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One of England's loudest bands.note 
Marty DiBergi: (quoting a review) "This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growth rate of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry."
Nigel Tufnel: Well, that's... That's nitpicking, isn't it?

Marty DiBergi's This is Spın̈al Tap (1984) is one of the greatest rockumentaries of all time. It may not be about one of the legendary bands, but it's a more intimate portrait than would have been allowed if it were about a more well-known band. It really gets inside the head of these rockers, and has more heart than any of those other rock films which consist mostly of filler between the concert scenes.

Not even Tennessee Williams could have written a better character study.

For those of you who don't know Spın̈al Tap, they're a Hard Rock band that's been making some of the loudest heavy metal music around for years. Charismatic frontman David St. Hubbins, mesmerizing guitarist Nigel Tufnel, and rock-solid bassist Derek Smalls, not to mention a long line of drummers and keyboardists, are musical geniuses. You may not know the band, but you've certainly heard their big hits, like "Big Bottom" and "Stonehenge".

The movie chronicles what may have been their darkest time — their infamous U.S. tour in the early 1980s. They nearly broke up, but they proved that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and they came back strong, despite all the mishaps and mismanagement.

For those of you who truly believe in The Power of Rock, this will affirm it like nothing else.note 

Spın̈al Tap's back catalogue includes (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Spın̈al Tap Sings '(Listen To The) Flower People' and Other Favorites (1967)
  • We Are All Flower People (1968)
  • The Incredible Flight of Icarus P. Anybody (1969) note 
  • Silent But Deadly (live - 1969)
  • Brainhammer (1970)
  • Nerve Damage (1971)
  • Blood To Let (1972)
  • Intravenus de Milo (1974)
  • The Sun Never Sweats (1975)
  • Jap Habit (live - 1975)
  • Bent For The Rent (1976)
  • Tap Dancing (1976)
  • Rock 'n' Roll Creation (1977) note 
  • Shark Sandwich (1980)
  • Smell The Glove (1982)
  • Heavy Metal Memories (compilation - 1983)
  • This Is Spın̈al Tap (soundtrack - 1984)
  • Break Like The Wind (1992)
  • Back From The Dead (2008)

All but the final three are *cough* "out of print".

Also see A Mighty Wind, another music documentary which features performances from various folk acts, including the Folksmen, who were frequently an opening act for Spın̈al Tap in the Eighties.note 

"These tropes go all the way to eleven":

  • Accentuate the Negative: The band's complaint of the film itself in the MGM Commentary, claiming Marty DiBergi edited the film to make them seem worse, saying, "Show the plane landing". They do have a point; for instance, the signing was depicted as no one showing up, but a Deleted Scene did have one fan showing up, though that only made it worse when the band's autographs can't be seen on the all black cover. David snarks that Marty could have cut the radio interruption of the climax right out of the film, but didn't. invoked
  • Achilles in His Tent: Due to worsening circumstances on the tour, and increasing personality conflict with David's girlfriend Jeanine, Nigel leaves the band in the middle of the show; only to return during the band's final performance to reunite them for a tour of Japan.
  • Affectionate Parody: As ridiculous as the movie makes rock music in general and heavy metal in particular look, Guest, McKean and Shearer do themselves enjoy it, which is reflected in the obvious effort they put into writing the soundtrack. It's pretty harsh, however, since they didn't mind skewering glam rock, especially when compared to the affection they show for folk music in A Mighty Wind, which is kinder and gentler to its subject.
  • All There in the Manual / Worldbuilding: The creators put together an extensive backstory for the band before filming, which is a big reason why they were so easy to Defictionalize. For example, one of the stage hands is named Moke, but you wouldn't know that without knowledge of expanded materials (such as the DVD Commentary).
  • Ambiguously Bi: Nigel clearly enjoys the attention he gets from fangirls and has been shown with women in the movie, but there are numerous hints he may also harbor feelings for David.
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • The hotel manager that Ian calls "a twisted old fruit".
      Manager: I'm just as God made me, sir.
    • Sir Denis Eton-Hogg. During the end credits, Ian reveals Sir Denis was knighted for Hoggwood, a summer camp for pale young boys. The band described it as "a pervert's paradise" in The Spinal Tap Reunion. In the DVD Commentary, Derek insisted Sir Denis was dead:
      David: I heard he was semi-retired.
      Derek: (scoffing) Semi-retired in a hole.
      Nigel: (chuckling) Someone else's hole.
