Although originally conceived as the fictional subject of a music documentary, Spinal Tap became a real band — a parody heavy metal band, to be exact — following the film's release. The joke began with the release of 1984's This Is Spinal Tap, a satirical Rob Reiner film starring actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer. The film, which poked fun at groups like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, cast the comics as members of a wacky, ill-minded '70s band facing a popularity dive in the '80s. This Is Spinal Tap was a moderate success, and the supporting soundtrack (in which the cast members played their own instruments) was a smash hit. In fact, the soundtrack itself described the rock & roll of the '80s so well that it made many people who hadn't seen the movie think that Spinal Tap was a real group. According to This Is Spinal Tap, the band's story goes as follows:
Good friends David St. Hubbins (played by McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (played by Guest) of Great Britain joined forces in 1964 after seeing their similar musical tastes, forming the Originals. After finding out that there was already a group of that title, they would go through a series of name changes until finally joining up with bassist Ronnie Pudding and drummer John "Stumpy" Pepys, becoming the Thamesmen. They released two minor hit singles, "Gimme Some Money" and "Cups and Cakes," songs that established them as a unique and noticeable band. After a tour in the United Kingdom, the group continuously changed its name until finally settling on Spinal Tap and hiring keyboardist Denny Upham. Pudding would leave shortly afterwards to form Pudding People, and was replaced by Derek Smalls (Shearer). With this lineup, the band recorded "(Listen to The) Flower People," which would be released on the 1967 single Spinal Tap Sings "(Listen to The) Flower People" and Other Favorites. A surprise hit, the single went gold in the United Kingdom and the band toured worldwide, although their following LP, We Are All Flower People, was rather unsuccessful. After Upham was fired and replaced with Ross MacLochness, the group released Matchstick Men (1968) and Silent But Deadly (1969), their first live album.
The band's "success" came to a halt when Pepys died in a bizarre gardening accident in 1969. He was replaced with Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs, and this lineup released Brainhammer (1970), Nerve Damage (1971), and Blood to Let (1972). Intravenus de Milo, which was the group's seventh record and released in 1974, is still known to be the first album to ever reach the status of bronze, which a band can only attain if one million copies of an album are returned. Childs choked to death on an unknown offender's vomit that same year, and was replaced with Peter James Bond for the 1975 release The Sun Never Sweats. A tour would follow, inspiring their second live album, Jap Habit. Shortly afterwards, MacLochness and manager Glynn Hampton left the band to pursue their own interests. They were replaced with keyboardist Viv Savage and manager Ian Faith, who would both take part in the minor hit LP Bent for the Rent.
Trouble began when the group sued its record label, Megaphone, for back royalties, but the label counter-sued, claiming they had a "lack of talent." The band reluctantly stayed with this label until 1977, when their latest release, Rock and Roll Creation, became a surprise hit in the United States due to the hit single "Nice n' Stinky." They quickly signed with Polymer Records and began to record their new album, but were halted when Bond spontaneously combusted on-stage. He was immediately replaced with drummer Mick Shrimpton, and the group released Shark Sandwich in 1980, which contained the hit "Sex Farm." Shark Sandwich was followed by a European tour, but demand for the band's U.S. appearance grew so large that they decided to tour America in support of their 1982 album, Smell the Glove.
Spinal Tap's 1982 tour got off to a bad start when some of their biggest gigs were canceled, and they were forced to play in much smaller arenas. Smell the Glove's release would also be postponed after the public expressed disdain for its sexually explicit cover. (When the album was finally shipped, both sides of the cover were solid black, a decision made by Faith rather than the bandmembers.) U.S. appeal continued to decrease, and the band grew further apart due to Hubbins' and Tufnel's opposing ideas. A mistake in prop sizing would prompt the group to fire Faith and replace him with Hubbins' mistress, Jeanine Pettibone. Shortly afterward, Tufnel momentarily quit the band, frustrated with its sudden downfall and Pettibone's poor management.
Unable to find a decent replacement, what was left of the group talked about retiring after the tour, but this idea was soon forgotten when Tufnel and Faith returned for the band's final U.S. performance and one Japanese gig. Despite Shrimpton's sudden combustion and his short replacement, Joe "Mama" Bessemer, in hiding after many of the group's props were reported stolen, both shows were a success. In 1983, the bandmembers would split and go their separate ways. Hubbins married Pettibone and opened up a soccer "clinic," Tufnel retired to his home in London to begin an inventing career, and Smalls joined and toured with the Christian metal band Lamb's Blood. Both Savage and Faith would die under unusual circumstances.
It wasn't until 1992, when Spinal Tap seemed almost forgotten, that rumors began to erupt (in real life) that they had re-formed and were working on a new album. The band proved these rumors true when they appeared on the MTV Music Awards (with new drummer Ric Shrimpton and keyboardist C.J. Vanston), announcing their return to the spotlight with their upcoming album, Break Like the Wind. The record was released that fall, featuring the hits "Bitch School" and "Majesty of Rock," along with appearances by Slash, Cher, and Joe Satriani. The band embarked on another real-life tour, finishing in London to record its first and only live video cassette, Return of Spinal Tap, which was released in 1993. After the tour, they once again faded away.
As the new millennium approached, however, the band reunited once again. They briefly toured during the summer of 2001, occasionally opening up their own shows under the guise of the Folksmen (another fictional trio that would later receive ample screen time in the 2003 film A Mighty Wind). Following another brief hiatus, the band made an appearance at the global concert festival Live Earth in 2007, and Spinal Tap subsequently retreated to the studio to dream up a new album. The result, Back from the Dead, arrived in 2009. ~ Barry Weber