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'This Is Spinal Tap' Quotes: List Of Top 30 Quotes From Christopher Guest's First Hit

Entertainment | March 2, 2020

This is Spinal Tap, circa 1984. L to R: Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean (Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Images)

This Is Spinal Tap is one of those movies, nay, pieces of art that we can’t imagine living without. Not only is it a trenchant critique of rock n roll excess and celebrity in general, but it’s one of the funniest films ever made. Christopher Guest’s first foray into feature filmmaking forged a bond that he kept throughout his career whether it was in films like A Mighty Wind, Best In Show, or Waiting for Guffman. This Is Spinal Tap has so many quotable lines that it’s impossible to list them all without publishing the script, and whats all the more fascinating is that many of them were made up on the spot. The movie is so improvised that the four writers on the projected attempted to have the Writers Guild of America give every member of the cast a writing credit to no avail. Get out your cucumbers and wrap them in foil because it’s time to take a look at the top quotes from This Is Spinal Tap.

'These Go To Eleven'

source: MGM

Even if you haven't seen This Is Spinal Tap you know this quote. "Gone to 11" is the signifier of a someone who's gone so far off the reservation that they no longer live in reality. Or, more broadly, something that's just cranked up beyond the maximum. When Marty DiBergi asks hot shot guitarist Nigel Tufnel about his amps Tufnel explains that whenever the band wants to kick things into overdrive they turn them up from 10 -- normally the highest volume on an amplifier - to 11. When DiBergi asks why not just make 10 louder, Tufnel explains, "These go to 11." 

'It’s Such A Fine Line Between Stupid, And Uh… Clever'

source: MGM

Much of This Is Spinal Tap deals with the band's displeasure over the way their album Smell The Glove has turned out. The distributor balks at their racy cover and decides to release it with solid black art work (more on that later) and the band is incensed - especially when they find out that another band has essentially stolen then BDSM inspired idea. After their manager explains that the artist was tied up on his artwork and that women were tied up on theirs. The band comes to the realization that it's a fine line between stupid and clever. This quote is so perfect that it could be the tagline for the film.

'We’ve Got, You Know, Armadillos In Our Trousers'

source: MGM

"It's really quite frightening, the size." While in an interview for their rockumentary David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel explain that their female fans don't just lust after them when they see them onstage, but that they're terrified and intrigued by what the men have in their tight leather pants. This line is, of course, a set up for a joke later in the film when bassist Derek Smalls is stopped at a metal detector and has to reveal that he's got a cucumber wrapped in tinfoil shoved down his pants. As off the cuff as many of the lines are in this film it's cool to see that the guys were cognizant of how jokes would play out later.

'He Died In A Bizarre Gardening Accident…'

source: MGM

One of the running jokes in the film is the way in which their drummers never make it out of the band alive. Their first man behind the kit passed away in a bizzare gardening accident but what makes it even stranger is the way the police thought to deal with it. Nigel Tufnel explains:

Authorities said… best leave it… unsolved.

According to director Christopher Guest the joke came full circle when he and the rest of the guys actually toured as Spinal Tap and their drummer, Ric Parnell, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his leg. Luckily he was able to get patched up in time for the show and play the rest of the gigs.

'Here Lies David St. Hubbins… And Why Not?'

source: MGM

During the credits, Di Bergi asks the band a series of one on one questions that are meant to give us insight into their lives, but when singer David St. Hubbins is asked to write his own epitaph the best he can come up with is "Here lies David St. Hubbins... and why not?" St. Hubbins even admits that the epitaph isn't all that good but it's just the first thing that came to mind. It seems like a tossed off moment but it's a really funny insight into the character who drives much of the drama of the film.

'I Think That The Problem May Have Been That There Was A Stonehenge Monument On The Stage That Was In Danger Of Being Crushed By A Dwarf'

source: MGM

The most memorable scene in the film comes when the band sees their Stonehenge stage setup for the first time and it's far too small. Because the blueprints were mislabeled it's 18 inches high and not 18 feet high. As ridiculous as this is a similar thing happened to Black Sabbath on their 1983 "Born Again" tour. When the band hit the road they realized hat their version of the monument was too big to fit on stage. Oddly enough the scene wasn't inspired by Sabbath's bad luck. It was a part of the 20 minute short that was filmed to get a greenlight for the feature.