  • AM/FM Characterization: The band's limo driver Tommy is a Frank Sinatra fan. The band don't share his enthusiasm.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Played for Laughs (obviously) in the "Stonehenge" musical number. In his introduction to the song, Nigel refers to the Druids as "a very strange race of people", describing them as if they were early inhabitants of the British Isles. The Celts were early inhabitants of the British Isles; the Druids were just the educated priest class in Celtic society (they were a social and professional caste, not a culture). The monument predates their presence in England by millennia. He is right, however, that "no one knows who they were, or what they were doin'": we know very little about the Ancient Celts or the druids (the only written records are Roman, and many of them are unreliable propaganda), and we know even less about the actual builders of Stonehenge.
    • Nigel also refers to Stonehenge as "hewn into the living rock", which isn't accurate either, even if it sounds cool. Stonehenge is made from discrete pieces of rock that were quarried elsewhere and assembled where they currently sit, whereas architecture "hewn into the living rock" is carved directly into existing rock formations.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: After Ian leaves after the disastrous Stonehenge set.
    Derek: Can I raise a practical question at this point? Are we gonna do Stonehenge tomorrow?
  • Astrologer: Played for laughs on Jeanine. She knits a garish Saturn shirt for David, then suggests a Zodiac-themed concert with each band member wearing animal masks based on their sign.
  • The Band Minus the Face: In-Universe: "Spinal Tap Mark II", performing mostly long jazz-blues jams, after Nigel leaves.
  • Barbershop Quartets Are Funny: Defied when David said that he didn't like how their singing at Elvis Presley's grave sounds like "fucking barbershop, barbershop raga." They just can't sing "Heartbreak Hotel" that well.
  • Batter Up!: Ian keeps a cricket bat around for use during "management disputes".
    • In a deleted scene, Ian uses the cricket bat to strangle a geeky, irritating concert promoter - which is shown briefly in the final film's "cricket bat" montage.
    • At the end of the film, Ian is palming his cricket bat, staring menacingly down at Jeanine.
  • Bigger Is Better: In a Deleted Scene, Nigel and David privately tell Derek he doesn't have enough "presence" in his tights on stage, leading to the Gag Penis incident below.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tap is still popular in Japan! But once again they have to put all their plans for the future on hold.
  • Bland-Name Product: Polymer Records = Polydor Records.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Early in the film, it's revealed that Spın̈al Tap's drummers die in mysterious ways, including once by Spontaneous Human Combustion. In the epilogue, the drummer explodes.note 
    • Also early on, Nigel shows off a wireless guitar of his to DiBergi. It makes another appearance later on when Nigel plays it during a crappy gig on an Airforce base and it suddenly starts picking up military radio chatter mid-concert. Needless to say the already pissed-off Nigel doesn't take it well. It happens during the climax; on the MGM Commentary, a defeated David says they should have gone hard-wire.
    • The infamous Stonehenge episode receives a call back nearly eight years later; In The Return of Spın̈al Tap, a DVD covering their touring of new album Break Like The Wind, they get a properly sized Stonehenge prop... which is naturally too big for them to get inside the venue.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Spın̈al Tap has genuine talent, but their work is incredibly generic, and their music style is whatever is popular at the moment. Moreover, they waste their talent on petty squabbles, chase for popularity and other low-minded minutia.
  • British Rock Star: The band is made up of lads from England, with Jagger/Richards-esque Kentish/South East London accents, questionable fashion sense, and a love of fun. Nigel Tufnel, in addition to bearing a physical resemblance to Jeff Beck, also sounds a lot like him.
  • Brutal Honesty: The most hurtful thing ever addressed to the band is radio DJ Johnny Q playing one of their early songs ("Cups and Cakes") as The Thamesmen, then saying they became Spın̈al Tap — and are in the "Where Are They Now?" file. note In the MGM DVD commentary, David sighs that that statement still hurts, while Derek dismissively notes Johnny Q is now doing weather reports.
  • The Cast Show Off: All of the music was written and performed by the cast members, all of whom are highly-competent musicians.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid:
  • City Shout Outs: Parodied - as the band gets lost behind the stage in Chicago, one of the band members yells "Hello, Cleveland!"
  • Comically Missing the Point: After the Stonehenge debacle:
    David: We had a Stonehenge monument that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf!
    Derek: Why don't we fix the choreography? So the dwarfs no longer tread on it ...
    • And of course:
      Marty: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
      Nigel: (long pause, gazing stupidly at Marty, then...) These go to eleven.
