As the onscreen story goes, “That Thing You Do!” became a perfect pop song by accident.
The title track from the 1996 film comedy was “written” by Jimmy Mattingly (played by Johnathon Schaech), the earnest, arrogant frontman of fictional small-town rock quartet The Wonders. Instead of the later version of the single that would later shoot him and his bandmates to fame, “That Thing You Do!” was originally penned as a sleepy ballad. But before a big talent show performance, the band's original drummer broke his arm, leaving cooler, older Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) to fill in for the gig -- and beat new life into the tune by kicking it up to a sock hop-ready rhythm. The kids in the audience go wild dancing to Guy’s groove, and “That Thing You Do!” spends the rest of the movie climbing the charts, and Wondermania sweeps America, before everything falls apart.
The true story behind “That Thing You Do!” is that its brilliance and clap-along appeal was anything but accidental -- thanks to Adam Schlesinger, who died on Wednesday (April 1) following COVID-19 complications. That Thing You Do! was written and directed by Tom Hanks (who also appears in the film as the Wonders’ slick and savvy manager, Mr. White), and remains a timeless, affectionate ode to the rock radio darlings of the ‘60s. Hanks also contributed a few songs to the soundtrack, but the title track was written by Fountains of Wayne bassist and singer Schlesinger, whose two bands, Fountains of Wayne and Ivy, were just gearing up to release their first albums when he took a chance and submit a British Invasion-inspired bop to be considered for the project.