Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst. It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won. Not that it helped. I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest. Then I had mono. Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck. When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand. What was that supposed to do?
The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85. That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings. Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class. Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework. Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.
My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”. She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by. This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.
At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something. There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered. I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options. Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting: security! On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well. Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism. It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway. It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.
I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment. No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse. It was such a dubious honour. I was Flag Boy.
I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest. No way were they putting me on security. They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids. I don’t think either of them did any security that year.
As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day. When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them. Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went. They called me “Fag Boy” from day one. What made it even worse were my boots. My dad gave them to me. I thought they were so cool. They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers. The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.
When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair. Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.
The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot. I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class. They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop. The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable. At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could. By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking. I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.
Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse. I considered it more than a fair trade.
While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could. I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time. I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video. (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.) My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs: “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”. To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986. Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”. The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically. It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.
My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year. I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes. In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson. They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength. Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me. It would be my armour for life.
I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it. I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today. They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school. You can forgive, but you never forget.
I can admit it. I was only 13 years old, and I thought Spinal Tap were a real band.
How was I to know? A lot of media surrounding Spinal Tap took them seriously. When MuchMusic’s J.D. Roberts interviewed Ronnie James Dio about the Hear N’ Aid project in 1986, he played it straight. David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap appear on the track “Stars”, which Ronnie produced.
Roberts: “I think that one of the great coups of Hear N’ Aid, and I think you’ll have to agree with me, was having David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap enter the project.”
Dio: “Yeah that was a real special moment. I must tell you that there was a little consternation on the part of some of the people who did not turn up, who were asked to take part in ‘Stars’, that the inclusion of those two people, or anyone from Spinal Tap, made this project a laughing stock. I’d like to be able to reply to anyone who thinks that’s a valid point. Again, we are human beings. And part of human nature is to laugh. Probably the nicest part of human nature is to laugh. And these are two wonderful people who made us laugh, not only in this project, but in Spinal Tap.”
Even though Dio actually broke the wall for a moment and entered the “real” world with his answer, Roberts shot right back into the fictional world with his followup question. Dio played along this time.
Roberts: “It’s a good thing, as Derek says, that you didn’t let them do the lead vocal, because they would have blown everybody away.”
Dio: “Well they did a lot of singing when the tape wasn’t rolling, and they were better than all of us. And they happen to both be the best guitar players I’ve ever heard too.”
Never mind that Derek plays bass!
Shortly after the interview rolled, Much played the video for “Hell Hole” and I had a chance to hear Spinal Tap for myself. Yeah, that blonde guy could sing. It was a decent song. I expected something heavier — more thrash like. Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of them was they were a thrash band? If they were so highly praised by Ronnie James Dio, I couldn’t understand why I never heard of them. I didn’t have much to go on either.
According to the Dio interview, there were some unnamed rock stars who felt that Spinal Tap would turn Hear N’ Aid into a “laughing stock”. Why? I turned various scenarios over in my head. Were they satanic? Well, they had a song called “Hell Hole” and there was a big demon skull head in the backdrop, but that didn’t make them satanists. Just what was the story exactly with this Spinal Tap?
They did seem arrogant in the Hear N’ Aid “making of” video.
David St. Hubbins: “They asked us to do the leads, but like I said before, I didn’t wanna blow these other blokes away, you know. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than they have. I’ve got pipes I haven’t used yet. Haven’t located them yet.”
Derek Smalls: “He could break the board in there. It’s really an act of mercy to the engineers that he doesn’t sing lead.”
Arrogant yes, but…St. Hubbins has been doing this this a lot longer than they have? Just why haven’t I heard of Spinal Tap before? Analysing the video for “Hell Hole” revealed little. Yes, there was a comedic slant to it, but the song actually rocked. Other bands put comedy in their music videos too, like Twisted Sister. There was no reason whatsoever to suspect the truth.
The only real clue that I had was when Dio briefly mentioned a film. There, the trail went cold. Never heard of it, never seen it, didn’t know anybody who did. It was a couple more years before I eventually put the story together. While continuing my education in KISStory, I learned that their film, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, was shown in a double bill with This Is Spinal Tap for a limited run. This happened in England, a “Headbanging double feature”, around October 1984.* I began to read names like “Michael McKean” and “Harry Shearer”. Eventually a highschool friend named Andy recommended that I see the movie ASAP so I rented a copy from Steve’s TV.