  • The Comically Serious: The entire cast does this. The humor is derived from everyone playing the most ridiculous situations completely straight.
  • Concept Album: Parodied multiple times, once with an album of "religious rock psalms" inspired by the Book of Genesis, and again with the band's ongoing work on a "rock opera inspired by the life of Jack the Ripper", Saucy Jack.
  • Concert Film: Parts of the film are live concerts.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: All of the band, but specifically in the order of David, Derek and finally Nigel, who is off with the fairies pretty much every waking moment. There's also Jeanine, who is an astrology freak.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Marty DiBergi, at the introduction of the movie: "I remember being knocked out by their, their exuberance, their raw power... and their punctuality."
  • Dead End Job: Drumming for the band, of course! It's a running gag that the band's drummers keep dying in improbable ways, to the point that when their keyboard player dies, they find out that he used to be a drummer. Although was not a scene from the actual movie.
  • Dead Man Walking: Given the band's unfortunate history with drummers, Mick Shrimpton realizes he's likely one of these. Late in the movie he explodes on stage during a performance.
    • For Break Like the Wind, the band auditioned a few Real Life rock drummers. One was dismissed for wearing protective gear, saying he had too much "fear".
  • Demoted to Extra: The limo driver had a lot of scenes cut, such as sharing a hot tub with the band.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight".
    • On the "Back From The Dead" DVD, David explains that another band had done a song titled "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You," hence the necessity of an extra "Tonight".
  • Deus ex Machina: The revelation that the band is still popular in Japan.
  • The Ditz: The whole band, but Nigel in particular, which even gets Lampshaded.
    Ian: Nigel gave me a drawing that said 18 inches. Now, whether or not he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem. I do what I'm told.
    David: But you're not as confused as him, are you? I mean, it's not your job to be as confused as Nigel is!
  • Double Entendre: "Big Bottom", about the singer's love of his girlfriend's large rear end, features many of these.
    How can I leave this behind?
  • Don't Touch It, You Idiot!: Nigel's guitars. Don't even look too long at them.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Fred Willard, from a meta-standpoint, as he'd have larger roles in Guest's subsequent mockumentaries.
  • Electrified Bathtub: Invoked in a scene in which Mick Shrimpton is interviewed while taking a bath with a plugged in toaster sitting on the lip of the tub.
  • Epic Fail: A truly humiliating attempt to harmonize on "Heartbreak Hotel" at Elvis's grave, especially as they are in different keys.
  • Fake Band: Spın̈al Tap was not an actual band at the time of the film's creation, though it has been Defictionalized.
  • Follow the Leader:
  • Foreshadowing: Bobbi argues that what's on an album cover has nothing to do with sales, namedropping The Beatles The White Album as an example. Then comes Tap's all-black album.
  • Gag Penis: Subverted with Derek Smalls. In the MGM commentary, David is amused at the fact that Derek wrapped the zucchini in aluminum foil.
  • Genius Ditz: All of the band are capable of playing their instruments well and it's clear they possess musical talent. All of the band are also morons.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: An In-Universe example, as Spın̈al Tap's latest album unexpectedly proves to be very successful in Japan, leading to a much more successful tour in that country (where metal is very popular in real life). This trope is actually sometimes called "Big in Japan" in the music industry, chiefly thanks to Cheap Trick.
  • Glory Days: As much as the band might try to convince themselves otherwise, these days have clearly passed for Spın̈al Tap at least outside of Japan. The venues are getting smaller and are selling fewer tickets, only one person comes to get their new album autographed (with the clear implication that it's also not selling well), and overall the general vibe is that Spın̈al Tap are well past their prime.
    • Later works involving the band show they've made at least something of a comeback.
  • Good News, Bad News: Invoked in the DVD Commentary. Nigel complains that Ian never had any good news for the band. David states that Ian told him that they already had good news: they're rock 'n' roll stars. The bad news is everything else.
  • Heavy Meta: Parodied with the song "Heavy Duty (Rock And Roll)".
  • Heavy Metal: The band's current phase in the movie is a parody of then popular "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" bands like Iron Maiden.
  • Heävy Mëtal Ümlaut: Parodied: the umlaut goes over the N, producing a letter that is only used in Jacaltec (a Mayan dialect), Malagasy, and Cape Verdean Creole. Inverted with the dotless "i", which occurs in Turkish.
    • For context, the letter N with an umlaut above it is pronounced as 'ng', indicating one should be grunting the band's name.
  • Heavy Mithril: Parodied with "Stonehenge".
  • High Turnover Rate: The band has gone through quite a number of drummers.
