 1988, released his classical Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E-Flat Minor, Op. 1 in 1998 with the help of a musician named David Rosenthal. In true Spinal Tap fashion, it came out in Japan before it made it to the U.S. and it proved to be so popular that Malmsteen re-recorded it with the New Japan Philharmonic for a CD release that has come out only in Japan and South Korea.

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