The truth is, I did not like This In Spinal Tap the first time I saw it. I didn’t laugh. It certainly wasn’t a gleeful rock and roll comedy, as I watched the hard times roll out one after another. But then the next day back at school, talking about it with Andy, I started to get the jokes.
“…and then when they’re stuck in those pods for ‘Rock and Roll Creation’ and the bassist can’t get out…they have to bring out a blowtorch…” said Andy.
“Oh yeah, that was pretty funny actually. You know what part I did like, was when they were lost in the basement trying to find the stage. Did you notice Billy Crystal was the mime? Mime is money!”
I finally got it. I rented it again, and this time I dubbed a copy for myself. I understood Rob Reiner’s role in the concept and recognized the actors from other roles. Christopher Guest, the other singer, was Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, only one of the greatest movies ever made. Also directed by Rob Reiner! I watched Spinal Tap again, and again. I think I had a new favourite movie!
There’s no shame in admitting being fooled by Spinal Tap. That was the whole point, wasn’t it? Otherwise the band wouldn’t have continued doing interviews in character. The idea was to always keep it believable enough that you can fool a small minority.
My dad used to say, “If that band is just a bunch of actors, then I guess it doesn’t take much talent to play rock and roll.” But my dad missed something then, that he now understands. Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest are actually excellent musicians on multiple instruments. And that is why Spinal Tap was so believable. When Nignel Tufnel rips a solo in the video for “Hell Hole”, it looks right because Christopher Guest performed that solo. You know, maybe Spinal Tap should be considered a real band after all!
I’ve never been much of a winter guy. I get that from my dad. The winter of ’92 was long with a number of serious snow days. I had just learned how to drive and it was certainly a challenge. Details are not important. You don’t need an accounting of times my little Plymouth Sundance got stuck or struggled to make it home from school. All you really need to know was what was in my tape deck.
I was still digesting a lot of the music that I received for Christmas at the end of ’91. The live Poison and Queensryche sets got a lot of car play once I dubbed them onto cassette. At this point my attention to detail was becoming overwhelming. I painstakingly faded in and faded out the sides of the live albums onto cassette. This had to be done manually as you were recording. If I missed the cue I’d do it over again until I got it right to my satisfaction. I should have known there was something wrong with me!
We had one serious snow day that year, and although class wasn’t cancelled I stayed home. My school friend Rob V made a tape for me of David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour. I know that I played that tape on that day because the memory is so clear. It was a great concert. Roth and Steve Vai had a fun interplay, where Steve imitated Roth’s vocal intonations with his guitar. Vai followed his voice as Roth told the crowd, “Toronto kicks ass, because the girls are soooo fiiiine!”
Time flies, and 1992 didn’t take long to kick into gear with new releases.
I had just discovered Queen. Suddenly here comes this new movie Wayne’s World which made Queen a worldwide phenomenon for a second time. More important to me though was the fact that the soundtrack CD included the first new Black Sabbath track with Ronnie James Dio in a decade: “Time Machine”! My buddy Peter didn’t care — he was strictly an Ozzy Sabbath fan. No Dio! (And certainly no Tony Martin!) But I was excited. I wanted to get that soundtrack as soon as possible.
There was a new music store that had just opened at the mall about six months prior. The very first tape I would ever buy there was the debut album by Mr. Bungle in late ’91. It would be the very Record Store that I would later dedicate years of my life to…but not yet. When it opened, I recall my sister and I being glad that there was finally a music store at the mall again, but disappointed in the prices. $14.99 for a tape was a lot of cash. CDs were unfortunately out of our price range. New cassette releases like Wayne’s World were cheaper at $10.99, so I went to the mall before class one morning to get a copy. And this is a funny memory as you’ll see.
When I worked at the store, the boss would give me shit if he thought I was talking to someone too much. I think he would have preferred good old fashioned silent labour, but I don’t know that. He also drilled into us to pay attention to every customer and don’t ignore anybody. So it’s quite ironic that he lost a sale that day by ignoring me and talking it up with some hot girl visiting him!
