What makes a great fictional rock band? It takes more than pretty faces up front or a solid set of chops “behind the curtain”. For the whole package, a few unique and sparkling qualities are also in order, such as animal magnetism, superpowers, or combined bra-size measurements that equal near ceiling height.
Collected here are seven of our favorite purely fictional bands – no actual concert tours, no albums beyond soundtracks (Hence, no Spinal Tap, Monkees, etc.).
Nada, with special guest star Piggy
Get Crazy (1983)
In this loving tribute to the Fillmore East by a former usher, director Allan Arkush (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), lines up a galaxy of fake rock stars including Lou Reed as the Dylan-esque “Auden” and Malcolm McDowell as a Jagger-y “Reggie Wanker”. But of all the manufactured acts to take the stage of the Saturn Theatre for the film’s new year’s concert, the biggest bang comes from Nada, a huge all-girl ensemble with a glorious early ‘80s look. Heading it up is a cartwheeling thug in pigtails and majorette gear; Lori Eastside from Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
Arriving in a trashed vintage sedan with the license plate “GET BENT,” the band piles out clown-style before releasing their “special guest star” from the trunk – punk band Fear’s Lee Ving as “Piggy”, a beast of pure, hardcore id. Piggy’s leash comes off long enough for him to sing one of the movie’s most inspired versions of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Fun fact: Michael Boddicker, who composed the original soundtrack for Get Crazy, also wrote the music for the next film.
Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)
Rock n’ roll hyphenates don’t get more impressive than this motley crew. When lead guitarist Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), piano player New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum), bassist Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith) and sax player Reno (Pepe Serna) aren’t frothing up the crowd at local club Artiez Artery, they’re saving the planet from aliens.
Their crash pad is a fortress, their van a communications center with a satellite link to the President, and the band’s other side projects include neurosurgery, engineering and breaking the dimensional barrier. Best of all, in case trouble arises – or a fan gets a little too worked up – they always come to the gig packing.
Fun fact: Weller actually sings and plays the guitar and cornet in the movie.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
It’s a rare band that can literally slay with the sheer force of its rocking, At first, the group formed by graphic novelist Bryan Lee O’Malley and made cinematic by director Edgar Wright doesn’t seem a likely candidate.
But once Michael Cera’s mousy bass player Scott Pilgrim hooks up with dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and learns of the seven evil exes who want a piece of him, the group quickly graduates from playing in their living room to battling a band to the point-racking death in an arena that’s set up like Thunderdome in reverse.
Beck along with collaborators Brian LeBarton and Nigel Godrich ghost the band’s messy garage sound, while over top actor Mark Webber sings for himself as Sex Bob-omb front man “Stephen Stills”. Each new wave launches with a roar of a count-off from drummer Kim Pine (Alison Pill) and transmutes into cartoon lightning bolts, split screen effects, and ultimately, an electrified force field. Just imagine the live show that could come of this!
Fun fact: Godrich originally sought The Black Lips to play for Sex Bob-omb before turning to Beck, his friend and former work partner (Sea Change, Mutations).
The Carrie Nations
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Here’s a girl group as only fledgling screenwriter Roger Ebert and veteran skin peddler Russ Meyer can envision it.
A pulchritudinous three-piece of model-actresses (two of them best known for their real life ‘work’ in Playboy) find their ride to stardom dizzying, due in large part to all the drugs they’re on! The Carrie Nations – so named at the film’s outset by “teen tycoon of rock” Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell (the amazing John Lazar) right before he rescues them from the prom circuit – form the center of this pseudo-sequel to Valley of the Dolls.
Although the band are probably best loved by their fans for their bedhead, gargantuan bra sizes and a game attitude toward softcore sex on uncomfortable surfaces, there’s still no denying the charm of the heaving bass line in “In the Long Run.” Over 40 years later, psychedelic fuzz morsel “Find It” is still begging to be covered
Fun fact: Composer-producer Stu Phillips also wrote incidental music for The Monkees TV series, and the theme to Battlestar Galactica.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)
With an opening on-stage quip like, “I’m perfect, but nobody in this shithole gets me ‘cause I don’t put out,” is it any wonder this femme punk band made a dent on the thousands of future riot grrrls watching it on the USA channel’s Night Flight show in the early 1980’s?
An invention of Oscar-winning screenwriter Nancy Dowd (Coming Home, Slapshot), the film follows the fortunes of a trio of pissed-off teens including a 15-year-old Diane Lane and 13-year-old Laura Dern as they adopt hair-dyed skunk streaks, don outrageous see-through blouse-and-tights ensembles, and latch onto the tour of a more experienced all-guy band (featuring real life members of The Clash and The Sex Pistols along with Quadrophenia’s Ray Winstone) before beating the boys at their own fame game.
Here Lane throws a shot across the bow by co-opting a song from tour mates The Looters, “The Professionals” – lyrics by Dowd, music by Paul Cook and Steve Jones.
Not-so fun fact: Despite all the girl power on screen, Dowd took her name off the film, replacing it with the pseudonym “Rob Morton.” This was in part a response to the humiliating experience of being groped by a male camera operator.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Hedwig may be an “Internationally ignored song stylist,” but John Cameron Mitchell’s transgender Eastern German glam queen puts on one hell of a show nonetheless.
Backed by a group of fellow foreigners whose devotion to the band may be tied to the holding of their passports, Hedwig dons a fabulous variety of wigs and musical genres for a stellar tour of Bilgewater’s seafood restaurants. A small but rabid fan base wears foam hats mimicking her trademark ‘do – Farrah feathering taken to the extreme – and her blood-spattered fur coat puts Bjork’s swan to shame.
Beneath Hedwig’s rock star finery is a tortured but imaginative songwriter. The film’s soundtrack is one of the best of the past decade, full of gems like “Angry Inch,” “Sugar Daddy” and the epic “Wig in a Box.”
Fun fact: Composer Stephen Trask launched a big-time soundtrack career from Hedwig. Recent credits include Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant and Little Fockers.
Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
The Muppet Movie (1979)
With Jim Henson creation Dr. Teeth and his merry band of hippies, beatniks and freaks, you get all the funky, convivial flavor of Sly and the Family Stone without all the infighting and PCP.
The first of six films with music from The Muppet Show’s “thunderously loud” house band doesn’t just feature one of their best original songs, “Can You Picture That” (co-written by ‘70s stalwart Paul Williams who also penned “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song” for Three Dog Night ), it also establishes an offstage presence that sticks with you: Dr. Teeth’s distinctly rhythmic speech patterns, the band’s dilapidated church rehearsal space, and their need to keep their drummer, Animal – like Get Crazy’s Piggy – chained when he’s not performing.
While The Electric Mayhem hasn’t seen any feature action since 2005’s The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, rumor has it they’ll return in the new Muppets feature coming later this year. And on the small screen, they’ve had a viral comeback as the band behind Gonzo in a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Fun fact: In a Behind the Music parody on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken, bandmates claim that Floyd’s been missing ever since he was stopped in Japan with a suitcase full of hash.