    David: 37 people have been in this band over the years!
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: After a poor showing at a record signing, Artie Fufkin demands this of the band. ("I'm not asking you, I'm telling you! Kick my ass!")
  • Hostility on the Set: In-Universe: The worse things get, the more the band quarrels with Ian, until Nigel leaves.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A montage example, at the beginning when teenaged fans at a Spın̈al Tap concert are being interviewed. An Ambiguously Brown male fan tells the interviewer that "Heavy metal's deep; you get stuff out of it." He is followed a few seconds later by a blonde girl who remarks that she likes "the way they dress, the leather."
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: "We'd love to chat, but we gotta sit in the lobby and wait for the limo."
  • Improv: The vast majority of the dialogue in the movie was improvised. Basically, the cast were given extensive back-stories and character sketches, and turned loose in front of the camera. Reiner shot several hours of footage, and distilled the best parts down into the movie. A couple hours of additional footage were included on the DVD releases, while quite a bit more circulates on a bootleg three-VHS set. This basic set-up was used by Christopher Guest to make his own improvised mockumentaries, including Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration and used many of the original cast members.
    • As examples, the sequence when the band comments on reviews of previous albums (including the rather terse review of Shark Sandwich) and the scene where David & Nigel are asked about the first song they ever wrote, "All The Way Home", are improvised by Guest and McKean, prompted by the questions coming from Reiner.
  • Informed Attribute: During the introductory performance of "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You", both David and Nigel are credited as playing "lead guitar", but aside from the brief period in which Nigel quits the band, David is only ever seen playing rhythm guitar. Oddly enough, the intro sequence itself underscores this: during David's credit, he's shown hacking away at power chords, whereas Nigel immediately begins soloing when the camera cuts to him for his moment in the spotlight.
  • Informed Flaw: Spın̈al Tap's music is supposed to be terrible, as evidenced by their reviews ("Shit sandwich"), but while they are incredibly generic and the lyrics are repressed and juvenile, the music itself is quite catchy. Of course, part of the problem is the misapplied skills, such as Nigel writing a classical piece and calling it "Lick My Love Pump".
  • Intercourse with You: "Sex Farm", "Big Bottom"... actually a lot of their songs count as this. But that's metal for you.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: All over the place, but the most prominent example is a delicate piano piece Nigel writes called "Lick My Love Pump."
  • Manchild:
    • DiBergi and Ian call out the band members for living in an adolescent fantasy world despite pushing 40.
    • David remarks, "Can't take him anywhere," to Nigel's insistence on keeping his gum on his finger in a restaurant.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: A real-world example, as Guest, McKean and Shearer have to periodically bring out the Spın̈al Tap characters - either through a one-off concert appearance (such as their appearance at the 2009 Glastonbury festival), a full concert tour, a TV appearance (such as Nigel's interview on Stonehenge for the National Geographic Channel), a new video/DVD release, etc. - or the rights to the characters revert from them back to the film's holding company.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Of a sort, at least. On stage, Derek Smalls very heavily plays up the bestial, savage metal rock star image, but off stage he's very quiet, calm and meek. His bandmates invert this, being less 'extreme' on stage than Derek but much more egotistical and tantrum-prone off stage.
  • Meaningful Name: A spinal tap is one of the most painful procedures any human can have. It's doubtful the band intended that to be a commentary on their own music.
  • Metal Detector Checkpoint: A hilarious example when Derek Smalls sets off an airport metal detector because he has a foil-wrapped zucchini tucked in his pants.
  • Metaphorgotten / Comically Missing the Point: Derek Small's main hat.
    Marty: (reacting to Derek) So... you think of yourself as a preserved moose?
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: The released cover of "Smell The Glove", a completely black record sleeve; the joke was later repeated for the film's soundtrack album.
    "It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."
  • Mockumentary: The Trope Codifier. It spoofs concert films which normally gloss over things similar to the events in this film.
  • Money Song: "Gimme Some Money" is a gold-digging little number, with lyrics like "Your face is OK / But your purse is too tight." It's an Affectionate Parody of "Money (That's What I Want)", best known to modern audiences in its cover version by The Beatles, although it was originally a Motown number.
    • The 90s 'Break Like The Wind' album has a number called 'Cash On Delivery'.
  • Narm: Invoked in-universe with the Stonehenge scene. Jeanine even says that the audience broke down in laughter over it.
    David St. Hubbins: I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem *may* have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.
    Ian Faith: I really think you're just making much too big a thing out of it.
