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The actors are all competent musicians and they're actually playing on the soundtrack.
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Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean were given $10,000 to write a script. They made a 20-minute version of the film to better demonstrate the improvisation they had in mind. Several scenes from the demo are in the finished movie.
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After the film opened, several people told Rob Reiner that they loved the film but he should have chosen a more well-known band for a documentary.
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In his memoir "Father Joe", Tony Hendra admits that he attempted suicide the night before the first day of filming. He credits the joy he experienced in making the film with bringing him back from his depression.
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Several rock stars have commented on what an uncannily accurate spoof of the rock and heavy metal world this film was. Ozzy Osbourne said when he first watched the film, he was the only person who wasn't laughing; he thought it was a real documentary. U2 guitarist The Edge said, "I didn't laugh, I wept. It was so close to the truth." Marillion had five drummers in the space of a year between their first two albums, which guitarist Steve Rothery later admitted was "like Spinal Tap".
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During the metal detector scene, the background voices making announcements over the PA are the band members without their English accents.
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In 2002, the Library of Congress deemed the movie "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant," and selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
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Since the film was improvised by all the performers, Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer went to the Writers' Guild hoping to give proper credit to everyone. The Board of Directors voted unanimously that the credits should stay as they were, including only the four of them.
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Much of the dialogue was ad-libbed.
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When Nigel rubs a violin against his guitar during his solo, it's a parody of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who used a violin bow to play his guitar during many concert performances.
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Rob Reiner was originally going to be one of the band members. He ended up directing after Harry Shearer said he "didn't look good in spandex."
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Early home video versions of the film, which included the music video "Hell Hole" and other extras, had a disclaimer at the very end stating that the band did not actually exist.
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The IMDb ranking for this movie shows a special scale from one to eleven, although users can still only choose a rating from one to ten.
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A popular bar/music venue on the east side of Milwaukee changed its name to Shank Hall after the fictitious Milwaukee location where the band appears midway through their fateful tour.
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In Norway, the film was released direct to video over two years later. The title was changed to "Help! We are in the Pop Business!" ("Hjelp! Vi er i popbransjen!"), a spin on the Norwegian title for Airplane! (1980), "Help! We are Flying!" ("Hjelp! Vi flyr!"). The poster showed a guitar with a knot in it, similar to the airplane on the "Airplane!" poster. Throughout the film, an on-screen disclaimer reminds the audience that the band is fake.
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When Derek gets Nigel and David to come hear a song from their past on the radio, the radio announcer's voice is Harry Shearer's.
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When asked on Twitter how Derek came to be wearing a Shrewsbury Town FC jersey, Harry Shearer said, "That was me, hanging around London, and seeing a selection of football jerseys at a corner stand. The Shrewsbury one caught my eye, since Derek dreamed of, like Sir Elton, buying a team, but couldn't afford a Premier League one."
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Nigel talks with DiBergi about being influenced by the masters, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach. During their performance of "Heavy Duty", Nigel's solo (which he plays while standing on the drum riser) is a tribute to Luigi Boccherini's "Minuet from String Quintet in E major, G.275".
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When Nigel describes the sustain on his Les Paul guitar, he says he could "go out and get a bite" and "you'll still be hearing that one." Les Paul described the sustain on one of his own guitars: "You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding."
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In the first dinner interview scene, Nigel Tufnel wears a t-shirt from "Norman's Rare Guitars", which provided many of the guitars used in the production.
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Spinal Tap later appeared in The Simpsons: The Otto Show (1992). The voice cast of The Simpsons (1989) includes Harry Shearer, who does the voices of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner, and many others.
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The "Ooral Sea" naval cap reappears in The Princess Bride (1987), which Rob Reiner also directed. Dire Straits guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Mark Knopfler was asked by Reiner to compose the movie's score, which he agreed to do on the condition that the "Ooral Sea" hat from Spinal Tap appear somewhere in The Princess Bride (1987). The cap had to be recreated, and appears in the boy's bedroom hanging behind him. Knopfler later said he was joking with regard to the hat.
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Contrary to popular rumor, the "too small Stonehenge" disaster is not a parody of Black Sabbath's over-sized Stonehenge sets from the Born Again tour. The Stonehenge Spinal Tap scene existed as early as 1982, when the film was a 20-minute short. Black Sabbath didn't begin using their Stonehenge sets until 1983. The Stonehenge scene was likely inspired by the setup for Led Zeppelin's final two U.S. concerts, at the Oakland Coliseum, July 23 and 24, 1977. The stage was framed by a large, Stonehenge-like monolith. Additional Stonehenge models appeared on the stage and large banners to either side of the stage featured images of Stonehenge. The concerts are infamous because several members of Led Zeppelin's entourage beat up a local crew member backstage after the first day's performance.
