For as long as there’s been music, there have been fictional bands created to play that music that end up scoring real hits. One of the earliest examples of this phenomenon was The Monkees, a group created for a TV show inspired by The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night. At first, The Monkees consisted of four actors with limited musical backgrounds, but soon the actors began to sing their own songs, write their own music, play their own instruments, and get their own show cancelled. But most of the following fake groups never had such chances, instead scoring major hits while never existing enough to tour or cash a check.
What did it take for a band to have THE number one hit for the entire year of 1969? Apparently the inability to fight amongst themselves, demand royalties, or even question why they didn’t have a bass player (just like The Doors if they were friends with a teenage witch), all thanks to never existing. The Archies would actually go on to chart several more times, leading record companies to wonder why the hell they were dealing with real artists in the first place.
The Partridge Family
Nominated for Best New Artist in 1971, The Partridge Family was created for a sitcom about a family that sang together, toured together, and once time did a duet with whales. Real-life mother and stepson Shirley Jones and David Cassidy played mother and son in The Partridge Family, a show about a band that — along with four other kids who, unlike Shirley and David, never sang on any of the songs — score a real-life number one hit with “I Think I Love You”. The song sold over five million copies and made the Partridge Family the third fake group to top the charts for a period in music that rock historians like to call “I give up, I can’t take it anymore, wake me when it’s over.”
The Soggy Bottom Boys
Not only do The Soggy Bottom Boys not exist in real life, they don’t even exist in the movie in which they appear, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Created on the fly in the film by four characters, including one played by George Clooney, for some quick cash, the fugitive singers didn’t learn they had a smash hit until almost the very end of the film. That leaves us with a movie featuring a fictional band about a fictional band that have no idea they have a real single and so have to become an actual band … or something like that. To add to the confusion, the fake band’s song, “Man of Constant Sorrow”, was a cover of an actual song and proved so popular in real life that it was performed lived by real folk musicians as the fake group.
Alvin and the Chipmunks
The first song by a fake group to hit number one — and the only Christmas song to top the Billboard Hot 100 — “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” also won three Grammys that Alvin, Simon, and Theodore were unable to retrieve for obvious reasons. The result of one man speeding up his voice for all three singers, Alvin and the Chipmunks have continued to thrive in Saturday morning cartoons, live-action movies, and in the minds of every jealous band who can’t get a record contract.
You almost certainly don’t know the band, but you’ve probably sang their only hit, “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”, while waving off an opposing team or drunkenly telling an ex to go to hell in a voicemail you’ll regret the next day. Recorded purposely as a B-side that no DJ would ever want to play, the song was dismissed by the three studio musicians who recorded it, forcing the label to create a fake band called “Steam”. But while the A-side flopped, “Na Na Hey Hey” shot straight to number one, and the record label was stuck not only having to make up a band to play the song on tour, but also to throw a bunch of strangers in towels together for a “steam room” album cover that reminds you of the ugly side to gym memberships.
For a band with no band members, The Wonders (or Oneders, as they were confusingly known at first) enjoyed great, short-term success in real life. Featured in the Tom Hanks-directed That Thing You Do!, a movie about a one-hit wonder, The Wonders hit both the actual Top 40 and even scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. Well, really, it was the creator of the song, the bassist for the group Fountains of Wayne, who scored the nomination. But it was The Wonders’ name that appeared on the single, on the music video, and in any music magazine without a fact-checking department.
Eddie and the Cruisers
Back in the early 80’s, before HBO and Netflix split all the Emmy nominations, premium cable kept showing the same three movies over and over again. One of those films, a movie that was barely in theaters past its first ten minutes, was Eddie and the Cruisers, about a rock group and the mysterious disappearance of its lead singer. The film proved so popular on cable that the soundtrack eventually sold four million copies and the fake band scored a nonfictional number one hit with “On the Dark Side”. In reality, that song was performed by a real band, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, who would go on to have their own smaller hits. But none of that would have been possible if they hadn’t pretended to be someone else first.
Listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Successful Virtual Band of All Time”, the animated Gorillaz (featuring cartoon characters 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs) are like The Archies if they’d been stabbed and replaced by their assailants. Created by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, the Gorillaz are the only fake band on this list to go on lengthy tours (thanks to giant projection screens), call upon the spirits of deceased rappers, and sing a song prominently featuring actor/director Clint Eastwood that may or may not have something to do with pot.
The Monkees are about as real as a fake band can get. After the success of the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night, Hollywood decided to create a television series about a fictional mop-topped foursome whose similarities would have given a later generation of lawyers night sweats. They hired four actors/musicians — Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork — with varying degrees of musical skill and experience. Instruments on the television set were unplugged and the songs re-recorded later in a music studio. As the show progressed, the Monkees began writing their own songs, which the television studio wouldn’t let them record. Mike Nesmith, who regarded himself a musician first and an actor second, pushed especially hard to make his fake band real, and the producers eventually relented. By the band’s third album the musicians were actually playing and singing much of their own music (with the frequent aid of session musicians). With six albums by the original line-up, a television show that lasted two seasons, a feature length movie and songs still played on the radio today, it’s hard to tell where the actors ended and the real band began.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil, released this week, follows an aging metal band trying to reclaim former rock glory. And if that sounds like the plot to the influential, and ironically more popular, 80s mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, well, it’s because it is. With sparsely attended concerts, a record label that refuses to print the sexist cover to their album “Smell the Glove” and glowing record reviews like the two-word critique that simply read “s— sandwich,” Spinal Tap is more famous as the fictional subject of Rob Reiner’s self-proclaimed “rockumentary” than as a real band. But while the movie focuses on the washed-up rockers’ inability to recognize their own unpopularity, their extravagant set-designs, childish logic and classic singles like “Sex Farm” and “Big Bottom” have made this fake band a real world hit. Actors Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer recorded a followup album, Break Like the Wind, in 1992, and are launching a reunion tour in spring 2009.
Which fake band was your favorite?
10 Popular Bands That Never Existed