    Derek Smalls: Making a big thing out of it would have been a good idea.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Ian. He never takes any blame for the band's steady decline and losing gigs and hotel rooms (such as Boston, which he quips "is not a big college town"note ). He also refuses to admit he should have noticed that the napkin said 18" (inches) and not 18' (feet).
    • Nigel and David also have a bit of this in relation to the Stonehenge prop, since they were the ones who confused 'feet' and 'inches' to begin with.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The name "Marty DiBergi" is a Portmanteau of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg and Federico Fellini. Reiner's portrayal of him is mainly a goof on Scorsese, who was a rather clueless interviewer in his 1978 Rockumentary about The Band, The Last Waltz. But the USS OORAL SEA cap is a specific Take That! to Spielberg, who had a conspicuous habit of wearing military or law enforcement ball caps on his movie sets.
    • Nigel Tufnel is a loose parody of Eric Clapton, right down to his name. The writers arrived at the name "Nigel Tufnel" by combining a generic British first name ("Nigel" instead of "Eric") with the name of a posh London neighborhood ("Tufnell Park" instead of "Clapton Pond"), thus keeping the parallels relatively subtle.
    • Lookswise, Nigel Tufnel is almost a dead ringer for Jeff Beck.
    • David St. Hubbins sings lead vocal and plays rhythm guitar. Derek St. Holmes sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar for Ted Nugent.
    • Guest and McKean note in the Criterion DVD commentary that much of the inspiration for Spın̈al Tap came from the archetype of the long-lived British band whose star power has faded, but yet continued to ride their fame and grind out tours year after year, calling out Status Quo in particular.
    • Spinal Tap is rather similar to The Bee Gees. Both Spinal Tap and The Bee Gees started out with a sort of folk-rock sound (compare "Listen to the Flower People" to early Bee Gees tracks like "I Started a Joke"). Both Spinal Tap and The Bee Gees radically remade their sound in the 1970s, the difference being that Spinal Tap went into metal while The Bee Gees went into disco. None other than Barry Gibb himself made this connection when The Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
    • The real life band Spinal Tap most closely resemble is Status Quo. Like Spinal Tap, Status Quo started out as something of a beat group, forming as The Scorpions in 1962. After a couple of name changes and a stint as a poppy psychedelia band they retooled to a hard rock direction with the album Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon in 1970.
    • Faces also had some Real Life parallels to Spın̈al Tap. They likewise started out under a different name (The Small Faces) doing British Invasion pop, then had a huge hit with a Flower Power anthem ("Itchycoo Park"), with a major personnel change leading to a new name and a shift into Hard Rock. Faces fit all the British Rockstar stereotypes, and a headscratching management decision had them play an Air Force base for their first gig under their new name. Also, compare Spın̈al Tap's "Big Bottom" to the Faces' "Silicone Grown".
    • Derek Smalls' accent and penchant for nonsensical statements is similar to Ringo Starr. Some of his look and stage mannerisms are similar to Mike Levine, bass player for Canadian power trio, Triumph.
    • The record company, Polymer Records, is an obvious reference to Polydor. It has had a reputation of short-changing artists, but the word polymer itself is the chemical name for plastics, implying "a cheap plastic imitation".
    • Ian Faith has some parallels with Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, which can be seen in comparison with The Song Remains the Same, certainly in terms of his penchant for occasional violence and his berating of a hotel desk clerk, but in his generally upper-class, can-do manner he more resembles both Brian Epstein, the longest-serving manager of The Beatles, and Kit Lambert, one-time co-manager of The Who.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • One former drummer is said to have perished in "a bizarre gardening accident".
      Nigel Tufnel: Authorities said... best leave it... unsolved.
    • Another former drummer appears to have somehow choked on someone else's vomit.
    • Nigel and David are shown with matching cold sores early in the movie, without any explanation. A deleted scene reveals that Spın̈al Tap's opening band for the tour has a female singer with a cold sore.
  • Oblivious to Love: Nigel obviously has a bit of an obsession with David - whether it's just a case of serious bromance or an actual romantic crush - and is rather devastated when David's girlfriend comes to join the tour. However, David simply doesn't see it, and is mystified as to why Nigel is constantly giving her hate-filled glares and trying to make fun of her at every opportunity (although Jeanine does seem to have an inkling). Then again, considering how much chaos and trouble she causes on her own, Nigel's completely justified in not liking her regardless of how he feels about David.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Ian Faith, the manager/surrogate guardian who picks up the pieces and consistently puts up with the band's stupidity and egocentricity, he's pretty much the only reason Spın̈al Tap is able to function on their tour, even with his Never My Fault personality. When he finally quits, the band quickly falls apart. Indeed, the only reason the band gets back together is due to him taking notice of the band's success in Japan. He does have some bizarre affectations (such as his cricket bat) but given they are more idiosyncrasies associated with the rock scene, it's hard to blame him.