I was standing there in front of his new release rack looking for Wayne’s World. I knew it was out, but didn’t see it anywhere. I checked his soundtracks and it was missing in action. I wanted to ask him if he had it, but he was chatting it up with this girl. Eventually I caught his attention, but only because as I stood there waiting, I thought he did ask me a question. So I said, “Pardon me?” But he wasn’t actually talking to me, he was still talking to the girl. Once he noticed me, he informed me that Wayne’s World was sold out but he could hold a copy for me as soon as the next shipment arrived. I was ticked off so I said no thanks, and picked it up at the Zellers store down the hall instead.
Wayne’s World in the deck, I happily rocked to Queen, Sabbath, Cinderella, and hell even Gary Wright. Peter and I saw the movie one Saturday night at a theater in Guelph, and liked it so much that we went back to see it again the following afternoon. I saw Wayne’s World four times that winter!
I got my fill of Queen with the recent Classic Queen CD, released later that March. I got the CD for a good price at the local Costco! This enabled me to get a good chunk of Queen hits all at once in glorious CD quality.
The next big release to hit my car deck was a big one. A really big one. An album five years in the making through triumph and tragedy.
On March 31 I went back to the Record Store on my way to class, and the new release I was waiting for had arrived. I left gripping Adrenalize in my hands. An album I had been waiting for since highschool and even had actual dreams about! It was finally real. Into the tape deck it went as I drove to school. Less riffy…more reliant on vocal melody…not bad? I’ll let them have it though. After what they’ve been through? Yeah, I’ll cut them some slack.
Two weeks later, I was digesting another massive chunk of music.
I didn’t get Pandora’s Box in 1991 when it was released. There was so much going on. But my parents bought it for me as an Easter gift in April ’92. That Easter I was “Back in the Saddle” with three CDs of Aerosmith!
It was a bittersweet gift. Traditionally the family spent Easter at the cottage. I have lots of happy memories of playing GI Joe in the fresh Easter afternoons up there. This time I had to study for final exams and stayed home with my gift. I must have played that box set two times through while studying that weekend.
Exams were over by the end of April and suddenly…it was summer holidays. In April! It was…incredible! I stubbornly refused to get a summer job. I have to say I don’t regret that. I had savings from my previous job at the grocery store and I was getting Chrysler dividends cheques (yeah, baby). Between that, Christmas & birthday gifts, I got most of the music I wanted. And I got to spend that summer just enjoying it all. It felt really good after such a long and frankly lonely winter.
Pandora’s Box tided me over. After all, it was a lot to absorb having heard very little “old” Aerosmith up til that point. My favourite track was “Sharpshooter” by Whitford – St. Holmes. I liked that they included a sampling of solo material by various members. These were new worlds to discover, but what about the next big release? Who would be the one to spend my valuable savings on?
Iron Maiden were back on May 11 after a very short absence with Fear of the Dark, their second of the Janick Gers era. But I needed to save my money, and wait one more week for something even more important to me. It was Revenge time.
Speaking of triumph and tragedy, it was time for some overdue spoils for Kiss. Having lost drummer Eric Carr to cancer in late ’91, Kiss deserved to catch a break. Fortunately Revenge turned out to be a far better album than the previous few. I recall getting over a really bad cold, and my lungs were still congested on that spring day. The outdoor air felt amazing. I walked over to the mall on release day and bought my CD copy at the Record Store. I probably ran all the way home to play it, lungs be damned.
To say I was happy was an understatement. In 1992 you had to come out with something strong or you would sink. It was a more vicious musical world than just a year ago. Fortunately Kiss did not wimp out and came out with an album just heavy enough, without following trends. It would be my favourite album of the year, though a few strong contenders were still lined up.
My birthday was coming and I would have to wait a little while to get some more essential tunes. Fear of the Dark was on the list. So was Faith No More’s Angel Dust, which was a must. And, of course, rock’s ultimate royalty returned in 1992. A band that rock history cannot ignore, though it arguably should. A band that defined the term “odorous”. A band with a colourful and tragic backstory. A band making its long feared return with its first album since 1984’s Smell the Glove. And with their new album Break Like the Wind, they proudly proclaimed, yes indeed, this is Spinal Tap.
Once again, quite a bit of music to absorb. I had been anticipating the Iron Maiden. I heard the first single “Be Quick or Be Dead” on Q107 late one night, and didn’t think much of it at first. I was concerned that Bruce Dickinson’s voice was becoming more growly and less melodic. The album helped assuage these concerns with a number of melodic numbers including “Wasting Love”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” and “Fear of the Dark”. But the album was infected with lots of filler. “Weekend Warrior”, “Fear is the Key”, “Chains of Misery”…lots of songs that were just not memorable. Fear of the Dark sounded better than its predecessor but could you say it was better than Seventh Son? Somewhere in Time? Powerslave? No.
