Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 4 pm I’ll be hosting a special program for the WTJU Rock Marathon. I’ll be featuring music — and the artists that perform it — specifically for movies and TV shows.
Fake Headliner Bands — Movies
A fictional band — or artist — can be the subject of a serious film. “That Thing You Do!” is a 1996 film that tells the story of the Wonders, a one-hit-wonder band from Pennsylvania. The movie perfectly captures the pre-British Invasion pop scene of 1964. The Wonder’s hit (written by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne) became a legitimate hit in 1996, peaking at #22 on the Billboard charts.
The film also captured the styles of other early 1960s’ genres. “My World is Over” mimics Dionne Warwick’s Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, and is sung by Jackie DeShannon. Surf guitar, girl group ballads — even TV show crime jazz is referenced.
In “Eddie and the Cruisers,” a reporter tries to solve the mystery of what happened to Eddie Wilson. This 1983 film featured music from Eddie’s group, ca. 1963. John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band played Eddie and the Cruisers for the soundtrack.
The 1991 movie “The Commitments” tells the story of Irish working-class youth Jimmy Rabbitte. He manages to put together a soul band with local talent. The group almost makes it, but falls apart due to lack of, well, commitment. Even though all of the songs are covers of 1960s soul, it’s just too well-done not to include.
The 1970 “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” was originally meant to be a sequel to the 1967 “Valley of the Dolls.” But it soon changed into something else. It tells the story of three young women who make up The Kelly Affair, a rock trio. They come to Los Angeles and fall prey to the rock-n-roll lifestyle. The group renames themselves the Carrie Nations and almost makes it to the top before the overwrought drama brings everything crashing down.
The Kelly Affair/Carrie Nations tunes were written by Stu Phillips (best known for “Knight Rider”). The Strawberry Alarm Clock also appeared in the film an on the soundtrack album.
Fake Headliner Bands — Live-Action TV
Sometimes, the fictional group is front-and-center, their name embedded in the title. TV versions are easy to name. Live-action candidates include The Monkees and the Partridge Family. In both cases, members of these groups had stronger chops than critics gave them credit for.
With the exception of Mickey Dolenz, the other three Monkees were all experienced musicians. Mike Nesmith was perhaps the most successful, having written “Different Drum” for the Stone Poneys (with Linda Ronstadt).
The core of the Partridge Family was Shirley Jones and her stepson, David Cassidy. Jones had a long career in musical theater and movie musicals. Cassidy was starring in a Broadway production when tapped for the TV show, a career he resumed after it was canceled.
A lesser-known TV show band was the 1882 Fox series The Heights. The eponymous band was a group of twenty-somethings trying to escape their blue-collar jobs through music. It only lasted one season, canceled just as a song from the show became a hit. “How do you talk to an angel” credits The Heights as the band, with Jamie Walters (who played Alex O’Brien) singing lead.
One of the most bizarre live-action series featuring a band was Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. This 1970 Saturday morning kids’ show featured chimpanzees. Lancelot Link, agent of A.P.E. battled the forces of C.H.U.M.P. in two ten-minute adventures each week. Each episode also included a musical number by Link’s band — the Evolution Revolution.
Fake Headliner Bands — Cartoons!
While there have been a number of cartoon bands (all voiced by studio musicians), not all meet my criteria. The Archies were certainly the most successful, but the characters only played together in music segments between the stories — the series wasn’t about a band per see.
A better case might be made for the Hardy Boys. In this 1969 series, the main characters of the books are all in a band, who solve mysteries on their way to various gigs. Each story included both a mystery and a musical segment. The songs were released as an album “Here Come the Hardys” in 1969, with four singles that modestly charted.
The Banana Splits were a shameless ripoff of the Monkees, dumbed down to what the producers thought young children would find hilarious.
Josie and the Pussycats work on all levels. The show was about the band itself, and each story featured a musical number. The franchise also translated well to the big screen.
Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, and Rosario Dawson play modern versions of the characters, the music updated from late 60s bubblegum to early aughts alt-rock. Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo) provided lead vocals for the soundtrack.
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Perhaps the oddest fake group to qualify is the Glass Bottle. The group was formed for a 1970 ad campaign. Glass manufacturers wanted to get kids to switch from aluminum cans to glass bottles — really.
In addition to doing some super-hip ads, the band also cut an album. “I Ain’t Got Time Anymore” reached #36. A real hit from a fake band.