    • Bobbi Flekman to a degree. Every second when dealing with the band, she's barely repressing the urge to roll her eyes.
    • Marty DiBergi as well. He manages to stay detached and professional while dealing with people whom he clearly knows are almost completely detached from reality.
    • David is the only band member who has any brief flickers of self-awareness.
    • Derek comes off as this to a lesser degree, in part due to being quiet, stoic and humble compared to David and Nigel.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: To a British ear, Harry Shearer's most of the time. McKean's strays into Australian on occasion (listen to how he says "purpose") and slips into his own American accent when he pronounces "Wisconsin". Chris Guest's accent is pretty flawless — he's British-American of course, and is actually a hereditary peer (The 5th Baron Haden-Guest) on his father's side.
    • Actually invoked with Shearer, as he based the character of Derek Smalls on English rockers who travelled so frequently between the UK and US that they ended up with a mid-atlantic accent, such as Jon Anderson and David Coverdale.
  • Overly Long Gag: Nigel's guitar solo. Not only is it horrible, but he even strums his guitar with a violin. The gag is extended when he pauses to retune the violin.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Quite a few of them. For one, DiBergi was impressed with the band's punctuality.
    DiBergi: They've earned a distinguished place in rock history as one of England's loudest bands.
  • Pilot Movie: When they were given seed money to pitch the film, the cast (being unsure how to put the style of the movie across) instead of filming scenes or developing production concepts, shot a complete twenty-minute film, Spın̈al Tap: The Last Tour, as their 'pitch' instead. Some sequences, such as the performance of "Gimme Some Money" are lifted from the original short film. It appears only on Criterion's long out-of-print pressing of the DVD, not on MGM's more recent pressing.
  • Product Displacement: Marty's cap in the film says "USS OORAL SEA". This is because the Navy would not allow the film to feature the USS Coral Sea's name. A quick adjustment to the cap and it was fixed. The MGM commentary makes fun of it, pondering where the USS Ooral Sea was located.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Spın̈al Tap has the habit of interjecting classical music in their songs, such as Pachelbel's Canon and Eine Kleine Nacht Musik. On the MGM commentary, Nigel claims he was always worried they'd get sued for using Pachelbel's Canon, but had to be reminded that Pachelbel died a long, long time ago.
  • Punny Name: Joe "Mama" Besser, as in "Yo' mama".
  • The Quiet One/The Stoic: Compared to Nigel and David's egotistical flouncing, Derek is incredibly humble, quiet and unflappable.
  • Random Events Plot: After studio executives expressed concern about the story's episodic structure, Jeanine was added as a character specifically to give the film some sort of loose narrative arc.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: David and Nigel. Derek describes their complementary but conflicting personalities and musical instincts as "fire and ice", with him being somewhere in the middle, "sort of like lukewarm water".
  • Refuge in Audacity: The group's main hat, usually out of desperation for attention. One of the songs on the film's soundtrack album is "Christmas With the Devil", and it is as sacrilegious as it can possibly be.
  • Retraux: The band's songs from The '60s. On the soundtrack album, the drums on "Gimme Some Money" are panned all the way to the left, similar to the extreme stereo separation of many recordings in the 1960s.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In the restaurant scene, seeing Nigel write 18" on the napkin now that you know to look for it.
  • The Roadie: When there is a goof on stage (prop failure, or a fancy move has Gone Horribly Wrong), the stage crew tries valiantly to fix it.
  • The Rock Star: Three of them, in fact, though more in their own heads than in reality.
  • Rule of Funny: Why would a British band be confused by the 24 hour clock? Well, this is Spın̈al Tap we're talking about.
  • Running Gag:
    • The band playing before ever smaller crowds in ever lamer venues as the tour goes along. By the time they reach California, they're performing before only a couple dozen people at an amusement parknote . They're billed after a touring company of The Wiz and a puppet show. In the MGM commentary, David still has no idea what The Wiz is.
    • On the DVD commentary, every other scene is "the turning point". Also, them claiming every third person is now dead.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After being pushed too far by David and Janine following the disastrous Stonehenge performance, Ian tells her and the rest of the band to go fuck themselves and promptly quits.
