The alternative history of rock 'n' roll is filled with class acts: The Swanky Modes, Steel Dragon, the Luminaries, and who could forget the upstart grrrl group the Stains? Most people do forget ... because these bands don't exist outside of the movies. In fact, there's a veritable alternative history of rock 'n' roll that only exits in film. Many nonexistent bands are bad; many are surprisingly good; some are downright inspired.
Faced with an overwhelming set of possibilities, I established some parameters for this countdown:
- No solo acts allowed (so no "The Rose")
- No bands existed before their big-screen debuts (thus excluding "The Blues Brothers," "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the acts from "Dreamgirls" and "Josie and the Pussycats")
- Rock and pop groups only -- no jazz combos, classical quartets or swing bands (sorry "
" and "Round Midnight") New York, New York
- The bands perform on-screen, even if only lip-synching or pretending to play their instruments to pre-recorded track
- They produce arguably good music (don't even ask about "Ishtar")
Base on these criteria, here are the first inductees to the Imaginary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
For the record: The Stains are the all-girl teenage punk band of "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains"; the Luminaries sing '60s girl-group tunes in "Grace of My Heart"; Steel Dragon is the Judas Priest stand-in fronted by Mark Wahlberg in "Rock Star"; and the Swanky Modes are an R&B duo played by Sam Moore and Junior Walker in "Tapeheads."
10. Spinal Tap
Big-screen appearance: "This Is Spinal Tap"
Musical definition: Heavy metal B-listers
Signature song: "Big Bottom" ("Talk about mud flaps, my girl's got 'em!")
Liner notes: Morphing from British invasion roots and a psychedelic detour into one of the heavy metal footnotes of popular music, the power trio of David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls were all but resurrected from a well-earned obscurity by director Marty DiBergi's documentary of their disastrous comeback tour. Spinal Tap continues to fill a much-needed void.
Behind the music: Without a doubt the funniest faux band in the movies, the Tap was the brainchild of director Rob Reiner (playing DiBergi) and actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, who wrote and performed their own material. They went on to make TV appearances, a holiday video ("Christmas With the Devil") and a follow-up feature, all in the same metal-head makeup and clueless personas.
Big-screen appearance: "Music and Lyrics"
Musical definition: '80s British synth-pop
Signature song: "Pop Goes My Heart"
Liner notes: Perhaps the greatest of the '80s boy bands, Pop announced their intentions in their title: They produced one bouncy, cheery hit single after another in rapid succession until Colin Thompson left the band, and his writing partner Alex Fletcher, for a successful solo career. Fletcher wasn't so lucky and fell into milking the nostalgia circuit.
Behind the music: It's astounding how much Hugh Grant looks the part of a hair-band veteran, thanks to his self-effacing preening and his Paul McCartney smile. That's also Grant's own singing voice, and his feathered hair and hip-wiggling moves are a brilliant impression of the real thing: the missing link between Duran Duran and A-ha.
Big-screen appearance: "Almost Famous"
Musical definition: '70s rockers
Signature song: "Fever Dog"
Liner notes: Emerging from Troy, Mich., with a heavy guitar sound indebted to Southern-fried rockers, Stillwater broke through with their album-side epic "Fever Dog" and a publicity push from fledgling music journalist William Miller, whose mesmerizing story of their breakthrough tour landed them on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Behind the music: Cameron Crowe fictionalized his own experience as a high school music journalist hitting the road with the Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin for the film.
7. The Bang Bang
Big-screen appearance: "Brothers of the Head"
Musical definition: Pop and glam churned into proto-punk
Signature song: "Two Way Romeo"
Liner notes: The ultimate band of the moment, "Brothers of the Head" was created by impresario Zak Bedderwick, who turned conjoined twins Harry and Luke Treddaway into band front men and glam pinups. He didn't expect his would-be bubble-gum pop to produce angry, confrontational music that anticipates the Sex Pistols.
Behind the music: Documentary filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, adapting the novel by Brian Aldiss, twist around the mockumentary format by playing it for poignant tragedy and discomforting drama. This portrait of guileless twins, bullied and exploited by everyone around them, is also a fascinating commentary on the manufacturing of image and on the nature of documentary. All this, and the lost musical biopic by Ken Russell, too!
6. Strange Fruit
Big-screen appearance: "Still Crazy"
Musical definition: '70s British power rock
Signature song: "All Over the World"
Liner notes: The English rockers broke up on the verge of superstardom, leaving two band mates as casualties and a handful of records practically lost to time.
