April is National Humor Month, appropriately kicked off by April Fool’s Day, and that calls for a worthy playlist. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to curate the ultimate musical farce.
I am not talking about blatant “Weird Al” Yankovic-style novelties (although “The Saga Begins” is a stroke of comic lyric-altering genius) but a style of musical satire that is a little less obvious on the surface.
Instead, this collection of songs would fit in right alongside more serious bands in their genres, except for the fact these “fictional” bands were created in a movie or television series for the sake of parody.
The bands represented in this list, for the most part, consist of real musicians, with some very legit talent. There are progressive rock anthems, hair band heavy metal, alt-country, Chicago-style blues, ’60s era British Invasion rock and roll, folk, and even ’80s cutesy-pop.
These bands might not be taken–or take themselves–too seriously, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a serious listen.
Track 1: The Rutles “Hold My Hand” or “Get Up and Go“
This Bizarro-world parody of The Beatles, The Rutles–Dirk, Nasty, Stig, and Barry–began as a television sketch of Monty Python’s Eric Idle and Neil Innes, for the show Rutland Weekend Television, but they soon blossomed into an actual touring group with a following, and a 1978 feature-length film. Unlike straightforward song parodies, The Rutles’ hits like “Ouch” and “All You Need Is Cash” varied just enough from their intended song victims to be original.
They also shouldn’t be confused with or compared to the American television-made answer to The Beatles, The Monkees, as all The Rutles’ cast actually knew their way around actual musical instruments. Now I will say this about The Monkees: their hits were original, so I won’t make fun of anyone who wants to add “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” to their playlist.
The Beatles themselves had mixed reactions to the “Prefab Four,” but George Harrison was more than happy to appear in The Rutles’ world, as did Mick Jagger.
Their official “Tragical History Tour” website is a fantastic farce as well, with news archives, press photos, the band’s official bio, and a look at the theory that Dirk (Idle) is actually deaf. And, yes, there was a fifth Rutle: Leppo. As much as I love Monty Python, I feel this is by far the best thing Idle and Innes have ever done. It is hard not to catch Rutlemania when you have a listen.
Track 2: Spinal Tap. “Hell Hole“
I first saw Spinal Tap when they were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live (when the show was still, you know, funny), and it took me minute to figure out “these guys are putting me on.” At the time, however, there were many people who didn’t realize the 1984 rockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, was actually a mockumentary. Their absurd story of an aging metal group losing their grip on fame was actually believable at times. It was the songs, however, that made you question if this was actually a joke or not.
“Stonehenge,” for example is ridiculous, yet I somehow know it by heart.
“Oh, how they danced. The little children of Stonehenge. Beneath the haunted moon, for fear that daybreak might come too soon.”
When you think about it, it isn’t any worse than Poison’s “every cowboy sings his sad, sad song. Every rose has its thorn.”
I chose “Hell Hole” for the playlist, as it best represents the hair band era to me, and the accompanying video looks like everything RATT ever did.
The band resurfaced with the album Back from the Dead in 2009, but by then most people were already in on the joke. That initial introduction to the band, however, was so well-crafted, so perfect in their tragicomic story, they deserve a special place in heavy metal history.
Tracks 3: Mitch and Mickey “A Kiss At The End of the Rainbow“
Let’s bring things down a bit to the age of the folk music explosion, with the duo Mitch and Mickey. This couple was featured in the mockumentary on folk music, A Mighty Wind, in which the same twisted minds and talent behind This Is Spinal Tap took on the persona of the Kingston Trio-like Folksmen. Mitch and Mickey were a pair of folksy lovebirds, who wrote this song as a testament to their profound, eternal love for each other… which didn’t last. One of the highlights of the film was them reuniting on stage years later to perform this guitar and zither-heavy hit, which was always marked by a sappy onstage kiss.
As deliberately saccharine as it seems, the song itself, written by Spinal Tap and Folksmen member Michael McKean and his wife Annette O’Toole, was nominated for an Academy Award. Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) even performed it live in character, complete with the inevitable kiss.
It also beat out Eminem to win the Grammy for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Bet he was thrilled about that.
Track 4: Ming Tea “The BBC“
The original comic masterpiece of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery has long been all but ruined by its overabundance of sequels and bad “Oh, Be-Haive” imitations, but this 1960s retro-mod band featured at end of the original movie had a catchy retro sound. It featured an all-star line-up, including The Bangles’ Susanna Hoff (Gillian Shagwell), Matthew Sweet (Sid Belvedere), and Christopher Ward (Trever Aigburth), with Austin Powers himself (Mike Myers) taking the lead.
The band did a follow-up single, “Daddy Wasn’t There,” for the sequel Austin Powers in Goldmember, but it doesn’t have the same staying power of “BBC.”