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During Q&A at the anniversary screening from the Tribeca Film Festival, Rob Reiner noted that the inspiration for the tiny sandwich scene was from a Rolling Stone article which mentioned that Van Halen wanted all of the brown M&Ms taken out backstage.
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All three front men play bass during "Big Bottom". When listened to on speakers with good low-frequency response, the title is appropriate on several levels.
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Derek Smalls' bass-playing technique (playing with one hand, so the other is free to point in the air) is based on the bass player from Saxon.
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There was a deleted subplot involving an all-female opening act from whom all the members of Spinal Tap contracted herpes. In several scenes of the finished movie the band members have visible cold sores.
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The band's name was originally going to be spelled "Spynal Tap".
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J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, cited the movie as inspiration for the unfortunate events that cause all Defence against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts to leave the job before completing a full school year.
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Liam Gallagher and Noel Gallagher of Oasis once went to see Spinal Tap play live. The three stars performed as their own opening act the Folksmen (their characters from A Mighty Wind (2003)). Liam was bored with the folk music so his brother explained that the Folksmen were played by the same actors. Liam became distraught as he realized Spinal Tap was not a "real" band.
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Before the first song, an announcer introduces the band by saying "Ladies and gentlemen, direct from Hell, Spinal Tap." That is a play on Venom's intro tape from the early 1980s: "Now, from the very depths of Hell, Venom!"
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Spinal Tap sing "Heartbreak Hotel" when they are at Elvis Presley's grave because that was the only Elvis song which producer Karen Murphy could get the rights to use.
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Ranked #1 on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time"
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According to Rob Reiner on the Criterion DVD commentary, his character's name, Marty DiBergi, is an homage to Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg, and either Federico Fellini or Michelangelo Antonioni.
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Isle of Lucy, off England's coast, is an homage to the classic television show, I Love Lucy (1951).
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None of the three lead actors are English. However, Christopher Guest is the 5th Baron Haden-Guest by right of hereditary British peerage.
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Marillion's 1987 UK top ten single "Incommunicado" includes the line "currently residing in the where are they now file", which was taken from the film. The song was written from the point of view of a rock star struggling with the lifestyle and the pressures of success.
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When the members of Spinal Tap talk about their drummer suffocating on vomit, it's a reference to a number of musicians who have died, or who are rumored to have died, the same way, including Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott and big band leader Tommy Dorsey.
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To prepare for the film, director Rob Reiner attended a concert by metal icons Judas Priest. "It physically hurt my chest," said Reiner. "The reverberation in the hall was so strong that I couldn't stay there any longer."
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The venue where Spinal Tap performed before the puppet show was a small theater at the Six Flags park Magic Mountain in Valenica, CA.
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The song "Big Bottom" is a parody of the 1978 Queen song "Fat Bottomed Girls", which was a hit in the UK and the USA.
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R.J. Parnell was cast as Shrimpton after he went through all of the failed bands he had been with during his audition. Ironically, Parnell would also be the drummer on one of the biggest hit songs of 1982, the year the film is set, Toni Basil's "Mickey".
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Nigel Tufnel's name is a joke on Eric Clapton, derived from "dull name" and "location in London". Eric became Nigel, and "Clapton Pond" became "Tufnell Park".
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Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time" in 2006.
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The name of the character 'Sir Denis Eton-Hogg' (played by Patrick Macnee) is a reference to Sir Michael Linsay-Hogg who pioneered video production for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
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The film is included on leading American film critic Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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Penelope Spheeris was originally asked to direct the film but she declined. She's a huge rock fan in real life and didn't want to make fun of the music. A few years after the release of this movie, Spheeris directed The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988) about the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of the 1980s. Previously, she'd directed The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) about the LA punk scene.
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Steven Tyler took the film very personally because it came out when Aerosmith was at a low point and the "Stonehenge" scene looked like the cover of their 1982 album "Rock in a Hard Place".
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The name "Mick Shrimpton" is a portmanteau of Mick Jagger and Sixties supermodel Jean Shrimpton, whose sister Chrissie dated Jagger in the late Sixties.
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"Polymer Records" is a play on two well-known record labels, Polydor and Polygram. Polydor released the soundtrack album for the movie.
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KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons has said that a lot of the film was based on the band and that they themselves once experienced a moment much like the "Hello, Cleveland!" scene. They were playing in a theater and their dressing room was on the fourth floor. They went down to the first floor and found nothing. Second floor, nothing. Then they could hear themselves being introduced, since it turned out the stage was on the third floor.
