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Fake Bands, Real Songs: The 50 Best Tunes by Made-Up Musicians

From the Archies to the Wonders to Daisy Jones & the Six

From Left: Busy Philipps as Summer in Girls5Eva, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest of Spinal Tap, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born.


TODAY’S LAUNCH OF Daisy Jones & The Six, Amazon’s 10-episode adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling novel about the rise and fall of a fictional Seventies rock band has us wondering where The Six lands in the long and sometimes distinguished history of fake bands and singers in film and television. It’s a strange but often hugely appealing musical subgenre, and this is our attempt to figure out which are the true best songs of the fake best songs.

We set out the following eligibility rules: 1) Original songs only, with apologies to the Blues Brothers, the Commitments, and other great fictional cover artists; 2) No biopics or other films where musicians essentially play themselves (e.g., Prince in Purple Rain or Eminem in 8 Mile); and 3) It has to be some kind of genuine fictional music act, rather than someone just performing an original song in the context of a movie, show, or stage musical. We also had a long debate about what to do with the Monkees, before it was decided that at a certain point, they Pinocchio’ed their way into being a real band, and thus didn’t qualify. (Otherwise, “Daydream Believer” would have been very highly ranked.)

Hear this playlist on Spotify.


‘3 Small Words,’ Josie and the Pussycats

Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan’s live-action take on the Archie Comics mainstay was dismissed in 2001, but later reclaimed as a cult classic, for both its cutting satire and a fantastic collection of songs for Josie, Melody, and Valerie to play. Adam Schlesinger’s got another great one here in the very Fountains of Wayne-esque “Pretend to be Nice.” But the movie rightly introduces the Pussycats with the pop-punk banger “3 Small Words,”written by Elfont, Kaplan, Dave Gibbs, and Adam Duritz, with Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley as the singing voice of Josie. –A.S.


‘Shallow,’ Jackson Maine and Ally

“Shallow” was a runaway success before A Star Is Born was even out. The song, including the booming note Lady Gaga’s Ally hits on the bridge, became instantly iconic as soon as it was featured in the film’s trailer. The song, like the rest of the soundtrack, made this risky remake by Gaga and director/co-star Bradley Cooper truly shine as bright as its three classic predecessors and gave it a uniquely (and necessary) modern spin. Like her superb acting in the film, Gaga’s own knack for excellent pop and rock songwriting elevates the character beyond just an unknown star with a gorgeous voice. “Shallow” shows Ally’s edge, and rightfully earned Gaga a Best Original Song Oscar and another Top 10 hit. —B.S.


‘Scotty Doesn’t Know,’ Lustra

As crass as it is hilarious, this Blink-182-style nugget — written for the cult-classic 2004 film Eurotrip, in which it’s lip-synced by a punked-out Matt Damon— is catchy enough to have hit the Hot 100 singles chart in real life. It’s all about the lyrics — punched up by the movie’s writing team of Seinfeld veterans (Jeff Schaffer, Alec Berg, and David Mandel) — which present a cartoonish cavalcade of cuckoldry (“I can’t believe he’s so trusting/While I’m right behind you thrusting”). In the film, of course, the main character (Scotty, obviously) only learns that his girlfriend (Smallville‘s Kristin Kreuk) has been cheating on him with Damon’s character when he hears the song for the first time. —B.H.


‘That Thing You Do!,’ The Wonders

What else could the number-one song on this list be other than the irresistible power-pop tune by a band that first called itself the Oneders? Tom Hanks’ directorial debut about an early-Sixties group that has one big hit before disbanding would not work at all if the title song was not wholly convincing. But the late Adam Schlesinger proved his bona fides as the unquestioned master of the fake-pop-song form with the tight harmonies and catchy riffs he wrote for these one-hit wonders. The song plays in full or in part 11 different times in the film, and never gets old. —A.S.