Unfortunately, the song was overshadowed by the re-discovery of Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova,” with which Austin Powers is more readily associated, but we all know what’s really on Austin’s telly:
Track 5: The Wonders (aka The Oneders) “That Thing You Do“
The title track from Tom Hanks’ 1996 labor of love was the “one hit” for the appropriately named The Wonders. They originally went by The Oneders, but were made to change it due to people continually calling them “The Oh-Need-ers.” The story showed the rise, short-lived success, and break up of 1964 rock band. There were a couple of bands in the 1960s who went by the name The Wonders, but this movie’s band was entirely fictional.
The movie did okay, but the song itself was nominated for an Academy Award and became a real-life Billboard Top 40 hit (not actually performed by the cast). Lead vocals were by Candy Butchers frontman Mike Viola, who co-wrote it with Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger.
My mom used to frequent these record label-sponsored tours in the 1950s and ’60s, and told me these bands often came on, sang one or two hits, and made way for the next act. This is an environment that is sure to test any musical act’s potential for longevity. This movie, she said when it first came out, summed up these tours and the all-too-common fate of many bands, perfectly.
Track 6: The Blues Brothers “Sweet Home Chicago“
It was 1980. I was eleven. My parents wouldn’t let me go to an R-rated movie. My brother was 18, and he got to go see one with his friends. It was The Blues Brothers, and he came back raving about it, especially the completely awesome musical scenes. He told me about the fantastic streetwise choreography of Ray Charles’ “Shake Your Tail Feather” scene, and how bandleader Cab Calloway played their mentor. I had the opportunity to see both Charles and Calloway perform live before I was even able to watch The Blues Brothers edited version on television.
We had already been huge Blues Brothers fans, since John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd created the hard-living duo of Jake and Elwood Blues for Saturday Night Live, and the movie is still one of the only SNL-spawned films worth watching more than once, in my opinion. I mentioned in my last article on why we like to take things apart that my dad rebuilt the junked Blues Brothers 8-track Briefcase Full of Blues, but I neglected to say why it was trashed. The reason was we played it over and over again for the better part of a year. It had also been warped in the sun, the label had all but worn off, and we were holding it together with cotton string and duck tape before it finally tried to take pity on itself and give up the ghost. True story.
Track 7: Robin Sparkles “Sand Castles in the Sand“
Robin Sparkles was a 1990s-era Tiffany-like Canadian pop star (whose style was still a little stuck in the 1980s) and was the teenage alter ego of sitcom How I Met Your Mother‘s character Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders). This identity was kept secret from her friends on until it was discovered–and exploited–by Neil Patrick Harris’s iconic character Barney. We later learn Sparkles went through some emotional and stylistic changes, including changing her name and persona to the darker Robin Daggers.
Why haven’t I included her biggest hit “Let’s Go To The Mall” for the playlist? Here’s some irony. The entire Sparkles persona, from her look to her sound to the intended “mall-hopping teen” audience, is so amazingly, incredibly spot-on, I actually hate this song to the point where I cringe when I hear it with nightmares of Debbie Gibson and her sparkly shoulder pads shaking her love in my ears. Yes, I gotta give ’em props; they did a good job with this one.
“Sand Castles in the Sand,” albeit still a little irritating, I can actually stomach.
Track 8: Country Bears “Let It Ride“
My parents gave my daughter the DVD to the 2002 Disney film based on the theme park attraction when she was about three. I had fond memories of the attraction, but never really wanted to see the movie, which I felt looked pretty awful. The movie itself wasn’t that memorable, except for the musical guests, which turned it into a sort of a Blues Brothers for kids. The songs performed by The Country Bears themselves, however, were excellent examples of modern Americana and alt-country. The was primarily due to the fact the lead bear, Ted Bedderhead’s, singing voice was John Hiatt. Don Henley and Bonnie Raitt also lent their singing talents to bears.
“Let It Ride” is really a standout, and if you enjoy Hiatt’s voice and style, this highlights it. Even if you can’t “bear” to sit through this film, at least give the soundtrack a spin.
For a more traditional bluegrass hit, try the Soggy Bottom Boys’ “Man of Constant Sorrow,” the runaway hit of a trio of escaped convicts featured in the Cohen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou. The lead vocals for this traditional folk ballad were actually done by bluegrass singer Dan Tyminski.
Track 9: Tenacious D “Tribute“
“This is the greatest and best song in the world… Tribute.”
Tenacious D, the Smothers Brothers of the metal set, were the evil genius brainchild of Jack Black and Kyle Gass. The band was formed prior to their self-titled television series, which ran on HBO in 1997, 1999, and 2000, but it was this series where they gained their audience and began opening for larger acts. They eventually made their own feature film, The Pick of Destiny, in 2006. They have sold millions of albums worldwide, and they still perform live at rock festivals, sportin’ their signature shorts-and-t-shirt couture.
“Tribute” remains their biggest hit, and rightly so, with lyrics like “and the peculiar thing is this my friends: the song we sang on that fateful night it didn’t actually sound anything like this song.”
Classic stuff, boys.