11 Fake Artists, 11 Real Hits

11 Fake Artists, 11 Real Hits

Milli Vanilli
Milli Vanilli (Photo by Bob King/Redferns)

Whether they be TV tie-ins, incognito side-projects or the ever-popular pop song attributed to a cartoon animal, the history of the singles chart is littered with fake acts notching up big hits. Here are 11 times counterfeit creations rose to the upper reaches of the Australian charts.

The Takeaways - "Sweet & Sour" (1984)

The ABC assembled a stellar cast of Aussie (and Kiwi) musicians to create the music for their early ‘80s TV series Sweet & Sour. Focusing on a new Sydney pop rock combo as they navigate the highs and lows of the music biz, "Sweet & Sour", the lead single by fictitious group The Takeaways, made it to #13 in the Australian chart. Not only was the track written by "Maxine" hitmaker Sharon O’Neill, the lead vocal was recorded by Deborah Conway, who was fronting Do Re Mi at the time. Aussie musicians working on the project also included The Angels’ Buzz Bidstrup, Tommy Emmanuel, Mental As Anything’s Reg Mombassa, Dragon’s Todd Hunter and Skyhooks members Red Symons and Freddie Strauks. If that wasn’t enough music royalty for you, Molly Meldrum also appeared in a cameo in the show, which only lasted one season. 

The Heights - "How Do You Talk To An Angel" (1993)

The theme tune of a forgotten TV series about a bar band named The Heights trying to make it big, "How Do You Talk To An Angel" (no question mark) hit #3 in the ARIA Singles Chart in early 1993. By the time it peaked here in Australia, the Aaron Spelling-produced show which spawned the hit single had already been cancelled after just one season. Famed session muso Leland Sklar, who has worked with Phil Collins, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, played bass on the track, which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1992. "How Do You Talk To An Angel" was the only single ever released under The Heights name.

The Commitments - "Mustang Sally" (1991)

Based on the novel by Roddy Doyle, the feelgood 1991 Irish film The Commitments featured early appearances by The Corrs’ Andrea Corr and Academy Award-winning musician Glen Hansard. Another list entry based around the highs and lows of a struggling band, The Commitments’ key track "Mustang Sally" might have only peaked at #43 in Australia, but the soundtrack album spent a whopping 51 weeks in the top 40 between 1991 and 1992. It also made the top 50 best-sellers in the ARIA year end lists, with a follow-up album The Commitments Vol 2: Music From The Original Motion Picture unleashed in March 1992.

The Monkees - "I’m A Believer" (1966)

At what point does a fake band become real? For '60s group The Monkees, what started out as fabricated construct for a slapstick TV show ended up being the real deal. As the late Peter Tork told I Like Your Old Stuff in 2016, bandmate “Micky Dolenz used to say it was like Leonard Nimoy becoming a real Vulcan”. While Tork, Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones’ contributions to The Monkees’ self-titled 1966 album (featuring the Neil Diamond-penned single "I’m A Believer", which went to number one in the Australian Go-Set singles chart) was basically restricted to vocals only, by the time of their third album, 1967’s Headquarters, the quartet were making large contributions to both recording instrumentation as well as songwriting. As The Independent declared in 1997 of the band’s insistence in gaining control of their recorded output from their television overlords: “demanding that they write and play their own material was not too dissimilar from the cast of M*A*S*H wanting to carry out their own surgery”.

Starburst - "Get Your Juices Going" (2002)

Years before advertising agencies were using social media algorithms to hit their audiences, in 2002 the team promoting confectionery brand Starburst took the odd approach of creating a musical act to spruik their product. Credited to a fake group called Starburst (!), the track "Get Your Juices Going" managed to infiltrate the Australian top 30, earned airplay on Nova radio and popped up on Video Hits and Rage. Peppermint Blue music management, who also represented Rogue Traders and Madison Avenue, put together a team of anonymous musicians to write and record the track. While the advertising world were impressed by the subterfuge, ARIA moved to prevent such blatant campaigns penetrating the singles chart again. 