Though it was murky and dense, the Faith No More album blew me away. The M.E.A.T Magazine review by Drew Masters gave it 2/5 M’s. I gave it 5/5. I wanted something heavy and weird from Faith No More. I got what I wanted. Peter was a big Faith No More fan too, but I don’t think he dug Angel Dust as much as I did. We both appreciated the comedic aspects but I really got into the samples, nuances and rhythms. It was, and is, a masterpiece. I believe I can say that I was of that opinion from the very beginning.
And Spinal Tap, dear Spinal Tap. The Majesties of Rock took a little longer for me to fully understand. And no wonder, for Spinal Tap are playing musical 4-dimensional chess inside your ear canals. I simply had to accept that several years had passed since Spinal Tap last recorded, and they had grown in their own stunted way. I’ve always thought that the title track was sincerely brilliant. But I never liked that Nigel Tufnel had so few lead vocals. I have long appreciated bands that had multiple lead singers. While this time even bassist Derek Smalls stepped up to the microphone, it was David St. Hubbins who sang lead on 11 of the 14 tracks. Now, this is certainly not to criticise the enviable lead pipes of St. Hubbins, but merely to state that there wasn’t enough Nigel. Having said that, Nigel did branch out by employing a new guitar playing technique — doubling his solos with vocals, like Gillan used to do with Blackmore. He also got to unleash his new amps that went up to infinity, which debuted live at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in April.
Like all things, summer eventually came to an end and it was back to school once again. That fall and into Christmas I got some of the last new releases that were on my radar. I missed Black Sabbath when Dehumanizer came out in June. That one took a long time to really like. While the production was incredibly crisp, the songs didn’t seem up to snuff to me. At least at first. In time, it became a personal favourite album.
That Christmas came the new Bon Jovi album Keep the Faith, Queen’s new Greatest Hits, and of course AC/DC Live. It was also the Christmas that I first realized there was something wrong inside my head, and I realized it because of those albums. It was partly the obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also a massive hangup about being ignored. I wanted the AC/DC double Live, but was given the single. I wanted Keep the Faith and Queen on CD but got cassette. As I grew older and learned more about myself, I realized that I became very upset if I felt like someone was not listening to me or understanding me. Nobody seemed to get why I wanted specific versions (because of my OCD actually), and I couldn’t explain it, so that set me off even further. I became extremely grumpy that Christmas over these gifts, and it was ugly. I isolated myself to stew in my own negativity. It’s not something I’m proud of, and you can call me a spoiled brat if you want to (you wouldn’t be wrong). At least I’ve worked at trying to figure out my defects.
It’s not like any of it mattered in the long term. I have re-bought all of those albums twice since, each!
1992 went out much like it came in, cold and snowy. Canadian winters are hard. Some people have the DNA for it, but I don’t. I’m half Italian. I wasn’t designed for snowy, damp winters. That’s why music is so important to me in the winter months. Music can be a completely indoor activity and I had a continually fresh supply. 1992 was a big year for heavy metal even though the grunge revolution had already started. Of course, things were not to stay as they are. Iron Maiden and Faith No More were about to hit some major speedbumps, and Black Sabbath had already split in two by the end of the year! 1992 was the last time we could pretend heavy metal was still in good health. Hard rock was about to endure further challenges and hardships. At least we had ’92.
The one VHS tape I’m working on currently spans a period of recordings from about July 1986 to September 1987. This Hear N’ Aid special features a MuchMusic interview conducted by J.D. (John) Roberts. There’s lots of exclusive information in this valuable video, including a tidbit on bands who refused to be in the same project as Spinal Tap!
DEREK SMALLS – Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Aging) (2018 BMG)
So very desperately, I wanted this to be good. Alas, it is very very remotely far from anything good. It’s not the line between clever and stupid; it’s just foul smelling putridity. Spinal Tap’s bassist Derek Smalls, who might be best known for his “Jazz Odyssey”, cannot hold a tune. There must be a reason why Smalls sings the fewest lead vocals of the three Spinal Tap members. He’s all but unlistenable.
