This is Spinal Tap is widely regarded to be the first real mockumentary. It set the stage for Christopher Guest’s later directorial work, The Office and countless rip-offs, and Sacha Baron Cohen’s deep-cover comedy characters. The movie’s satire of the rock documentaries, pretentious musicians, and record label meddling was so pitch-perfect that U2’s The Edge said that when he first watched it, “I didn’t laugh, I wept.” But to most viewers, it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, with an infinite number of memorable quotes.
10 “He died in a bizarre gardening accident...”
One of the most memorable running gags in This is Spinal Tap is that the titular band has lost an inordinate number of drummers. It’s based on a real phenomenon in rock bands where the drummers are always the first to die. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it does happen unusually frequently. When the band members are asked what happened to their first drummer, David St. Hubbins says, “He died in a bizarre gardening accident...” and Nigel Tufnel adds, “Authorities said best leave it unsolved.” It sets up an interesting mystery surrounding the strange circumstances of the drummer’s death, and this is all we ever get to hear about it.
9 “Well, this piece is called ‘Lick My Love Pump.’”
This is a hilarious punchline for such a great build-up. Nigel is tinkering around, writing a new track, and he explains, very ostentatiously, “Yeah, well, it’s part of a trilogy, a musical trilogy that I’m doing in D...minor, which I always find is really the saddest of all keys, really. I don’t know why. It makes people weep instantly to play...You know, just simple lines intertwining, you know, very much like – I’m really influenced by Mozart and Bach, and it’s sort of in between those, really. It’s like a Mach piece, really.” When he’s asked for the title of the song, Nigel says, “Well, this piece is called ‘Lick My Love Pump.’”
8 “As long as there’s sex and drugs, I can do without the rock ‘n’ roll.”
“Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” is the ethos of a lot of rockers, like Mick Shrimpton in This is Spinal Tap, but let’s face it, just like Mick, they’d take just the first two if they could. Marty asks Mick, “What would you do if you couldn’t play music anymore?” and Mick tells him, “I used to say, ‘Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.’ As long as there’s sex and drugs, I can do without the rock ‘n’ roll.” The rock ‘n’ roll is a personal passion for every rock star, but at a certain point, it’s just there to fund the sex and drugs.
7 “That’s...that’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?”
Marty DiBergi, the supposed director of the movie (well, the director of the documentary that the movie is pretending to be), says to Nigel Tufnel, “Let’s talk about your reviews a little bit. Regarding Intravenous Di Milo: ‘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 r******d sexuality and bad poetry.’” Nigel responds to this intensely negative review, which laid into the band’s musical ability as a whole, by simply saying, “That’s...that’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?”
6 “Whether or not he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem.”
In one of the most classic scenes in This is Spinal Tap, Ian Faith comes back with a sculpture of Stonehenge for the band to use in their show – but it’s only 18 inches tall. The band members are furious, since it was actually supposed to be 18 feet tall.
But Ian defends himself: “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.” In the end, their solution is to get smaller dancers to make the little Stonehenge look bigger.
5 “Hello, Cleveland!”
This is what the band members say as they struggle to find their way to the stage from their dressing room in a big Cleveland venue. Since This is Spinal Tap has become a cult classic, Ozzy Osbourne from Black Sabbath, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, and Dee Snider from Twisted Sister have all publicly stated that they’ve found themselves lost backstage in the cavernous hallways of arenas, just like Spinal Tap. It’s one of the many aspects of the movie that have been praised by real-life musicians for their realism.
4 “It’s like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”
One of the satirical targets of This is Spinal Tap was the deification of rock bands in the “rockumentaries” of the 1970s. Those movies treated their subjects as though they were gods worthy of being worshipped. Derek Smalls is guilty of this when he talks about his bandmates: “We’re very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel. They’re like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They’re two distinct types of visionaries. It’s like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.”
3 “Have a good time, all the time.”
This is Spinal Tap pokes fun at the fact that rock stars say a lot of things that they think are deep and intellectual and insightful, but actually don’t really mean anything. This is a good example. At one point in the movie, Marty asks Viv Savage, “Do you have any sort of creed or philosophy that you live by?”
Viv tells him, “Have a good time, all the time. That’s my philosophy, Marty.” It’s exactly the kind of pseudo-insightful, yet completely empty thing a guy who spends his days drinking on the road with a heavy metal band might say.
2 “We’ve got a bigger dressing room than the puppets. That’s refreshing.”
The members of Spinal Tap are pretty peeved to arrive at a gig and find that their name is second on the marquee after “Puppet Show.” Since David St. Hubbins holds himself and his band – which, like many bands, went by various names before settling on a final one, including the Originals and the New Originals – in pretty high regard, he’s the most annoyed by the marquee bump. As they prepare for the gig and get to the dressing room, he says, “Oh, we’ve got a bigger dressing room than the puppets. That’s refreshing.” He’s clearly not going to let this go any time soon.
1 “These go to eleven.”
Nigel Tufnel is easily the stupidest member of the band. As he explains to Marty, the director (who’s played by the actual director, Rob Reiner), that his amps go up to eleven, whereas most only go up to ten, Marty asks, “Does that mean it’s louder? Is it any louder?” Nigel explains, “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten...Where can you go from there? Where?” Marty asks, “Why don’t you make ten a little louder? Make that the top number and make that a little louder?” Confused, Nigel just says, “These go to eleven.”