'You Don’t Do Heavy Metal In Dubly, You Know'

source: MGM

What story of a rock and falling apart doesn't feature the girlfriend of one of the members becoming a little too intertwined with the group? In a scene where the band is discussing why their most recent album didn't sell David St. Hubbins' girlfriend Jeannie suggests that it shouldn't have been mixed in "Dubly." Nigel Tufnel, looking for any excuse to argue with her pounces and laughs off her ideas because she doesn't know that it's pronounced "Dolby." It's similar to when Yoko began speaking for John at Beatles practice sessions, albeit somewhat less annoying -- but only just a little.

'This Piece Is Called 'Lick My Love Pump''

source: MGM

This scene shows that the members of Spinal Tap aren’t just a bunch of dummies who only know how to play heavy metal, they’re genuine musicians who are influenced by classical performers - they just can’t get out of their own way when it comes to the need to sell records. Played by director Christopher Guest, Tufnel finally gets to show off his musicianship in this short scene with a killer punchline.  Rather than bring someone in to play piano for Guest he did it himself, proving that he's just as adept on the keys as he is with comedy.

'You'd Like Bigger Bread?'

source: MGM

Considered by The Guardian to be the "best sandwich scene" in cinema, this moment in the film shows the true pain of being a traveling musician and hanging to live on craft services day in and day out. When band manager Ian Faith walks into the green room Nigel Tufnel calls him over to see that the backstage buffet is filled with miniature bread, the kind made for tiny slices of cheese. When Faith makes excuses and offers to find better, bigger bread for Tufnel the guitarist responds:

 It's not going to affect my performance, don't worry about that. I just hate it... it really, it does disturb me, but i'll rise above it; I'm a professional.

'The Review You Had On 'Shark Sandwich,' Which Was Merely A Two-word Review, Just Said Sh*t Sandwich'

source: MGM

Spinal Tap aren't what you'd refer to as a "critically acclaimed" band, they make music for the fans. The film shows how critics are so gleeful at the chance to write nasty, mean-spirited reviews about the group. This is something that's barely even tweaked for the film as critics have been going out of their way to rip on bands for decades before This Is Spinal Tap was released. It's still happening today, just read Pitchfork if you need to get a fix for mean reviews.

'Mime Is Money'

source: MGM

During a party in celebration for Spinal Tap's first American tour in six years the group has to deal with publicists and people from the label as well as a catering staff made up of mimes. It such a weird, surreal idea that you can't help but laugh. The short scene features Billy Crystal and Dana Carvey as mimes, with Crystal telling Carvey not to "talk back" while he gets some lessons on how to serve their guests. This quote and scene is one of the many blink and you'll miss it gags that happen in the movie that take it from being merely funny to being a cult classic.

Derek Smalls Knows His Place

source: MGM

Throughout the film Nigel and David fight each other for dominance over the group, but bassist Derek Smalls manages to find a middle ground by not taking a stance on any major idea. He explains that he's not so much a visionary as he is a kind of goldilocks of a bandmate:

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.

'None More Black'

source: MGM

After weeks of back and forth over the rather sexist (or is it sexy?) album art for Smell The Glove, a kind of compromise is reached -- the record label agrees to release the album with a completely black cover. When he sees it, Nigel Tufnel states, “It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” About seven years later a comparison between Spinal Tap's album cover and Metallica's cover for The Black Album was drawn that severely annoyed drummer Lars Ulrich. He explained

Sure, there have been some people who've thought it was rather Spinal Tap, but if it came down to a choice between black and pink, you know what I mean? People can throw all this 'Tap s**t at me all day, it just reflects off me. I don't give a s**t.

'What's Wrong With Being Sexy?'

source: MGM

The rather lurid cover of Spinal Tap's Smell The Glove supposedly features a woman leashed to a dog collar with an anonymous man shoving a glove into her face. Or at least that's what we hear is on the cover because we never actually see it. Early in the film the band's publicist Bobbi Fleckman explains that the album cover that the band wants is "sexist." Nigel Tufnel asks "What's wrong with being sexy?" After asking he's immediately admonished by his other bandmates and manager as they explain the difference between sexist and sexy. It's definitely a nod to how clueless so many musicians were in their day.

