The thought of snapping your fingers to the tunes of your favorite fictional bands in film seems rather unreal. After all these movie music-makers seem like the “reel” deal in terms of their celluloid artistry and sense of colorful on-screen showmanship.
However, some of the fictional bands or musical acts we know very well and consider so fondly actually morph into real-life acts. Also, there are real-life bands that share a “fictionalized existence” on screen as well (for instance one can try and divide the musical phenomenon of The Beatles as treasured pop cultural entities from the mop top maniacs they portrayed on the big screen in A Hard’s Day Night or Help. Some may argue they were the one in the same in front of and away from the rolling cameras).
Whatever your definition of what constitutes a favorable fictional band in film at the present moment just be aware that there will be no sour notes dung in the process. These cinematic singing sensations–manufactured or not–are the essence of vocalized talent we either want to see at the local movie theater or perhaps in concert at the nearby music hall.
The selections for No Sour Notes: Top Ten Fictional Bands in the Movies are (in alphabetical order):
1.) Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues from The Blues Brothers (1980)
Listen up folks…the black-suited Blues Brothers in Joliet Jake and Elwood (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) were on a mission from God…and that was to get their band back together after serving a lengthy prison sentence in the joint. Of course it is common knowledge that The Blues Brothers emerged from the stages at 30 Rockefeller Center from the iconic Saturday Night Live from the heyday 70’s. Not only did Jake and Elwood (and their band members) smoothly promote and provide soulful tunes in between dodging and ducking their scorned detractors but The Blues Brothers produced a bunch of notable names in music royalty to go along with the rhythmic roller-coaster ride. The impressive list was impressive and endless: Johnny Lee Hooker, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles…all were on board to add to the delightful musical misfits that were the entertaining bounciness of The Blues Brothers and their hit-making hedonism in tow.
2.) The Commitments (1991)
Alan Parker’s musical melodrama The Commitments was an examination of a rambunctious group of rag tag musicians thrown together for their individual talent that resulted in the collective collapse of stardom due to in-house fighting, bloated egos and constant posturing. Set in the down-trotting Irish working class settings, The Commitments was the European homage to American black soul music–particularly a personal cinematic Valentine to the late great Wilson “The Wicked” Pickett. This musical mish-mash of musicians all had the potential to rise from their destitute existences only to allow the growing dysfunction to destroy their hopes and dreams. A pudgy, pony-tailed pompous lead singer that possessed powerful pipes, bickering divas that all played footsies with a mysterious older musician claiming to have jammed with the “Wicked” Pickett and an idealistic young manager that cannot control his massive band on the down slide all were instrumental (no pun intended) in creating the satisfying sounds of liberating black soul music from the States. Artistic, mischievous and unrestricted, The Commitments were devilishly rousing in converting Irish soul into carefree high jinks for the starving ear.
3.) The 5, 6, 7 8’s from Kill Bill (2004)
What can one say about the Japanese curvaceous cuties that brought some singing sex appeal to Quentin Tarantino’s rollicking revenge fantasy Kill Bill Vol. I and II? The musical mistresses The 5, 6, 7 8’s were part of the surreal surge that was perpetuated in the high-maneuvering of Kill Bill’s bloodied, kinetic universe. Sure, the ultimate butt-kicking babe-in-charge was Uma Thurman’s Beatrice the Bride as she skillfully fought her way into madness as she furiously hunted for the elusive Bill. But The 5, 6, 7 8’s proved to also be a formidable force with their brand of infectious radical music to accompany the action-packed shenanigans of martial arts mayhem. The twists and turns in movement we loved just as equally coming from the sexy sounds of The 5, 6, 7 8’s as it did in watching Uma’s Beatrice dispose of the battling baddies in bunches.
4.) Frank (2014)
Somehow, the sorely underrated Frank got lost in the shuffle at the tail end of 2014’s heralded movie season which is a crying shame because it demonstrated the wacky inner workings of an eccentric pop band’s creativity process. Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is an enthusiastic musician wanting to perfect his craft when he is offered to join a bizarre band headed up by a mysterious yet motivating lead singer named Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank is the driving force behind this musical motley crew. Oh yeah…did we forget to mention that the enigmatic Frank wears at all times an over-sized plastic head thus hiding his real noggin? Jon discovers that his new bandmates are something truly to write home about in curiosity but he gives credit where credit is due in Frank’s innate abilities to be the constant pulse that pumps some life into this otherwise strange and dysfunctional band of peculiar personalities. Director Lenny Abrahamson should take a bow in offering a refreshing off-kilter spin on the musical film genre with the gloriously odd but nifty Frank.
5.) Glen Hansgard and Marketa Irglova from Once (2007)
Writer-director John Carney’s soft-stated yet compelling musical melodrama Once demonstrated the love and commitment of songwriting, performance and the art of song as sacred expression and motivation. Musicians Glen Hansgard (“The Commitments”) and Marketa Irglova purposely were not given character names in Once. This gimmick paid off because not knowing who these musical collaborators were was ideal because because the real identity worth knowing and investigating were the poignant and spirited tunes that the Dublin, Ireland-based tandem came up with together as lyrical prophets of their music-making passion. Hansgard and Irglova (portraying a Russian immigrant and single mother new to Ireland) find common ground in the rooted songs they create together. Soon, they both form a band and take a shot at seeing where their recording creativity can take them. Once is terrifically paced in music and mood with catchy tunes that will never seem to escape your open consciousness.