The gimmick on Smalls Change is twofold. It’s a collection of songs about getting old, which is a crappy concept to start with. There is nothing wrong with songs that have some life experience, but who wants to listen to a tune about an MRI? Who wants to think about it all? The second gimmick is the roster of guests: old fogie buddies like David Crosby, Steve Lukather, Paul Shaffer, and so on. There are few somewhat younger folks here too, such as Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani, Chad Smith, and Phil X. But the guest stars can’t save it. Admittedly, the lyrics are sometimes funny. “Butt Call” is about butt dialing! “Nobody speaks, handset by the cheeks.” “Memo to Willie” is about erectile disfunction (get it?), a subject I’m sure you like singing about as well. Then there’s “Gummin’ the Gash” which you can figure out for yourself.
The biggest problem is the voice, which is a cross between a garbage disposal and Otto the bus driver.* No amount of Spinal Tap references can save it. When the singer cannot sing, then Houston we have a problem. And the thing goes on for 14 tuneless tracks! An hour of gargling words out in an English accent. Without a David St. Hubbins or a Nigel Tufnel to carry the melody, Smalls is sunk. When there is an actual melody, that is.
We sadly have to proclaim Smalls Change as the worst, most unlistenable album of 2018. Clearly, a lot of time and money went into making it, but don’t invest any of yours.
* Yes, of course we know that Derek Smalls is played by Simpsons actor Harry Shearer. If Otto was British, this could have been his album.
Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) of Spinal Tap has finally released his new solo album Smalls Change. (This is a followup to the fictional 1970s album It’s a Smalls World). It features such guests such as Joe Satriani and Phil X (must have been paid over $10,000 for this one eh Deke?) The subject matter on the album includes butt-dialing and gummer-giving.
I know a certain Sausagefester who has dentures so I thought he’d dig the lyrics about gummers (“Gumming the Gash”). I tried to tell him. It didn’t go well.
You might have noticed I’ve been quiet the last few days. I have not been able to respond to comments. The reason is, once again, I am supporting someone who has cancer. This person is very close to both Jen and I. They just had their successful surgery yesterday. Now, on to chemo.
It’s all very much deja-vu. Hotel rooms out of town, hospital waiting rooms, doctors and nurses. Yesterday we clocked 10 hours waiting at the hospital. That’s a long day — longer than a work day, and twice as tiring. My dad said to me, “I think you deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor”. But that’s only for Americans. I’ll settle for a plate of sushi at the end of it.
Fuck cancer. Two weeks ago, an original Sausagefester died of cancer. I’ve known him for 23 years. Some of the guys have known him since childhood. His absence this summer will be deeply felt. We will all miss our friend in the orange boiler suit.
These are dark days. Neither of them wanted any online attention, so I’m being purposely vague. Just know that 2018 has already taken a toll, and it’s only 1/4 of the way done.
Music has been a blessing, as always. Yesterday the clever frivolity of Spinal Tap kept my spirits up. It’s impossible not to laugh at the absurd “Stonehenge” or the just plain funny “Big Bottom”. (“Talk about bum cakes, my girl’s got em.”)
Fuck the dark days. I do not want to be dragged down by them. I also don’t want any more of my loved ones to get sick, but we know we have no control over that. That is the struggle of life. All I can do is try to keep smiling. So here’s Spinal Tap. Enjoy.
Look for Derek Smalls’ solo debut, Smalls Change, April 13 2018.
SPINAL TAP – The Original Soundtrack Recording from the Motion Picture “This is Spinal Tap” (1984, 2010 Universal remaster)
In true Spinal Tap fashion, it turned out that I reviewed their albums in the wrong order. I went backwards, and the soundtrack to the motion picture This is Spinal Tap is the last Tap album for me to scrutinize. Though Spinal Tap is a parody band made of actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, it is easier to just refer to them as David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls.
If you happened to go through life without owning a single soundtrack album, then you must reverse that situation immediately. All self-respecting rock fans must be able to laugh at the absurdities of their favourite genres, and Spinal Tap represent every mis-step that legendary rock bands ever took. Spinal Tap forced real life rockers such as Judas Priest and Ronnie James Dio to laugh at themselves; a healthy undertaking. Even though some artists didn’t see the humour in the movie This is Spinal Tap, others did and were quick to claim that certain scenes were actually based upon them!