'They've Earned Themselves A Distinguished Place In Rock History As One Of Britain's Loudest Bands'

source: MGM

The opening of the film features Rob Reiner as director Marti Di Bergi explaining what the audience is about to see. This is important for a few reasons: not only was this the first Christopher Guest movie, but it was the first faux-documentary that had ever been presented as a work of non-fiction. Reiner's straight forward explanation of the band is necessary so we can figure out just who we're going to be seeing but it also cements the fact that the whole thing is a goof -- especially when he explains that Spinal Tap is one of Britain's loudest bands.

'So When You’re Playing You Feel Like A Preserved Moose On Stage?'

source: MGM

One of the biggest questions raised by the film is what kind of arrested development do artists find themselves in when they're cut off from the real world and just allowed to fester? Bassist Derek Smalls notes that rather than stay a kind of child he's more of a "preserved moose." He explains to Marty DiBergi:

I feel it’s like, it’s more like going, going to a, a national park or something. And there’s, you know, they preserve the moose. And that’s, that’s my childhood up there on stage. That moose, you know.

'Oh, We’ve Got A Bigger Dressing Room Than The Puppets. That’s Refreshing'

source: MGM

Once things star falling apart for the band they're reduced to playing the same venues as puppet shows. They even wind up in a sparsely attended theme park show, but it's the fact that they're splitting a venue with puppets that irks St. Hubbins. In an attempt to look towards the bright sight Hubbins' girlfriend/manager notes that Spinal Tap have a better and bigger dressing room than the puppets. St. Hubbins isn't amused but it would have been even worse if the band had to acquiesce their felt rivals.

A Well Written Critique Can Be Painful

source: MGM

Early in the film director Marty DiBergi reads some of the bands reviews to them and they're absolutely devastating, although the band just thinks that the reviewers who don't like them are just splitting hairs. One of the most cutting reviews reads:

This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry.

To which guitarist Nigel Tufnel responds, "That’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?" The next time someone offers a critique that you don't care for now you know how to answer.

'I Remember Being Knocked Out By Their… Their Exuberance, Their Raw Power… And Their Punctuality'

source: MGM

According to his introduction to the audience the thing that first drew Marti De Bargi to Spinal Tap in the first place wasn't their great songs or their onstage power, it was the fact that they tend to be on time for their gigs. That may not be the most rock n roll thing that a band has ever done but at least we know that the band can get onstage at the right time.

'You Can't Really Dust For Vomit'

source: MGM

As far as drummer deaths go, Stumpy Joe's was probably the worst. Spontaneous combustion and mysterious accidents are one thing, but there's nothing worse than choking on someone else's vomit, which is what we're led to believe happened to the group's second drummer. Worst of all, no one knows whose vomit it was because there's no way to test for that sort of thing. As nuts as this sounds it's based on the idea that musicians like Mama Cass and Jimi Hendrix both passed away after choking on their own vomit following a night of hard partying. It's an awful way to go.

'You Know, Several, You Know, Dozens Of People Spontaneously Combust Each Year'

source: MGM

While discussing the death of their third drummer, Peter "James" Bond, the band explains that he spontaneously combusted while onstage, leaving little but a piece of green goo on his drum throne while they played at a "Jazz Blues" festival. As ridiculous as that sounds, David St. Hubbins explains that, "dozens of people spontaneously combust every year, it's just not widely reported."

The film only covers a few of the band's drummers, but out of the nine they've had they've each passed away, disappeared, or started playing jazz - which is just as bad if not worse than being dead.

'I’m Sure I’d Feel Much Worse If I Weren’t Under Such Heavy Sedation'

source: MGM

After playing one of the worst shows of their career to a group of uncaring attendees at an Air Force base Nigel Tufnel throws down his guitar and walks away from the band for good. In an interview after the gig David St. Hubbins explains that he's not going to miss Tufnel because the band has had something like 36 other members over their careers. Di Bergi asks if that's really the case, after all the two have been friends since they were children. St. Hubbins answers that he'd feel bad about the whole thing if he weren't so high. It's a funny line but it gets to the heart of the music industry.

