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20 Fictional Movie Bands That Rocked Your World

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist August 13, 2014 at 12:05PM

Movies and music are closely entwined, as the name of this site demonstrates and as we've shown several times recently (each word there links to a different recent music/movie feature). But rarer —and frequently more fun— than pre-existing songs or known musicians showing up on screen are films where the music and the musicians purely fictional. We looked at the phenomenon last year in a precursor version of this list, but every once in a while we encounter a movie that gives us the ideal opportunity to go back and flesh out an earlier feature. And this week, a film arrives in which the fictional musicians are so good they remind us of what’s so great about movies and music in the first place.
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The Folksmen

The Folksmen
Film: "A Mighty Wind" (2003)
Who were they? Alan Barrows (Christopher Guest) sings tenor vocals and plays guitar, banjo, and mandolin; Jerry Palter (Michael McKean) sings baritone vocals and plays guitar and mandolin, and Mark Shubb (Harry Shearer) sings bass vocals and plays acoustic bass.
Best Track: “Old Joe’s Place” (a Top 70 hit in 1962)
How hard do they rock? An American folk trio, they rock as much as Peter, Paul & Mary, which is not too much outside of certain circles and folk revivals. There is some dispute over how the Folksmen formed, whether the group’s members met at Ohio Wesleyan University or University of Vermont. Either way, they met amidst the college folk scene in the early '60s. Within 26 months, the trio released no fewer than five albums. In 1968, their last and least successful Saying Something marked the end of the group “who were too popular to be purist and too purist to be popular." The Folksmen would reunite in 1984 in a one-off appearance on 'SNL,' in 1993 at the “Troubadours of Folk” festival at UCLA, in 2001 for “The Harry Smith Project,” and a 2003 tribute concert for their former manager Irving Steinbloom that was documented in “A Mighty Wind” and where Shubb came out as a Trans woman. Adding to their rock cred, the trio was last seen opening for the heavy metal band Spinal Tap at their "One Night Only World Tour" concert at London's Wembley Arena on June 30, 2009.
Extra rock credit: While performing at the Troubadours of Folk festival alongside real folk acts, McKean recalled that “Paul Stokey of Peter, Paul & Mary looked at us and muttered, 'Too close, too close.' ”

Hong Kong Cavaliers
Hong Kong Cavaliers
Film: "The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension" (1984)
Who Were They? Frontman Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller), pianist Rawhide (Clancy Brown), sax player Reno Nevada (Pepe Serna), guitarists Perfect Tommy (Lewis Smith) and Pinky Carruthers (Billy Vera) and backup dancer and pianist New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum).
Best Song: The instrumental "Bonzai Jam" sounds like something in the '80s that would have had us tapping our toes and nodding our heads at the bar.
How hard do they rock? W.D. Richter's cult classic sees Peter Weller star as the title character, a physicist, neurosurgeon and pilot who also happens to double up in the Hong Kong Cavaliers, who ends up having to save the world from a group of aliens known as the Red Lectroids, with his principal backup coming from the rest of his band, who are all scientists too. The score of the film, from Grammy winner Michael Boddicker, riffs off the very little we do hear of the Cavaliers, so you could suggest we spend the entire film listening to physicist/neurosurgeon/rock star Bonzai's eclectic band. There seems to be a heavy reliance on period-appropriate synth and keyboard, though the reliance on sax and piano suggests a futuristic melding of big band aesthetics and frisky jam band-age.
Extra Rock Credit: The film's music coordinator and sound engineer was Bones Howe, who was the recording engineer on The Mamas & The Papas' "California Dreamin,' " and worked with Tom Waits, The 5th Dimension and Elvis Presley, among others.

