Like the serious rock films that inspired it, This Is Spinal Tap mixes concert footage, “candid” interviews and behind-the-scenes action. Guest, McKean and Shearer wrote and performed all of the music, including the machismo rocker “Big Bottom” (“I saw her on Monday, ’twas my lucky bun day/You know what I mean”), the mid-Sixties period piece “Gimme Some Money” and the psychedelic classic “(Listen to the) Flower People.”
The film starts as Spinal Tap begins an American tour to promote their new album, Smell the Glove. It’s the seventeen-year-old group’s seventh LP — following such other records as Intravenus de Milo and their concept album, The Sun Never Sweats — but there’s a problem. Polymer Records president Sir Denis Eton-Hogg doesn’t like the cover and won’t release it. According to Polymer publicist Bobbi Flekman, the cover — which depicts “a greased naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck and a leash and a man’s arm extended out holding on to the leash and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it” — is “offensive.”
“You should have seen the cover they wanted to do,” argues Tap manager Ian Faith (played by former National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra).
By the end of the tour, it seems Spinal Tap has had it. David St. Hubbins’ girlfriend has become the band’s manager; her career strategies, worked out with the help of astrological charts, have led to a poorly attended booking at an air-force dance and a concert at an amusement park where the band is billed below a puppet show. Nigel quits in disgust, and soon the other members decide to pack it in so they can pursue those solo projects they’ve never had time for.
“I’ve always wanted to do a collection of my acoustic numbers with the London Philharmonic, as you know,” notes St. Hubbins to bassist Derek Smalls.
Christopher Guest first had the inspiration for his Nigel Tufnel character back in 1974, when he ran into a member of a British heavy-metal band and the group’s road manager at the Chateau Marmont, a Los Angeles hotel. Guest put on his English accent as he recalled the conversation that took place when the two Brits approached the desk to check in.
Road Manager (very efficient): “All right, well, we’ll take our instruments up to the room.”
Rock Star (spaced): “Don’t know where my bass is.”
Manager (curt): “I beg your pardon.”
Star: “I don’t know where the bass is.”
Manager: “Where is it?”
Star: “I think it’s at the airport.”
Manager (patronizing): “You have to get back there, don’t you.”
Star: “I don’t know, do I?”
Manager (stern): “I think you better.”
Star: “Where’s my bass?”
Manager (frustrated): “It’s at the airport.”
“This went on for a good twenty minutes,” said Guest, “and I was standing there thinking, ‘This is good. This is important.’ I mean it literally was that duncelike.”