The best fictional pop acts

BY James Oliver

23rd Jul 2018 Music

1 min read

The best fictional pop acts
The best of fictional music characters, rank them as you go!
It's high summer, and we're slap-bang in the middle of the music festival season, that glorious time of the year when music lovers brave sun-stroke to stand three-quarters of a mile away from a stage watching acts they've never heard of play songs they don't know while surrounded by people who really could do with a bath. Good times!
Those more partial to their creature comforts might prefer something more salubrious, and perhaps The Beatles from A Hard Day's Night and Help! help you here. For there have been ample depictions of “pop” performers in movies over the years, and it’s easy enough to curate our very own festival of the most notable. All of these artists are strictly fictional and probably better for it: at least these guys are guaranteed to play the hits.

1. Beef from The Phantom of the Paradise

The OTT glam rocker Beef from The Phantom of Paradise
Before Meatloaf, there was Beef, the singular glam-rocker who comes to a sticky end in Brian de Palma's gloriously over the top quasi-musical. An outrageous parody of outrageous performers, Beef's excesses are contrasted with the artistic integrity of the titular Phantom, whose sensitive songs are an expression of his innermost feelings rather than crass Top 40 fodder.The thing is, though, Beef's bombast is so much more fun than the winsome, middle-of-the-road Adult Orientated Rock that the film conflates with good taste. Given Brian De Palma's own predilection for lurid showmanship (given a thorough workout here), this might be a clever joke. Or it might just as easily mean he has a lousy taste in music.  

2. The Beatles from A Hard Day's Night and Help!

“Hold on,” I hear you cry! “Isn't this a compilation of fictional bands? Because The Beatles were very much real.” True enough: there really was a group called The Beatles but they had very little in common with the one featured in these films. Oh, they looked the same and shared the same names but the similarities only went so far.This is The Beatles as people wanted to see them, as chirpy, cheeky mop-tops. It's an image some people cling to still. After all, it's impossible to imagine The Beatles from the movies necking drugs galore, let alone releasing “Revolution 9”.

3. Everyone who is featured in Gonks Go Beat

gonks go beat
This list is in no particular order but if this really was a festival programme then Gonks Go Beat would be at the very bottom of the bill. The opening act on one of the smaller stages. Before anyone actually arrived. Following the success of A Hard Day's Night, enterprising British producers rushed to make other films about this crazy new “rock” music that the kids seemed to like so much. Gonks Go Beat is generally accepted as the very worst—and let's remember, this is in the face of films starring Herman's Hermits. It is a sort of science fiction film where aliens land on a futuristic version of earth to resolve the musical differences that divide the human race. You can have fun spotting the future stars (Ginger Baker! Charlie from Casualty!) but the most entertaining feature of the film is marvelling how it ever came to be made.   

4. Rachel Marron from The Bodyguard

Poor old Whitney Houston. When she made The Bodyguard, everyone thought she was no more than a peddler of popular, if inoffensive power ballads, something that this film only confirmed (she recorded her biggest hit, the mega-selling “I Will Always Love You” for its soundtrack). Only now, years after a tragically premature death, do we learn how much more there was to her. Two documentaries—Whitney (on release now) and Whitney: Can I Be Me?—lay bare abuses of the most grievous kind, not to mention the exploitation of a remarkable talent. Rachel Marron, the character she played here, only had to deal with a stalker and a hitman, and she had Kevin Costner on the case. What a shame the real Whitney didn't have someone watching her back.  

5. N.W.H. from Fear of a Black Hat

A film that does for Rap what This is Spinal Tap did for traditional guitar rock. But while a great many acts can claim to be the inspiration for Spinal Tap, the influence here is more specific. To be exact, (made up rappers) N.W.H. seem to owe a great deal to (real life crew) N.W.A and their dealings with the music industry. Oddly enough, N.W.A. were also parodied in another film that was inevitably compared to This Is Spinal Tap, CB4. Quite what poor old N.W.A. had done to earn such mockery is anyone's guess but we must hope it didn't hurt their feelings too much.  

6. Spinal Tap from This is Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap film poster
An inevitable entry on a list such as this, this documentary—or, if you will, rockumentary—about a (fictional) British heavy metal band is perhaps the best loved music film of all, and certainly the funniest. The number of bands who think it is based on them is near-infinite, and even bands unformed when it was made have confessed it cuts uncomfortable close to the bone. If you haven't watched it yet, you must. That's an order.

7. The Carrie Nations from Beyond The Valley of the Dolls

A notional sequel to The Valley of the Dolls (itself based on the big bonk-buster book of its day), Beyond The Valley of the Dolls has almost nothing to do with its predecessor. Instead, it places its tongue very firmly in its cheek to survey the decadence and debauchery of late 1960s Los Angeles. It centres on The Carrie Nations—the finest all-girl rock group that ever there was: FACT—and charts their rise from wannabes to jaded professionals. Along the way, they meet stand-ins for Muhammed Ali, Phil Spector and even find themselves in the midst of a cut-price Manson massacre. Directed by sometime soft-core maestro Russ Meyer (and written by noted film critic Roger Ebert), this poker-faced parody of moral panic was a notorious flop on first release but now looks like one of the best American flicks of its era. And the music is great.  

8. The Ain't Rights from Green Room

As Spinal Tap shows, every band has its collection of war stories, about those disasters they encountered on the road. Few, though, can match punk band The Ain't Rights when it comes to tales of gigs going wrong. Rather worse than getting lost on the way to the stage, they find themselves besieged by a group of machete-wielding neo-Nazis and not just because they played a bad show. To say much more counts as a spoiler but suffice it to say that one member will be undertaking a solo career rather sooner than they might have planned.
Banner photo: The Carrie Nations from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (20th Century Fox)
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter