This Is Spinal Tap is Rob Reiner's 1984 mock rockumentary featuring semi-fictitious heavy metal rock band Spinal Tap. The film satirizes the wild personal behaviour and musical pretensions of bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and the latter-day Beatles among many others.
This Is Spinal Tap chronicles the group's waning popularity during a tour of the United States while promoting their latest record, Smell The Glove. The sexist, misogynist and overly-masculized elements of heavy metal music are parodied throughout. Marty DiBergi (Reiner), a director of television commercials, films the tour and interviews the musicians.
St. Hubbins and Tufnel were childhood friends, and ran through many bandnames at the beginning of their career before settling on The Thamesmen, who had a hit with "Gimme Some Money". Renaming themselves Spinal Tap; they had an early hit with the flower power anthem "Listen to the Flower People" before turning to heavy metal.
The film notes early on that Spinal Tap — "One of England's Loudest Bands" — have had a succession of drummers, all of whom have died under odd circumstances: one died in a "bizarre gardening accident"; another "choked on vomit," though it may not have been his own (Tufnel notes that "you can't really dust for vomit"); and one seems to have fallen prey to spontaneous human combustion. St. Hubbins reports that "Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported."
This run on drummers was a nod towards several bands; both Led Zeppelin's John Bonham and The Who's Keith Moon had died years before, the former having actually choked on his own vomit, whilst Judas Priest were, for a variety of reasons, on their seventh drummer at the time of the film's release. The Grateful Dead had a similar run in relation to their keyboard players dying and being replaced.
Their concert appearances are repeatedly cancelled due to low ticket sales, and tensions rise when several major retailers refuse to sell Smell the Glove due to its sexist cover art, and when St. Hubbins' girlfriend — a slightly spacy yoga and astrology devotee — joins the group on tour.
"Polymer Records" (not Polydor Records) decides to release Smell the Glove with an entirely black cover, though without consulting the band (four years after The Damned's Black Album, some versions of which were genuinely all-black, but embossed; and seven years before Metallica's eponymous 1991 album, which featured a nearly-all black cover). This prompts more distress from the band, who deliver the memorable observation, "There's a fine line between clever and stupid."
A memorable segment of the film occurs when a miniature replica of Stonehenge is lowered onto the stage behind the band and two dwarves come on stage to dance around it. The band members were expecting a full sized 18-foot replica, but were instead presented with an 18-inch model, made exactly as indicated on the original plan that Tufnel had sketched hurriedly (with two tick marks after the "18" instead of one) and handed to the band's manager. St Hubbins laments during the gig debrief, "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."
After the Stonehenge debacle, Spinal Tap's manager quits in disgust when St. Hubbins suggests his girlfriend co-manage the group. She takes over his duties, and begins plotting astrology charts for the entire group, even basing their concert appearances on the stars' alignments.
When the group performs at an Air Force base (managed by Fred Willard, who calls the group "Spinal Tarp"), Tufnel's wireless guitar-amplification system receives interference from an air traffic control broadcast, and he walks offstage.
After Tufnel leaves the group, DiBergi asks St. Hubbins how he feels about his longtime-collaborator's departure and St. Hubbins replies, "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation."
Spinal Tap regroup, and attempt to rearrange some of their songs to account for the absent guitar, which leaves them with about 20 minutes of material. Against St. Hubbins' initial reluctance, the group launches "The new birth of Spinal Tap mark two" with Small's fusion-esque "Jazz Odyssey," which is roundly rejected by their already-diminishing fan base. Adding insult to injury, their only perfomance of the Jazz Odyssey takes place at a kiddy amusement park where they are the opening act for a puppet show. The fact that the group is mostly concerned with not being the headline act speaks volumes about their grossly naive and misguided hubris and sorry state of existence.
St. Hubbins and Smalls reconsider "Saucy Jack," their long-abandoned idea for a musical play based on Jack the Ripper.
Tufnel returns to tell the group that "Sex Farm", one of their Smell The Glove songs, is a big hit in Japan and their former manager would like to arrange a tour. His entreaties are initially rebuffed, but St. Hubbins relents, and invites his friend back onstage.
The film ends with Spinal Tap performing in Japan, and with new drummer Joe 'Mama' Besser after Mick Shrimpton's sudden death from spontaneous human combustion.