BTTF
Marvin Berry & The Starlighters
Film: "Back To The Future" (1985)
Who were they? Harry Waters, Jr. (as Marvin Berry)  lead vocals and guitar, and the Starlighters: Tommy Thomas on saxophone, Granville 'Danny' Young on the upright bass, David Harold Brown (as Reginald) on drums and Lloyd L. Tolbert on the piano (he also played drums).
Best track: "Earth Angel" (Will You Be Mine)
How hard do they rock? The amusing conceit of Marvin Berry and the Starlighters is that Marvin is the cousin of rock 'n’ roll icon Chuck Berry. When Marvin’s hand is sliced trying to get Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) out of a car trunk, he can’t play guitar for the night at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance. McFly steps in to play guitar, teaches the band the chord changes to “Johnny B. Goode” and rips a crazy solo in the middle of the song so good, Marvin calls his brother Chuck on the phone and let’s him listen in. The gag is that McFly essentially births rock 'n’ roll to Chuck before he’s even invented it (get that timehole logic) and history is sort of reborn. Do they “rock”? Not necessarily, but the version of “Earth Angel” they play in the movie (actually performed by this group of real musicians) is just magical; smooth as silk and so romantic, you’ll fall in love with a strange opposite any time that you’re under their spell.
Extra Rock Credit: “Earth Angel” is an American doo-wop song by The Penguins. “Night Train,” the first song the band plays in the film, is a twelve bar blues instrumental standard made popular by both Duke Ellington and Jimmy Forrest.

The Oneders
The Oneders
Film: "That Thing You Do" (1996)
Who were they? Frontman Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn), their never-named bassist (Ethan Embry) and drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott).
Best Song: For a film about a one-hit wonder, it could only be the impossibly catchy "That Thing You Do!"
How hard do they rock? Rock, not so much. Pop, you betcha. In Tom Hanks' directorial debut, set in 1964, a small-town band in Erie, Pennsylvania called the Oneders (One-ders) creates the next great American pop song that gives the movie its title. Heavily inspired by the rise of The Beatles, the group loses members and self-implodes after their single makes it big. The Wonders (renamed due to frustration over how to pronounce their first name) are a group of clean-cut boys who discover that the music industry is founded on luck and chance; at least, that’s what happens to them. When they finally make it to television, it’s asked “How did we get here?” Small town band makes good is nothing new; it’s the question of what happens after you’re “here” that makes the story. The band never tops their seminal hit because it’s the song that defines them. They embody the “one-hit wonder” (encompassing both their band names), and it’s through no fault of their own other than luck and fate.  
Extra Rock Credit: Musician Chris Isaak has a small role as Guy's uncle, who records their first record for them. Also look out for Bryan Cranston as astronaut Gus Grissom.

The Rutles
The Rutles
Film: "All You Need is Cash" (1978)
Who were they? Dirk McQuickly (Eric Idle), styled after Paul McCartney; Ron Nasty (Neil Innes), styled after John Lennon; Stig O’Hara (Ricky Fataar), styled after George Harrison; and Barry Wom (John Halsey), styled after Ringo Starr.
Best Song: “Ouch!” (parody of “Help!”) and “I Must Be in Love”
How hard do they rock? “The Pre-fab Four” are the spitting image of The Beatles, arguably the greatest band of all time, and therefore rock pretty darn hard. The story of The Rutles began on January 21, 1959 at 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool when Ron Nasty and Dirk McQuickly bumped into each other and began “a legend that will last a lunchtime." Later, guitarist Stig O’Hara and drummer Barrington Womble join Nasty and McQuickly to form The Rutles. On joining the band, Womble changes his name to Barry Wom (reminiscent of Richard Starkey becoming Ringo Starr). From a sketchy manager, to Ron claiming the band is bigger than God, to the Rutles’ break-up, “All You Need is Cash” follows The Beatles’ timeline rather closely. The film also includes an incredible cast of cameos from the '70s rock and comic elite: George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Paul Simon, Bianca Jagger, Michael Palin, Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Al Franken.
Extra rock credit: All four Beatles watched “All You Need is Cash” – John Lennon loved it, Paul McCartney was “icy” towards Idle at an awards but has softened since, Ringo was a mixed bag (loving the funny parts but feeling the sadder parts hit too close to home), and George Harrison, a friend and producing partner of Idle’s, had been involved with the film from the beginning and appeared as The Interviewer.

This article is related to: Features, The Sapphires, Frank, Feature


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