Twenty years ago, Hollywood leading man Tom Hanks made his debut as a writer-director with the nostalgia-driven musical comedy That Thing You Do! Set in 1964 and dripping with LBJ-era production design, the film details the quick rise and fall of an American rock band called The Wonders (formerly—and confusingly—The One-ders), which scores a bouncy, Beatlesque Top 10 smash single before disintegrating. The band plays its one hit several times during the film, so Hanks wisely chose a number that would stand up to repeated listenings. Though fictionally credited to The Wonders, the title track was actually written by Fountains Of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger and performed by Schlesinger with his friend, producer Mike Viola. In America, the song just missed the Top 40, but it got enough MTV and radio airplay to make a lasting impression on the public.
In fact, the song has inspired numerous cover versions, some from highly unexpected sources. In 1999, for instance, ’N Sync performed the song as part of a tribute to the 1960s during a pay-per-view special. JC Chasez handles lead vocals on this one. Justin Timberlake is only briefly visible here, playing bass and singing backup vocals.
The Knack, a 1970s power pop band whose own music was frequently compared to The Beatles, also took a stab at “That Thing You Do.” This cover found its way onto a 1998 greatest hits compilation called Proof.
Schlesinger’s song also wormed its way into some award ceremonies. When Hanks was feted at the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors, Pentatonix performed an a cappella version of “That Thing You Do” for him. In this clip, tuxedo-clad emcee Martin Short really gets into the 1960s spirit by giving the song an Ed Sullivan-type introduction. (“Let’s really hear it for Pentatonix!”)
But the weirdest awards show version of “That Thing You Do” dates back to March 24, 1997, when it was performed at the Oscars. It was up for Best Original Song that night and so was performed in full as part of the much-watched telecast. The classy option might have been for Schlesinger and Viola to perform it with a small ensemble. As the following video demonstrates, the Academy went in another, more bloated direction.