    • Nigel follows suit during the gig at the air force base after being frustrated by the sound interference and by extension the lousy gigs. Janine also seemed to have a hand in his irritation
  • Serious Business: Nigel Tufnel vs. the too-small sandwich bread, which he proclaims a "complete catastrophe".
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll:
    • Mick Shrimpton says he literally lives for the three things and that if he gets kicked out of the band, sex and drugs will be enough for him to scrape by on.
    • Viv Savage (on his epitaph): Have a good time all the time.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: A variation. David states Jeanine is not his wife. According to David, they did get married, but divorced sometime in 2000 ("When the millenium changed, so did she.")
  • Shout-Out:
    • The band going through many drummers was possibly inspired by The Grateful Dead's "curse" on keyboard players.
    • The band experiencing a revival of its fortunes in Japan is a Shout Out to Cheap Trick, whose 1979 live album Cheap Trick at Budokan was originally intended to be released only in Japan but which became their best-selling album by far.
    • The argument in the studio was also inspired by The Troggs Tapes, a bootleg of Studio Chatter by The Troggs arguing over a song, with plenty of profanity.
    • Nigel's use of a violin in his over-the-top guitar solo is a reference to Jimmy Page's use of a violin bow on the Led Zeppelin classic "Dazed and Confused". Nigel takes it to another level when he pauses to retune the violin.
    • The all-black cover of Smell the Glove is an obvious reference to The White Album by The Beatles, although the latter did actually have the band's name embossed on the cover, as well as a unique serial number for every copy in the original print run.
  • Sixth Ranger: In the DVD Commentary, Tap claim Marty wanted to be "the sixth Tap". (It's actually a reference to a Deleted Scene in which Marty did join Tap on stage.)
  • The '60s:
    • Parodied with one of the band's previous hits, "(Listen to the) Flower People", which is done in the style of psychedelic pop bands of the time like Jefferson Airplane, though their style is closer to The Moody Blues.
    • Also, "Gimme Some Money", is a drop dead parody of Beatlesque pop and of The Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show appearance, right down to their bow at the end. (As mentioned above, the specific song most closely being parodied is "Money (That's What I Want)".)
      • It's mentioned that David and Nigel started out in a skiffle group, before leaving to form Spinal Tap. This is a reference to The Beatles: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Stuart Sutcliffe started out in a skiffle band before they changed styles and band names, becoming what we know as the Beatles.
    • Then there's "Cups and Cakes" in the style of Peter and Gordon’s "Sunday for Tea."
  • Special Effect Failure: Happens a few times In-Universe.
    • The Stonehenge monolith is 1/12 its intended size and in serious danger of being knocked over by a dwarf.invoked
    • The embryonic pod that freezes shut, trapping Derek Smalls during the band's performance of "Rock and Roll Creation". Then it finally opens, just as the song ends, and he rushes out, only to have to get back in the pod for the ending - whereupon it (predictably) closes on his arm just as he tries to get back inside.
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion: The fate of three of the band's drummers—one of whom is said to have gone up in "a flash of green light," leaving "a little green globule" on his drum seat, and two more who explode on the band's tour of Japan. In the DVD commentary, the band is happy DiBergi caught it on film, for insurance money's sake.
    David St. Hubbins: You know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported.
  • Stealth Parody: Perhaps partially due to the fact that the Mockumentary was a little-known genre at the time, many people assumed that the film is a real documentary, apparently missing all the talk about Spontaneous Human Combustion.
  • Stealth Pun: "Big Bottom" seems at first to be just another Stuffy Old Song About the Buttocks, but notice that the song features three bass players. In other words, it has a huge low end. To take this further, it also has the drummer pounding away on the low toms and the keys playing in the lower octaves.
  • Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks: "Big Bottom" is a parody of such songs.
  • Stylistic Suck: The song lyrics are deliberately silly, though the songs themselves can be quite catchy.
    • Enforced hard with "Jazz Odyssey", which even to fans of 70s jazz-fusion is absolutely terrible, and only goes to shows why David isn't the lead guitarist. Or why Derek Smalls doesn't write songs.
  • Team Mom: Jeanine believes herself to be this. In reality she isn't terribly good at it, and tends to create as many (if not more) problems as she solves.
  • Technology Marches On: Since the invention of DNA profiling in the 90s, you in fact, can "dust for vomit" now.
