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Who's Doing That Thing? Wonder No More

September 29, 1996|Steve Hochman

The line between fiction and reality has often been blurred when it comes to rock bands in movies and TV shows.

The Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" was a No. 1 hit before the show even went on the air, and the four actors became enough of a band that they're about to embark on a 30th anniversary tour.

"The Commitments," the story of Irish youths forming an R&B bar band, spawned a hit album, and the actors learned their instruments enough for a few live performances.

So what about the Wonders, the fictional '60s group of the new movie "That Thing You Do!"?

Don't look for the actors who play the Wonders to go on a concert tour. They had nothing to do with the music. But the people who made the movie, which opens Friday, still want you to believe it's real.

"We would like everyone to accept the Wonders and Freddie Fredrickson and the Chantrellines [other acts that figure in the story] as from that time," says Gary Goetzman, who co-produced both the film and the accompanying soundtrack album (see review, Page 94) with writer-director and co-star Tom Hanks. "It would mean a lot to us if people would look at that band and go, 'Man, that's them.' "

There are at least a couple of people, though, who would like just the opposite: Mike Viola, who doesn't appear in the movie but sang lead vocals on the Wonders' songs, and Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the title track.

The album liner notes--which include humorously straight-faced commentary by Hanks, in his on-screen guise as Play-Tone Records chief A.M. White--keep them semi-anonymous. Viola's name appears (as in the film) only under "additional vocals." And even that, Viola says, had to be fought for.

"I have no intention of being semi-anonymous," says Viola, 29, who in real life is one half of the the New York duo Candy Butchers, which has a debut EP in stores now and an album coming early next year.

"I have a career to think about," he says. "This is what I do for a living--I sing. I don't pretend. That wasn't the point of us doing this."

The point was, he says, to respond to a challenge and have some fun. Hanks sent out word last year via music publishers that he needed a Beatles-esque song with the title "That Thing You Do!" A reported 300 songs were submitted--including some from such name bands as the Gin Blossoms and They Might Be Giants.

But it was the one written by Schlesinger (whose band Fountains of Wayne has its debut album due Oct. 1) and sung by his longtime friend Viola that got the gig. Viola was brought in to record several versions of the track with backing from studio musicians, and also sang lead on two other Wonders songs and background on a third.

That's not information that's being included in the marketing campaign. Tracy Austin, music director of L.A. pop radio station KIIS-FM (102.7)--which has been playing the title song to strong listener response--says she wasn't aware of who actually sang the song.

"The angle for us is it's Tom Hanks' project, and we're all excited about the movie coming out," she says.

"I don't know what the angle is," says Viola of the secretiveness about the real performers. "But on the other hand, no one's told me to be hush-hush. It's not like I'm being rebellious. . . . But it's all so silly. It's obvious that the guy [on the screen] is not singing."

Goetzman says there was no intent to prevent anyone from getting credit for their part in the music. "But if people want to believe in the Wonders, they can believe in the Wonders," he says. "And when the movie opens, I'm sure all the world will find out who is on this."

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