Also in 1979, Guest and McKean were members of Lenny and the Squigtones, a band that was fronted by characters from the hit television series Laverne and Shirley. Guest (this time playing guitar and clarinet) was credited as "Nigel Tufnel", the name he would eventually use as a member of Spinal Tap.
The popularity of Spinal Tap proper started as a TV sketch that first appeared on a 1979 ABC TV sketch comedy pilot called The T.V. Show, starring Rob Reiner. The sketch was actually a mock promotional video for the song Rock and Roll Nightmare. It was written by Reiner and the band, and included songwriter/performer Loudon Wainwright III on keyboards. The skit was introduced by Reiner in character as Wolfman Jack; the Spinal Tap band members were at this point unnamed.
In 1984 the skit evolved into a full-featured comedy documentary (mockumentary) film depicting a struggling English band undertaking a disastrous US tour. Stonehenge stage props, cucumbers placed down the front of trousers, drummers who would die in "a bizarre gardening accident" or "choked on vomit" (a reference to John Bonham's and Bon Scott's deaths) -- but not his own vomit, would accompany the band; two of the drummers supposedly died from "spontaneous human combustion" onstage as well as one that was "best left unsolved". Notably also was the red leather and spandex clothes, long hair and the famous amps that went to '11'; it all added up to a collection of band mishaps and silliness bestowed by this group. Done in an almost convincing documentary style it exploited every heavy metal cliché in the book.
The film This Is Spinal Tap was completed in 1984 with a soundtrack by the same name. Spinal Tap originally featured two true-life musicians during its TV time, but Louden Wainwright and drummer Russ Kunkel dropped out shortly before the movie. Although the film was a flop at the time, it has subsequently been catapulted into cult status on video with the members following it up with a set of fictional releases - yes fictional and never released - starting with the singles Big Bottom, (Listen To The) Flower People and Sex Farm. as well as many more singles and no less than 12 albums and 3 live albums!
Although the 1984 film portrays the band hailing from the United Kingdom, the three actors who play the principal band members (Guest, McKean and Shearer) were actually born in the United States. Kaff and Parnell, who have much smaller roles in the film, are both bonafide British. Christopher Guest, however, was raised in both the US and UK; he would maintain dual citizenship and, later, a title of nobility: Baron Haden-Guest.
The band appeared as the musical guests on an episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) in the spring of 1984. Barry Bostwick was the host. At this time producer Dick Ebersol approached Shearer, Guest and McKean to join the cast. Shearer and Guest accepted. (McKean would not join until ten years later, by which time original producer Lorne Michaels was back at the show's helm). Shearer's stint on SNL the following season--his second, the first having been the 1979-80 season--was to be short-lived, following creative disputes with the show's management. Shearer has said that when Ebersol made the offer during the Spinal Tap guest appearance, "I didn't realize that guests were treated better than cast members."
In 1985 at the invitation of Ronnie James Dio, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer took part in the heavy metal benefit project Hear 'n Aid, to raise money for Ethiopian refugees. McKean and Shearer met dozens of real-life metal stars, many of whom were huge fans of Spinal Tap. The musicians greatly enjoyed meeting McKean and Shearer and sharing their own stories of disastrous gigs and malfunctioning special effects.
In 1992 a comeback of sorts was attempted with Jeff Beck, Slash and Cher sharing spots on the album Break Like The Wind (1992). Further EP releases of Bitch School (1992) and The Majesty Of Rock EP (1992) followed, all getting them top 50 chartings, now playing the parts of real musicians.
On July 1, 1992, as part of MuchMusic's Canada Day "Great Canadian Party" festival, Spinal Tap completed an whirlwind tour of Canada! In less than 24 hours, they jetted across six time-zones, starting at St. John's, Newfoundland in the far east, Barrie, Ontario (central), and Vancouver, British Columbia, a continent away at the far west. That evening, during a performance of Stonehenge, the band received their signature set-piece via Canada's national post (Canada Post) in a small, bubble-wrap envelope that Derek Smalls signed for onstage. Bemused, Smalls tore open the packaging, and revealed to the cheering crowd the prop which looked to be half the size of the original 18 inch Stonehenge rock from the film!
In 1994, The Return of Spinal Tap, the follow-up to the famous original movie, was released on video; most of it featured live material from a 1992 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, but it also included interviews and follow-up articles on the band members' histories.
In May 2008, Nigel Tufnel appeared in the National Geographic show Stonehenge Decoded, expounding his ridiculous theories about Stonehenge and who was responsible for building it. His claims to have conducted "decoder" experiments capable of unveiling the true purpose of the monument are, as yet, unproven.
On August 25, 2009, Spinal Tap released a seven-minute short film titled Stonehenge: 'Tis a Magical Place celebrating the act's 25th anniversary. The video was distributed through INgrooves and was available only on iTunes. The short film depicted the founding members of Spinal Tap making a pilgrimage to Stonehenge for the first time.
It is important to note that Spinal Tap actually has two discographies, a fictional one and a real one. What Diskery lists is the real one.