Hello Cleveland! What's wrong with being sexy? Eleven ways in which Spinal Tap changed the lexicon of rock

Spinal Tap studio portrait
(Image credit: David Corio via Getty Images)

Coining the term ‘rockumentary’, This Is Spinal Tap’s timeless spoof followed a hapless British rock band on their doomed US jaunt promoting their album Smell The Glove. The key band members – David St Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls – were played by comedian-performer friends Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, their all-improvised lines assimilating into common rock parlance and beyond. 

Here are just 11 (well, naturally) of the film’s most far-reaching utterances.


Bizarre gardening accident/ exploding drummers

At the time of the film, Spinal Tap had had two drummers cark it by exploding, or combusting, on stage. These days the concept may spring to mind when a drummer’s demise is announced. Stumpy Joe Pepys’s death by ‘bizarre gardening accident’ unfortunately did seem to foreshadow Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro’s passing, and was mentioned when Brian May had a nasty rough-up at home in 2020. 

The numbers go up to 11

Tap’s greatest idiom occurred as Nigel Tufnel gave documentary director Marty DiBergi (actor-director Rob Reiner) a tour of his prized guitars and Marshall amp. Traditionally, maximum volume is pegged at 10. “The numbers all go to eleven,” Tufnel said, pointing to the amp’s knobs. “It’s one louder.” Subsequently, Soldano and Friedman amps ran with the idea, as did, among others, SSL mixing consoles, the BBC iPlayer volume, and the tachometer on a Porsche 911. 

None more black

When the cover for Tap’s album Smell The Glove is deemed offensive, the solution is to release it in an all-black sleeve with no type. Smalls is mesmerised by the “black mirror” effect (er, the shrinkwrap), St Hubbins is horrified as he feels it’s “like death”, and Tufnel embraces how black it is: “none more black”. A few years down the line Metallica revisited the idea for their self-titled 1991 release.

The ‘Where Are They Now?’ file

Summoned by Smalls to hear Tap’s previous incarnation, The Thamesmen, on the radio, the band are crushed by DJ Johnny Q’s relegation of Tap to “currently residing in the ‘Where Are They Now?’ file”, seeing as they’re on a US tour. Writers and broadcasters have endeavoured to be a bit more clued-up and tactful about vintage artists since then, but the term still abounds.

Hello Cleveland!

Inspired by footage of Tom Petty losing his way to a stage in Germany and arriving at an indoor tennis court instead, Tap get lost in an under-theatre maze of passageways, with only a confused boiler engineer to help them find their way from the dressing room to the stage. For artists such as Blink-182, Ozzy, Robert Plant and many more real-life disorientees, “Hello Cleveland!” is the cry of optimism in the face of “Where the fuck are we now?”

What’s wrong with being sexy?

Smell The Glove is compromised by its cover art: an oiled-up naked female on a leash. Band manager Ian Faith tells the band that the label thinks it's “sexist”. Tufnel’s innocent response after mishearing the word is actually rather endearing. It would become a knowing catchphrase, and title a pretty good 2006 compilation featuring Tokyo Dragons, Candlemass, Bodycount and more.

Too much fucking perspective

Stood around Elvis’s grave trying, unsuccessfully, to harmonise an impromptu Heartbreak Hotel, Smalls, Tufnel and St Hubbins are forced to refocus after St Hubbins notes how depressing the situation is. “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it?” says Tufnel. “Too much,” says St Hubbins. “There’s too much fucking perspective.” And who hasn’t brought this line to mind in moments of quiet, or noisy, reflection since?

Lick My Love Pump

Tinkling on his piano in D minor, “the saddest of all keys”, a gum-chewing Tufnel creates a pretty refrain that’s a mix of “Mozart and Bach… a Mach piece” and informs DiBergi of its title without batting an eyelid. It’s difficult to not hear any poignant piano ballad these days without expecting its title to be a variation on a theme of Lick My Love Pump.


The band decide to entice flagging US audiences by going Druid and adding some Stonehenge scenery. But Tufnel mislabels instructions for an 18-foot trilithon prop, and what arrives is 10 times smaller. During the show, with two people of restricted growth celtic-jigging around it, an unforgettable scene ensues. St Hubbins later fumes: “There was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.” Now shorthand for all theatrical booboos, any act planning a construction now has to make sure: a) it’s dimensions are stated in feet, not inches, and b) it’s not drawn on a napkin.

Recording in Dobly

When St Hubbins’s partner Jeanine suggests that Smell The Glove is flopping is because “it should have been in recorded in Dobly”, jealous bandmate Tufnel is in fits of laughter. From this moment, the state-of-the-art Dolby Stereo system was re-monikered – and now lives on as Dobly Atmos.

Have a good time, all the time

As the film credits roll, this philosophy is proffered by Tap’s spaced-out keyboard player Viv Savage (played by Rare Bird’s David Kaf). It’s something we at Classic Rock concur with.

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.