Lots of actual bands have appeared and performed in big-time movies as themselves. Rush in “I Love You, Man,” Aerosmith in “Wayne’s World 2,” Twisted Sister in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” Oingo Boingo in “Back To School,” Snoop Dogg in “Old School,” Wilson Phillips in “Bridesmaids,” and Morris Day & The Time in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” Some notable cameos are also worth mentioning: Billy Idol in “The Wedding Singer,” Alice Cooper in “Wayne’s World,” and David Bowie in “Zoolander.”
And this review has nothing to do with any of them.
No, what we’re ranking here are the greatest movie song performances by fictional bands. The bands are all made-up, but the music – 3 covers and 2 originals – is most definitely real.
Here they are, So Much Great Music’s Top 5 songs in actual movies by fictional bands.
5. Barry Jive & The Uptown Five “Let’s Get It On”
In his first quasi-leading role, Jack Black steals “High Fidelity” – a true music aficionado’s movie that explores existential questions like the top 5 songs about death and the artistic subtleties of compiling a mix tape. Every scene in which Black’s Barry appears absolutely crackles with his manic, unhinged energy. But he saved the best for last, his unexpectedly fetching performance with his band Barry Jive and the Uptown Five – formerly Sonic Death Monkey and on the verge of becoming Kathleen Turner Overdrive – in a knees-wobbling performance of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On.’ As John Cusack said in the film, “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like,” and I really like this.
4. Marvin Berry and The Starlighters feat. Marty McFly “Johnny B. Goode”
“Alright, this is an oldie. But, ah…Well, it’s an oldie where I come from.” So goes the introduction by time traveler Marty McFly, guesting in 1955 with Marvin Berry and The Starlighters, as he stuns the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance teens ripping into Marvin’s cousin Chuck Berry’s 1958 rock classic ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ Already a guitar player and enthusiast, Michael J. Fox took extensive lessons in order to seem as authentic as possible prior to filming the critical, plot-turning “Back To The Future” scene. Yet it was Eddie Van Halen himself who contributed the signature tapping and screeching feedback to bring both the band and audience painfully into the present tense. “I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet,” Marty intones meekly, “but your kids are gonna love it.”
3. Infant Sorrow “Furry Walls”
I don’t know if I believe in much, but it’s pretty difficult to question the life-affirming wisdom of “When the world slips you a Jeffrey / Stroke the furry wall, stroke the furry wall.” Russell Brand, as Aldous Snow fronting his raunch-rock band Infant Sorrow in the giddy “Get Him to the Greek,” composed this irresistibly hooky rocker as measured guidance to Jonah Hill attempting to address his panicked reaction and possible heart attack after having unwittingly smoked a massive joint called a “Jeffrey” provided by Sean “Diddy” Combs containing “weed, mostly, a bit of opium, heroin, crunched up E’s, clorox, methadone, subutex, morphine, peyote, some other stuff that’s unidentifiable, and a little bit of angel dust – to keep it traditional.” Got all that? Only furry wall stroking, and the chunky power chords in this tune, can get the better of that drug Neapolitan.
2. Otis Day & The Knights “Shout”
Hey-ey-Ay-ay. Before it became obligatory to play at every wedding for the last 40-plus years, and two decades after its original recording by R&B legends The Isley Brothers, the definitive take of ‘Shout’ was delivered by Otis Day & The Knights at the double secret probation flaunting Delta Tau Chi toga party in “Animal House.” With a little help from Boon Schoenstein on backing vocals (and future blues great Robert Cray appearing on bass), Otis – my man! – inspires ecstatic call-and-response, hands-in-the-air shouting, and even some inexplicable “gator”-ing, as he puts forward the transformative performance by which all other future collegiate debauchery will be judged.
Otis Day historians would also rightfully question the omission of their rendition of ‘Shama Lama Ding Dong’ at the Dexter Lake club. “So hitt itt.”
1. The Wonders “That Thing You Do”
The greatest fictional band of all time is The Wonders. Hard stop. And, obviously, the best of their original songs – from the woefully overlooked 1996 film “That Thing You Do!” – is the glorious title track ‘That Thing You Do.’ The movie, set in 1964, was written and directed by Tom Hanks (who also co-starred as the band’s wily manager, Mr. White), while the glistening Beatles-esque gem of a song was composed for the film by Adam Schlesinger, songwriter and bassist for alt-rock maestros Fountains of Wayne, as a very intentional ode to rock radio darlings of the ‘60’s. And it’s as brilliantly catchy as anything I know from that or any other era; neither the roughly 39 derivations appearing throughout the film, nor my hundreds of re-watches in the years since, could ever make me tire of it. As two-and-a-half minute “hit” songs go, it is simply pop perfection.
This “fake” song also found real recognition, peaking at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and nominated for Best Original Song at both the 69th Academy Awards and the 54th Golden Globes, losing on both occasions to Madonna’s ‘You Must Love Me’ from the film adaptation of “Evita” (don’t cry for me, Argentina, but feel free to cry for that clear miscarriage of musical justice).
And, though in the film they may have been one-hit wonders – The Wonders, get it? – the band definitely had more than one ear-wormy song. Enjoy this bonus clip of ‘Dance With Me Tonight,’ and in particular Tom Hanks’s stealthy arm pump move at 1:16.
Lastly, in case you’re wondering: no, we didn’t forget about the mighty Spinal Tap. Although they’re clearly the funniest fictional band of all time, it would be tough to say that ‘Big Bottom’ or anything from the controversial “Smell The Glove” album was particularly enjoyable, even tolerable, from a musical perspective. Especially not when it’s turned up to 11.