6.) Mitch and Mickey from A Mighty Wind (2003)
The quietly uproarious A Mighty Wind not only managed to resourcefully spoof folk music and the PBS-inspired telethon programming that pleads for funding but it also competently produced solid, well-done folk music that could give real-life groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan an honest run for their money. Director (and co-star) Christopher Guest whose 1984 music mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap skewered the raunchy ridiculousness of high-wire metal rock bands gives the same kind of playful nudge to A Mighty Wind. Now of all the folk music acts featured in Wind such as The Folksmen and The New Main Street Singers they do not compare to the nutty but interesting backstory of the singing divorced duo Mitch and Mickey (SCTV alums Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara). Mitch, still reeling from a mental breakdown in the aftermath of his messy marital past to Mickey (who is happily remarried) steal the show with their soothing tunes such as “Kiss at the End of the Rainbow”, “The Ballard of Bobby and June” and “When I Stand Next to You”. In watching Levy and O’Hara poetically wallow in the skin of former folk music marrieds Mitch and Mickey one actually gets willingly lost in the duet’s tender signature songs. Soon, it becomes quite clear that Mitch and Mickey’s heartfelt musical contributions does not seem so much as a put-on after all in the irreverent A Mighty Wind.
7.) The Monkees from Head (1968)
We all know the familiar story of how The Monkees came to be as they were anointed “America’s Fab Four” and manufactured on television as an immediate answer to England’s worldwide pop music phenom The Beatles. Okay, so maybe Mike, Micky, Davy and Peter could not hold a candle to the legendary likes of Paul, John, Ringo and George. Nevertheless, The Monkees had their share of hysteria as well courtesy of the popularity of their NBC TV series and the heavily touted bubblegum hits that became so profitable for them. As The Monkees wore out their welcome on the boob tube after two seasons they decided to aim high and take on the movies. In this case, The Monkees trusted their old TV director Bob Rafelson (along with cockeyed creative input from a then unknown Jack Nicholson) to take them to new career heights with the now notoriously erratic and disjointed feature film Head. Indeed, Head was not to be The Monkees’ accomplished A Hard Day’s Night or Help for that matter. Sadly, The Monkees took a plodding and pointless journey into psychedelic sludge as wavering messages of societal commentary befitting of late 60’s sensibilities was sloppily tossed about without rhyme or reason. Still, we cherished The Monkees for what they were to us during their Emmy-winning prime time run where they truly made their sensational mark in madcap merriment and of course toe-tapping music. Head was certainly not worthy of their big screen talents but let us hope that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gives this 60’s musical fun-loving foursome its rightful due of recognition.
8.) Spinal Tap from This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
Director/co-star Rob Reiner’s musical mocumentary This Is Spinal Tap dipped into the outrageous on-stage and behind the scene antics of the fictional British heavy metal rock group Spinal Tap (Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer) as they hilariously parodied the over-the-top theatrics of such wild hair bands that seemed to dominate the 1980’s in droves. Energetic, boisterous and a big-time hoot, This Is Spinal Tap dotted its I’s and crossed its T’s with spot-on quirky observations and exaggerations about the wayward artistry of head-banging tunes that speak to the youthful die-hard followers of deafening musical compositions. Importantly, This Is Spinal Tap would start a trend of the movie mockumentary movement that would later inspire the likes of future gems such as Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration and A Mighty Wind.
9.) Stillwater from Almost Famous (2000)
It is so hard to believe that it has been fifteen years since filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s wonderfully nostalgic music melodrama Almost Famous introduced us to self-destructive lead singer Russell Hammond (Billy Crudrup) and his disgruntled bandmates collectively known as Stillwater. For a band on the rise they certainly had their share of acclaim and female admirers (otherwise known in the trade as “groupies”). In any event, Stillwater embodies the shaggy-haired bands of the early 70’s with their nostalgic rock-sounding hooks and embracing of the sudden notoriety by their concert-going faithful. A top teen journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is sent out to chronicle the daily goings-on of Stillwater as they travel on the road from city to city. The impressionable and sensible William experiences the behind-the-scene tastes–both encouraging and discouraging–of a rock band hellbent on destroying what momentum they achieved (bickering over the band’s designed T-shirts comes to mind) and self-absorbed Hammond is not helping the cause at all with his diva-like behavior. But when Stillwater approaches the packed arena and is armed with their musical brilliance the panties fly off in a hormonal mega-minute. Just ask the likes of stand-by sass Penny Lane.
10.) Ike and Tina Turner from What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)
Okay…point taken…the married musical duo of Ike and Tina Turner were REAL so yes…they are not technically fictional in that sense. However, as a biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It does present a fictionalized account of the disturbing marital connection between the depiction of a battered Tina (Angela Bassett in her Oscar-nominated role) and hostile hubby Ike (Laurence Fishburne in his Oscar-nominated role). The formula is quite straight-forward as What’s Love Got To Do With It retraces the hardships on stage and off as the former Annie Mae Bullock (now christened the dynamic Tina Turner) must overcome the painful wrath of the womanizing, drugged-up Ike and his demanding temperament that resulted in multiple beatings and verbal negligence. When Ike and Tina Turner were not at each other’s throats the collaborative efforts in thier music-making endeavors were absolutely astounding. Thankfully, the vivacious Tina would soon learn to break away from the vicious Ike Turner and create a musical legacy of her own that would stand the test of time. Ike and Tina were explosive…both on stage with the inviting music and away from the microphone in personalized terror.
The made-for-TV movie “fictionalized” Temptations from The Temptations (1998)