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Both David Kaff and R.J. Parnell were primarily musicians who were known for their membership of English rock bands. Kaff was the pianist/keyboardist for Rare Bird (who had a UK Top 30 single with "Sympathy" in 1970) and Parnell was the drummer for Atomic Rooster (who had two big UK chart singles with "Tomorrow Night" and "Devil's Answer" in 1971).
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Spinal Tap are infamous for problems with their Stonehenge props. The most famous incident comes from the film, in which the prop is undersized and nearly trampled by a dwarf. On their live tour in support of Break Like The Wind, a package delivery man brings a package with an even smaller model. In The Return of Spinal Tap, the prop is far too large, and the stage crew makes every effort to cram it through the small doorway, and fails. When they performed at Live Aid (1985), the prop, signed by all the other performers, was the right size, but the "columns" were lowered without the top crossing piece, and subsequently removed from the stage. The top piece eventually lowered with nothing to land on.
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On the Blu-Ray Disc edition, there are approximately 68 additional minutes of outtakes from the movie, including scenes that show Jeanine Pettibone (the replacement manager of the band) hiring a replacement lead guitarist who appears to upstage Nigel during a performance of Hell Hole.
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In the final scene, set in Tokyo, Nigel wears Sadaharu Oh's Yomiuri Giants baseball jersey. Oh is the world's all-time Home Run king, with 868 Home Runs.
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Nigel talks about his lovely piano piece, "Lick My Love Pump", with DiBergi, saying that it's a mixture of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach. Later, when the band plays their song "Heavy Duty", the finale is a guitar solo with the famous Menuet by Luigi Boccherini.
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The film is included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.
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This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #12. Their edition has since gone out of print and featured two commentary tracks, one where the three leads all speak in character and criticize the film and DeBergi, claiming he'd done a hatchet job in representing them. The second commentary track featured Rob Reiner, producer Karen Murphy, and editors Robert Leighton and Kent Beyda. Newer DVD and Blu-Ray editions include the cast commentary track.
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While the band members are not based on any particular musicians, Nigel Tufnel bears a resemblance to legendary guitarist Jeff Beck, and Derek Smalls sports a set of "friendly muttonchops" (mustache connected to sideburns) similar to those closely associated with Motörhead leader (and fellow bassist) Lemmy.
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The Spinal Tap song "Big Bottom" includes the line "the bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin'". Richard Tee, keyboard player for Paul Simon, also delivers this line in character as Clarence Franklin in the movie One-Trick Pony (1980), which stars Simon. Harry Shearer appears in both movies.
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This was one of the favorite films that the British comedy duo Mel and Sue [Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins] shared while on the road because of its accurate portrayal of the travails of touring. Perkins said that Spinal Tap taught them that every bad experience would be an anecdote later. Perkins discussed the film with comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris for a podcast in 2018, during which she revealed that she even surprised Giedroyc on her 50th birthday by recreating Spinal Tap's Stonehenge in Giedroyc's back garden. In the podcast, the panel discussed how the movie endured because of the child-like innocence of its central characters, the film-makers' obvious love for the genre and avoiding of sex-and-drugs clichés, because the band were competent if desperate, and because it was filmed like a real documentary, with the story only emerging in the nine-month edit after hundreds of hours of improvisation were filmed.
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The film is included in the book "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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In the airport metal detector scene, Derek Smalls wears a Shrewsbury Town Football Club shirt.
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The fictitious album title "The Sun Never Sweats" is a play on the phrase "The sun never sets on the British Empire."
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Lt. Bob Hookstratten, who welcomes the band to Lindbergh Air Force Base in Seattle to play at its monthly "at-ease weekend", was inspired by prominent sports and entertainment attorney Ed Hookstratten.
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Marty Di Bergi wears two different US Navy caps - one in the film and one in 'Catching up with Marty Di Bergi' in the Special Features on the DVD release. In the film, the cap appears to read USS Ooral Sea OV-4B. This should be USS Coral Sea CV-43. The USS Coral Sea was an aircraft carrier in the US Navy 1946-90, the second ship to bear that name. In the special features, the cap is from the USS Wadsworth FG-9, a guided missile frigate in the US Navy from 1978-2002. The Wadsworth was transferred to Poland in 2002 and renamed the General Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
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This is professional wrestler and rock star Chris Jericho's favorite movie.
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At one point Derek asks David, "...who wants to be a 45 year old rock and roller...?". At the time, the Rolling Stones were in their early 40s. They were still touring by their early 70s.
Other than a few seconds in the montage at the beginning of the film, no evidence of Spinal Taps road crew, stage set up, sound crew, or equipment transportation is evident anywhere in the film.
At the Air Force Base Lieutenant Hookstratten asks the band if they could get the show on in a half hour. Spinal Taps stage set up would probably take about four hours to complete, not including soundcheck.
David and Jeanine have the same haircut.