What Would Nigel Tufnel Do If He Couldn't Be A Rock Star?

source: MGM

The end of the film puts a very real spin on the ridiculous world of Spinal Tap by asking what guitarist Nigel Tufnel would do if he weren't a rock star -- something that he's likely thinking of because of the band's falling star. He puts together an answer that shows just how lost he is without his guitar, the stage, or the audience: 

Well, I suppose I could, uh, work in a shop of some kind, or... or do, uh, freelance, uh, selling of some sort of, uh, product. You know... a salesman, like maybe in a, uh, haberdasher, or maybe like a, uh, um... a chapeau shop or something. You know, like, 'Would you... what size do you wear, sir?'

'I Wouldn't Worry About It Though, It's Not A Big College Town'

source: MGM

After the band finds out their their show in Boston has been canceled their manager does what he can to make them feel better by mentioning that it's not a big deal because it's not like there are any colleges in Boston or anything.  Obviously there's something between 5 and 5,000 universities in one of the oldest cities in America. 

'It Wasn't A Glove, Believe Me'

source: MGM

There's a lot of hay that's made out of the would-be album art for Smell The Glove, the band's most recent album that's been given a solid black album cover. The initial design, as explained by publicist Bobbi Flekman, is: 

A greased naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck, and a leash, and a man's arm extended out up to here, holding onto the leash, and pushing a black glove in her face to sniff it. You don't find that offensive? You don't find that sexist?

Manager Ian Faith explains that the version she's talking about is way more tame than the original version because on the original version "wasn't a glove."

'We Are Such Fans Of Your Music And All Of Your Records. I'm Not Speaking Of Yours Personally, But The Whole Genre Of The Rock And Roll'

source: MGM

Towards the end of the film the bands finds themselves in dire straits. Their longtime manager is gone, leaving David St. Hubbins' girlfriend in his place, and one of their major shows has been canceled. The only thing they have to do is pick up a gig on an Air Force base performing for a group of people who have no idea what they're getting into. When they arrive at the base they meet Lt. Hookstratten who tells the band that they're big fans of the concept of rock 'n roll and not so much Spinal Tap. It's such a funny, mean line but when delivered by Fred Willard it loses some of its venom.

This Is The End… Or Is It?

source: MGM

After Nigel Tufnel quits the band Spinal Tap is a shell of its former self. That, coupled with their poor touring performance, leads everyone to admit that the band is done. When David St. Hubbins is asked if this is the end he explains in a very round about way: 

Well, I don't really think that the end can be assessed as of itself as being the end because what does the end feel like? It's like saying when you try to extrapolate the end of the universe, you say, if the universe is indeed infinite, then how - what does that mean? How far is all the way, and then if it stops, what's stopping it, and what's behind what's stopping it? So, what's the end, you know, is my question to you.

'That's Not To Say I Haven't Had My Visionary Moments. I've Taken Acid Seventy... Five, 76 Times'

source: MGM

Bassist Derek Smalls may not be the important member of the band but he holds everything down with the bass (and a killer mustache) but his quote about how much acid he's dropped gives you some insight into why he's a little out of it regardless of what scene he's in.

Envy Can Be A Good Thing

source: MGM

After Spinal Tap decide to call it quits Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins convince themselves that not only are they doing the right thing but that they're actually very lucky in that they get to break up their band. After Derek Smalls says that people should be envying them David St. Hubbins says that he envies them. In fact, they both envy each other.

'As Long As There's, You Know, Sex And Drugs, I Can Do Without The Rock And Roll'

source: MGM

In the final minutes of the film, as the credits roll and we learn that the band is back together and touring Japan, Di Bergi asks each member what they'd be doing if they weren't in a rock band. While in the bath, drummer Mick Shrimpton notes that even as the doomed drummer of Britain's loudest rock band he doesn't really care about rock 'n roll. This final summation from each member of the group underscores the theme of the film -- that these guys don't need to be doing this, and the world would be better off if they called it quits.

Tags: Christopher Guest | Famous Quotes From The 1980s | Harry Shearer | Michael McKean | Movie Quotes | Popular Lists Of Everything From The Groovy Era | This Is Spinal Tap

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.