The Archies - "Sugar, Sugar" (1969)

Another sickly confectionery inclusion. It remains the subject of some debate, but it has been claimed The Monkees once refused to record a new tune called "Sugar, Sugar" for their ‘60s TV show’s musical supervisor Don Kirschner. Kirschner instead opted to create the cartoon band The Archies – an imaginary group that could never dent his pride by saying no to him. The Archies took the concept of a manufactured band into a whole new Pantone realm, with debut single "Sugar, Sugar" the global number one selling single of 1969 with more than one million copies sold. Soul singer Wilson Pickett delivered a credible cover of the track on his Right On album in 1970, while Damon Albarn’s hitmakers Gorillaz would take a similar two-dimensional tack to The Archies more than 30 years later. 

The Timelords - "Doctorin’ The Tardis" (1988)A bizarre clash of Gary Glitter’s "Rock And Roll (Part Two)", Sweet’s "Block Buster!" and the Doctor Who theme song, The Timelords’ "Doctorin’ The Tardis" reached number two in Australia. While the sleeve of the single attributed the track to an American police car called ‘Ford Timelord’ (who was even interviewed on UK TV about the track), the song was the creation of notable musical pranksters Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, who would later up the ante with the infamous ‘90s hit-makers/money-burners The KLF. The pair also wrote 1989’s The Manual, a book about how to hit number one using the same techniques the endlessly fascinating duo utilised for taking this fake group to the top of the chart in the UK.

Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers - "Swing The Mood" (1989)

In the same era the wolfish animated creation MC Skat Kat hit number one on the ARIA Singles Chart with his more corporeal colleague Paula Abdul, a cartoon rabbit was also blitzing the airwaves. Looking like Roger Rabbit’s ragged English cousin and taking the mash-up phenomenon to the top of global charts, Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers was a faceless group developed by British father and son duo John and Andy Pickles. Jive Bunny is just one of many cartoon animals to have wreaked havoc on the Australian charts over the years: see also Hampton The Hamster, Alvin & The Chipmunks and Crazy Frog (if you dare).

Milli Vanilli - "Girl I’m Gonna Miss You" (1989)

The late ‘80s appears to have been a fertile breeding ground for acts concealing their true identity. Marketed as the spunky vocal duo of Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan, Milli Vanilli’s tropical 1989 single "Girl I’m Gonna Miss You" reached number three in the ARIA Singles Chart in 1989. Alas, their model looks proved too good to be true, with their German Svengali Frank Farian admitting in 1990 the pair didn’t even perform on the debut Milli Vanilli album All Or Nothing. Not only were the shamed pair forced to return their Best New Artist Grammy, in another act of humiliation, their entry in the Q Encyclopaedia Of Rock is a blank column. Rob died a drug-related death in 1998.

Chef – "Chocolate Salty Balls" (1998)

Following in the footsteps of fellow cartoon hitmaker Bart Simpson ("Do The Bartman", an Australian number one in 1991), South Park’s Chef also made it into the ARIA Singles Chart in the ‘90s with "Chocolate Salty Balls". As most pop culture purveyors would know, the character of Chef was voiced by Isaac Hayes, the ‘70s soul kingpin behind the none-more-funky cut "Theme From Shaft" and the 1969 classic Hot Buttered Soul. South Park put Hayes back in the charts as the sensual ladies’ man Chef, with the euphemistic "Chocolate Salty Balls" reaching #14 Down Under. Chef’s polyamorous tune "Simultaneous" also did well in Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 1998, making it to 20 and beating Massive Attack’s Teardrop (#23) and Regurgitator’s Polyester Girl #26).

The Blues Brothers - Original Soundtrack Recording (1980)

What started out as a short skit in a 1978 episode of beloved US show Saturday Night Live became a lucrative musical and theatrical enterprise which even outlived one of its creators. After initially singing covers of soul classics on SNL, comedians Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) and John Belushi (Jake Blues) recorded the 1978 album Briefcase Full Of Blues and opened for The Grateful Dead at San Francisco’s Winterland Arena. The soundtrack for the Aykroyd-penned film The Blues Brothers, which fleshed out the brothers’ story and featured a host of amazing musical cameos, gained further attention for the ‘siblings’. Members of Booker T & The MG’s and Blood, Sweat & Tears added tight musicianship to a project which effectively started out as a joke, but the soulful soundtrack album has now sold more than 400,000 copies in Australia alone. Belushi’s death in 1982 failed to call time on the group, with the soundtrack to the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000 returning The Blues Brothers to the Australian top 20.

Listen to the album on Spotify here:

Listen to the album on Apple Music here:

Got your own favourite fake? Discuss on the I Like Your Old Stuff Facebook page here.


Related Posts