The single/video “Hell Hole” opens the album, a rare Nigel lead vocal with David St. Hubbins on the chorus. According to the helpful liner notes, this track was from Tap’s then-new reunion album, Smell the Glove. Scorching guitar from St. Hubbins and Tufnel; slamming drums from Mick Shrimpton and spot-on organ by Viv Savage: it’s all here. And let’s not forget the band’s secret weapon Derek Smalls on bass and backing vocals, thickening up the mix like a good brown gravy….
I always think of “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” as the song on which something is all but guaranteed to go wrong, live. In the studio it’s a taut rocker with explicit lyrics: “You’re sweet but you’re just four feet and you still got your baby teeth, you’re too young and I’m too well-hung but tonight I’m gonna rock ya!” Lock up your daughters, but you don’t want to miss this scorching classic from 1974’s Intravenus de Milo.
“Heavy Duty” is a concert classic, originally from Bent for the Rent (1976), but to me it has long overstayed its welcome. It is a mere skeleton of a song with not enough raw meat. It does ask an important question in the lyrics, “Why waste good music on the brain?” Interesting inquiry David; something to get the metal masses thinking. For fans of Nigel Tufnel’s signature shredding, you will find much to love in his solo for “Heavy Duty”. Moving forward to 1977, we are next treated to the title track from Rock and Roll Creation, Tap’s misguided collection of rock and roll psalms. Thankfully the track “Rock and Roll Creation” itself boasts one of the band’s strongest choruses, though it is certainly hard to forget the scene in the movie when Derek fails to escape his pod.
The liner notes say that “America” is previously unreleased (I did not know that). It was barely in the film. This duet between Nigel and David boasts some heavy riffing, but not much in terms of melody. Lyrically the song recounts the experience of Spinal’s visits to America, “pretty womens everywhere, Brady Bunch and Smokey Bear!”
Side one of the soundtrack closes with “Cups and Cakes”, a pre-Tap single from 1965 when they were still known as The Thamesmen. This is a Tufnel creation about having tea. Predating Sgt Peppers by two years, obviously the Beatles must have taken inspiration from “Cups and Cakes” for their own songs. Strings and trumpets create the backing music while nary a rock instrument can be heard.
The legendary “Big Bottom” (from Brainhammer, 1973) was given some legitimacy when Soundgarden decided to cover it (as a medley with Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye”). In this track all the axemen play bass — there are no guitars! Opening side two with a song that is all bass and no guitar was probably a genius move. I just can’t explain why. I’m just assuming. Unfortunately when Soundgarden covered it, they did it with guitars, failing to capture the mighty bass necessary to sing a song about bums.
“My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo, I’d like to sink her with my pink torpedo”
From 1980’s poorly reviewed Shark Sandwich is the riffy “Sex Farm”. Though Shark Sandwich might be considered one of Tap’s worst, “Sex Farm” is one of their most enduring anthems. Readers of my regular feature here, Record Store Tales, may recall that my good friend Uncle Meat got written up at work for playing this song in store. Supposedly somebody called in to complain about the lyrics. This is Spinal Tap is his favourite movie of all time. “I realize there is some innuendo,” says Meat. “‘Plowin’ through your beanfield’…I just, you know, the thought of someone allegedly being so offended by Spinal Tap…” he trailed off. (You can see the story in video form here, as this very CD was one of the Top Five Albums that Got Us in Shit at the Record Store.)
The best tune on 1975’s The Sun Never Sweats was undoubtedly “Stonehenge”, and I would argue that it remains the greatest Spinal Tap song of all time. It is hard to encapsulate this opus in mere English. Tap take us on a trip back in time with both Tufnel and St. Hubbins sharing lead vocals. The mandolin break at the end is one of Tap’s most famous musical moments, as it is there that things often seem to go wrong in concert, regarding the giant Stonehenge prop that is supposed to appear on stage.
In my last year of high school, my mom bought me this soundtrack on cassette. That helped enable a group of my friends to do a Spinal Tap “air band” at our school’s annual air band competition! Lacking a mandolin player, they instead snagged one of our math teachers who played banjo, and had him come out on stage dancing in lederhosen. Absolutely brilliant. I’m glad to have participated in it in my own small way of lending the tape. Bringing Spinal Tap to the highschool masses? There must be an award for that.