  • Teeny Weenie: Derek's problem, according to Derek and Nigel in a Deleted Scene, not having enough "presence" on stage, which leads to the security point incident.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Nigel tells DiBergi that the most treasured guitar in his collection "can never be played" (or touched, or pointed to, or looked at), yet he brings it on tour. Truth in Television: That particular instrument is a Fender VI, a six-string bass guitar, which was originally produced only between 1961 and 1975, original mint-condition models of which would indeed be Too Awesome to Use in real life. Moreover, Tufnel's bass guitar is one of only two instruments which exist in the Sea Foam Green colour. Fender and Squier have since reissued the VI, partly because of the sheer mystique of the original instrument. Also Tufnel's '59 Gibson Les Paul, which costs slightly more today than an Amati violin.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Granted, Tap's drummers tend to die at an incredible pace, but Mick is shown in one scene in a filled bathtub with a plugged in toaster on the side of the tub.
  • Tragic Hero: A depressing undertone of the movie is that Hubbins and Tufnel are genuinely talented composers and musicians, but squander their talents due to their immaturity and infatuation with the "rock star" life. One scene in particular has Nigel showing the director his latest piece, a beautiful piano instrumental, citing influence from a range of classical composers. He calls it "Lick My Love Pump."
  • Trope Codifier: This film was shot in 1982, one year before Quiet Riot released Metal Health, the first best-selling album to be universally referred to as "metal." As a result, This Is Spın̈al Tap can be credited with popularizing a number of metal tropes, particularly Heavy Mithril and Rock Me, Asmodeus!
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: The released cover of "Smell The Glove" gets played up as this in a scene. David doesn't buy it.invoked
    • By the time of the 2000 DVD commentary, David had brought himself to agree that Ian's argument for the black cover 'looking like death' ("Death sells") was accurate.
    • According to the DVD Commentary, Joe "Mama" Besser (the drummer who replaces Mick after he explodes on stage in Japan) left the band because he couldn't stand "this 4/4 shit".invoked
  • Truth in Television: The film has a lot of this, but one of the more mind-spinning examples has to do with Nigel's piano piece, "Lick My Love Pump". Although Nigel's claims to be influenced by "Mozart and Bach" aren't really borne out by the piece itself (which doesn't sound much like either of them), note 
Mozart did write a three-part canon called Leck mich im Arsch (Ger., "Lick me in the arse".)note 
  • Two Decades Behind: In-universe, Tap's style is best defined as "whatever was popular when we were writing this", usually a trend or two behind. They've managed to stay at least somewhat popular pretty much since Rock and Roll became a thing.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Some of the most memorable scenes have Spın̈al Tap performing songs that aren't strictly heavy metal but that owe their existence to subgenres of rock music that strongly influenced metal, including rockabilly ("Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight") and rhythm-and-blues ("Big Bottom").
  • Unit Confusion: Nigel draws a sketch of Stonehenge with measurements he wants for the model. Unfortunately, he writes it in inches instead of feet, leaving the band with a Stonehenge prop that is dwarfed by a pair of dwarfs.
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe. The original cover of "Smell The Glove".
    Bobbi Flekman: You put a greased naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck, and a leash, and a man's arm extended out up to here, holding onto the leash, and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it. You don't find that offensive?
    Ian Faith: No, I don't—
    Bobbi Flekman: You don't find that sexist?
    Ian Faith: This is 1982, Bobbi, c'mon!note 
    Bobbi Flekman: That's right, it's 1982! Get out of the '60s. We don't have this mentality anymore.
    Ian Faith: Well, you should have seen the cover they wanted to do! It wasn't a glove, believe me.note 
  • Visual Innuendo: Just watch the way Nigel handles the neck of his guitar, particularly around David.
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Nigel's inability to remember how to write measurements in the imperial system results in a stage prop of Stonehenge smaller than the dwarfs they've hired to dance around it. (Specifically, he confuses the abbreviations for feet — an apostrophe — and inches — two apostrophes.)
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: The entire band is fading into this, until they tour in Japan.
  • Yoko Oh No: Jeanine Pettibone has shades of both Yoko Ono herself and Linda McCartney. She's inseparable with David to the point that she basically becomes his spokesperson in the band's affairs, which frustrates everyone else. Then after Ian Faith quits she takes over as manager and does such a piss-poor job that Nigel quits and the band is basically on life support as the tour hits its final leg. And she actually starts joining them onstage as well, playing tambourine and singing.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Spinal Tap


Jazz Odyssey

In addition to dealing with smaller venues, Spinal Tap struggles to pad their setlist after lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel leaves the band.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

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Main / GilliganCut

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