The bickering survivors reunite for a dramatic 1998 comeback tour, begging the question: Have the Fruits gone soft or, worse, already spoiled?
Behind the music: Imagine a British version of
5. The Venus in Furs
Big-screen appearance: "Velvet Goldmine"
Musical definition: Glam rock redux
Signature song: "The Whole Shebang"
Liner notes: Jack Slade became the poster boy for androgyny rock and "the first true dandy of rock" in his taboo-busting phase as the flamboyantly bisexual singer/songwriter fronting the Venus in Furs. His career never recovered from the staged assassination at a concert and he disappeared, possibly into a new persona.
Behind the music: Todd Haynes recreates the pop-culture earthquake of glam rock with a fictionalized take on David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust phase (incarnated by Jonathan Rhys Meyers with a pouty, androgynous pose and a fabulous wardrobe), directed as a cheeky tribute to "Citizen Kane." The period-perfect music was created by members of Radiohead, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth and Ron Asheton of the original Stooges.
4. The Wonders (formerly the Oneders)
Big-screen appearance: "That Thing You Do!"
Musical definition: Early '60s garage rockers gone big
Signature song: "That Thing You Do"
Liner notes: Hailing from Erie, Pa., the one-hit Wonders launched their danceable hit song in a talent contest, recorded it in a church and broke up right about the time it hit the Top 10. But "That Thing You Do" is a perfect pop hit, utterly infectious and completely irresistible, and that one song cinches their spot in the Imaginary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Behind the music: The defining tune was penned by Adam Schlesinger (of real-life power-pop champs Fountains of Wayne and neo-pop trio Ivy, plus key tracks ghosted for the fictional Pop in "Music and Lyrics") in a perfect recreation of the post-British invasion sound.
3. Max Frost & the Troopers
Big-screen appearance: "Wild in the Streets"
Musical definition: Groovy '60s protest rock
Signature song: "Shape of Things to Come"
Liner notes: Whereas many pop-culture superstars used their fame for political causes, rock music giant Max Frost used his sway to give the vote to 14-year-olds, and then rode his rock anthems into the Oval Office -- at which point he tossed everyone older than 35 into concentration camps and fed them a diet of LSD.
Behind the music: The film is a sour satire of youth culture gone fascist, more in line with adult fears than teenage fantasies. But the chart hit "Shape of Things to Come," penned by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann and performed by an anonymous lineup of Mike Curb studio musicians, remains one of the great anthems of the '60s. The film also marks Richard Pryor's screen debut (as the band's activist drummer, Stanley X).
2. Eddie and the Cruisers
Big-screen appearance: "Eddie and the Cruisers"
Musical definition: Jersey bar band with street poet lyrics
Signature song: "On the Dark Side"
Liner notes: The legendary '60s rock band Eddie and the Cruisers folded after their charismatic lead singer died in a mysterious car wreck (his body was never found), leaving behind a single album and a legendary, unreleased follow-up, purportedly titled "Season in Hell." But the hard-rocking guitar sound, R&B saxophone and increasingly sophisticated lyrics surely influenced the work of '70s legend Bruce Springsteen.
Behind the music: The music (by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band) was a shameless knockoff of the Springsteen sound and far more '70s than '60s, yet so effective that it earned a Top 10 hit and a best-selling soundtrack album. To the best of my knowledge, the Boss didn't even sue. Cafferty, meanwhile, never had half as much success releasing albums under his own name.
1. The Commitments
Big-screen appearance: "The Commitments"
Musical definition: American R&B with Irish attitude
Signature song: No hits, sadly, but they deliver a killer version of "Take Me to the River."
Liner notes: Though they disbanded before achieving any real commercial success, "The World's Hardest Working Band" (so dubbed by their manager, Jimmy Rabbitte) brought musical chops and hearty gusto to their covers of great '60s soul classics including "Treat Her Right" and "Try a Little Tenderness."
Behind the music: Alan Parker's film of Roddy Doyle's novel was a minor hit but the soundtrack, performed by the cast members themselves, was a major success and spawned a follow-up album and a subsequent concert tour. Lead singer Andrew Strong, a mere 16 when belted out those vocals, went on to a successful solo career, and guitarist Glen Hansard returned to the big screen as the star of the 2007 musical "Once."
Otis Day and the Knights from "Animal House" (featuring Robert Cray on guitar)
Hard Core Logo from "Hard Core Logo"
Ming Tea from "Austin Powers"
The Juicy Fruits from "Phantom of the
Fire Inc. from "Streets of Fire"
The Five Heartbeats from "The Five Heartbeats