The album comes to an end with two oldies-but-goodies. Back to the Thamesmen days, it’s 1965’s “Gimme Some Money”, the flip side to “Cups and Cakes”. The drummer was John “Stumpy” Pepys (Ed Begley Jr.), a “tall blonde geek with glasses” according to David. Pepys died in a bizarre gardening accident. This artifact from their skiffle period is best remembered for Nigel’s cool guitar solo. “Go Nigel, Go!” Then finally it’s “(Listen to the) Flower People” from the cumbersome titled Spinal Tap Sings “Listen to the Flower People” and Other Favourites (1967). The drummer on this track was Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs, who sadly choked to death on vomit (not his own) in 1974. What is especially interesting about this track is Nigel’s use of the sitar, a full two years after George Harrison did on Rubber Soul. Spinal Tap were exploiting the hippy movement and this track was one of their greatest successes.
The remastered CD comes with two bonus tracks! The non-album single (1984) for “Christmas With the Devil” is presented in two mixes, one from the A-side and one from the B-side. Prior to this, the only version of “Christmas With the Devil” available on CD was the re-recorded one on 1992’s Break Like the Wind. The original single version(s) remained obscure until 2000, when Universal released them here. Now finally having them all, I must say I prefer the 1992 version best. The original does have a little more pep in its step, and there is a Christmas message from the band at the end. The “scratch mix” of the single is not much different.
All joking aside, it’s crucial to remember that these guys (the actors) were not musical slouches. Michael McKean was nominated for an Oscar award, for his music in 2003’s A Mighty Wind. The musicianship is there and it’s intentional humorous. You can hear musical jokes in the solos of Christopher Guest. As a result, the soundtrack is not only funny but also timeless. A good song is a good song is a good song, and some of the tracks here are actually really good when you break them down. “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”, “Sex Farm” and especially “Stonehenge” are all really good songs when it comes down to it!
In the real world, all the songs were written by the trio of Guest, McKean and Shearer with director Rob Reiner. The drums were handled by R.J. Parnell of Atomic Rooster, who played Mick Shrimpton in the movie. On keyboards is David Kaff (Rare Bird) otherwise known as Viv Savage from the film. (Rare Bird are probably best remembered as the band who originally did “Sympathy”, later covered by Marillion.) The album was self-produced. There is no questioning the chops of the musicians involved. It’s hard to create a musical joke of album length that is still fun to listen to 30 years later.
Sensitive readers might be best advised to not read on, unless on an empty stomach.
Regular readers have already met Joe aka “Big Nose”, the most unique Record Store manager in the history of record stores. Still there today, slinging CDs to the masses, Joe is a phenomenon. The only thing he likes more than baseball might be taking a pee with the door wide open. He is a very different person, with a heart of gold and a bladder of steel.
However, sometimes when you gotta pee, you just gotta pee…door or no door.
Joe was living in an apartment in Waterloo with a couple guys. One morning after a long night of partying, Joe awoke to find his path to the washroom blocked by passed-out bodies. When you gotta pee, you gotta pee, so Joe improvised.
He fashioned a piss bag from an old plastic grocery bag he found on the floor. After relieving himself into the bag, he tied it off securely and looked for a way to get rid of it. The only easily accessible option was the window, so out it went, onto the lawn below.
I believe that Joe enjoyed this new method of relieving oneself, because he tells me that he launched more than one piss bag out the window over the course of the next few days. Until the landlord complained.
“I keep finding these grocery bags outside,” said the landlord. “Stop throwing them on the grass!”
If only he knew!
But that’s Joe. He seems to get some kind of perverse enjoyment out of relieving himself in the least labor-intensive way. In fact it has been confirmed that me that the stories are true: Joe has indeed shit in the shower. Way back in Record Store Tales Part 41, I wrote that somebody I knew claimed to shit in the shower. Today, an informant named “Uncle Meat” has since told me that this is true. Joe would either poop directly into his hands and drop the deuce into the toilet; or if it was a smaller shit, he would simply mash it down the drain with his foot. I had long considered these tales to be nothing more than myths. But the stories were so bizarre, I really wanted them to be true. Just so I can say I know a guy who proudly shits in the shower, you know?
Even though Joe is just a lil’ different from the average bear, he’s always been a solid, stand-up trustworthy guy. He is a man of integrity and a serious who-gives-a-shit attitude when it comes to the norms of society. I just don’t want to share an apartment with him, or need to use the shower at his place.