Top 10 Tracks Released By Actors That Weren't Shit
By Danny Roca | 1 July 2008
In honour of Scarlett Johansson, Joey Lawrence, William Shatner, Tony Danza, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Hilary Duff, Richard Harris, David Soul, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, David Hasselhoff, Leonard fucking Nemoy, and a cast of thousands—here are ten examples of how to bridge that treacherous river between the banks of Thespia and Music without the critics biting off your nuts like a starved alligator.
10. Tia Carrerre: “Pupu Hinuhinu”
From the album Hawaiiana
(Daniel Ho Creations; 2007)
Although Carrerre’s singing career may have been kicked off by the blistering glam stomper “Ballroom Blitz” (which, although a facetious cover, is still worthy of mention) it is on last year’s enchanting Hawaiiana that Carrerre earns her place in this list. Hawaiiana sees Carrerre return to her native Hawaii and her mother tongue with a collection of sweet scented lullabies with slack-key guitarist Daniel Ho. “Pupu Hinuhinu,” a summer-soft incantation about shiny shells, is the sweetest offering and due to the delicate authentic arrangements and tropical clime, sends it miles above and beyond Jack Johnson’s beach bum ramblings.
9. Kylie Minogue: “Confide In Me”
Calling Minogue an actress is, while accurate, an insult to the trade. Having started off as a precocious young brat in Australian soap opera The Hendersons, she grew up under the public gaze in the equally innocuous soap Neighbours. It was there that she won the hearts of the UK public, giving her a hungry fan base with which to sidestep into a fizzy pop career. Lacking either the street-walking toughness of Cyndi Lauper or the capitalised sexuality of Madonna, Minogue was not the icon she currently is—permanently grinning under a bouncy perm and releasing a string of abrasive pop nuggets as part of UK based Hi-NRG production house Stock Aitken and Waterman. It is arguable when Minogue transformed into the icon we all know and love (some suggest it is when she shacked up with auto-asphyxiating lounge lizard Michael Hutchence, others on the release of the catchy eurodance of “Better The Devil You Know”) but for me, it was when she decided to scrap her acting career (no doubt marred by her experience on the embarrassing shit-heap that was Street Fighter) and moved from the SAW pop stable and signed to the deConstruction label.
Having released an album a year since her debut, she took a three year break, working with feted dance producers Brothers In Rhythm, but, having been out of the lime-light for so long, many had deemed her career over. “Confide In Me,” the debut single from her tellingly eponymous fifth album, kick-started the second stage of her career where she morphed from pop bimbo into experimental pop business woman (which led to her duetting with Nick Cave, writing with James Dean Bradfield, and lampooning the inanity of her breakthrough single “I Should Be So Lucky” with a faux-dramatic interpretation of the lyric at the Poetry Olympics). It introduces itself like a genie, with a flurry of strings, immediately standing out through its tonal maturity and woozy libido. It was drenched in reverb, bruised with tabla and heady from an exotic drone based around a sample of the Doors’ “The End.” In the video, Minogue appropriates herself as muse, vixen, drug bunny, and hostess, throwing the reinvention gauntlet squarely in Madonna’s face—the latter was still struggling to resolve her career after humping Vanilla Ice in the Sex book and releasing Erotica (1991). “Confide In Me” was so good it momentarily hinted at Minogue’s ability to threaten Madonna’s crown. At least until she didn’t.
8. Cristina and Kevin Kline: “Disco Clone”
(ZE Records, 1978)
I have an unashamed love for all things D.I.S.C.O. Whereas many see punk as being Year Zero, disco sparked a similar explosion which, it can be argued, is partly responsible for the birth of hip hop, night-clubbing as we know it today, and, through luminaries such as Larry Levan, the art of mixing. And, as opposed to punk, disco was carefree, aspirational, ludicrous, flamboyant, and fun. And it was this pure joy which meant that disco was adopted by the masses as the soundtrack of the late seventies. But as the decade came to a close, it seemed the infectious basslines and heart-splintering soul vocals were being Xeroxed and regurgitated, a production line of endless dance pop vignettes forever propelling the drunken sexual fumblings between every bored bank clerk and make-up assistant in every club, in every town, in every country. Meanwhile, down to the innovation and machinations of a select few, some dissociated misfits were playing with disco’s innards like Dr. Frankenstein. ZE Records was the laboratory and, with “Disco Clone,” the label held a mirror to the state of the club scene as it began to give the clubs back to the freaks, one dance floor at a time.
The story behind ZE Records and “Disco Clone” reads like a ludicrous fantasy. ZE Records was founded by Michael Zilkha, the heir to a UK-based baby clothing empire, and Michel Esteban, husband to Lizzy Mercier Descloux and owner of a Parisian punk shop, after the two were introduced by John Cale. Zilkha had been married to Cristina Monet-Palaci, a theater critic and daughter to a psychoanalyst and a playwright whom he persuaded to record “Disco Clone.” With typical wryness Monet-Palaci considered the song about a man finding himself in a club of identicle women so ridiculous that she recorded her vocal in a simpering Marilyn Monroe-style squeak, turning the song into a pastiche (rumor has it that the track was produced by John Cale). Stuck with the idea of creating a pastiche, the role of this hapless sexual adventurer was given to Kevin Kline. At the time forging a career in New York musical theatre, Kline was hand-picked to deliver the lascivious narration. Recorded in one afternoon, Kline’s narrations is ladled with the same barely-concealed insanity that won him an Oscar for his performance as the lecherous Otto in A Fish Called Wanda, exchanging thinly veiled innuendos with Cristina against a backdrop of epic strings and Latin rhythms. “Disco Clone” is presposterous, funny, achingly self-aware, and seeped with irony, but its innate dancability made it a minor hit and, as a result, helped finance a label that would launch the careers of James Chance, August Darnell, Lydia Lunch, and Was (Not Was). Not bad for an afternoon’s work.
7. Traci Lords with Manic Street Preachers: “Little Baby Nothing”
The sixth single from the Manics’ debut album Generation Terrorists (1992) is the duplicitous, metal pop of “Little Baby Nothing.” Written by Richey Edwards, “Little Baby Nothing” deals with sexual exploitation, the objectification of women, and alludes to prostitution, body image, and the notion of ownership. The lyrical bite is given extra venom through the casting of porn legend Traci Lords, and nobody fit the role as neatly.
Having fled from an alcoholic father and suffering an abortion in high school, Lords conned her way into working within the porn industry at the age of 15. Three years later she was one of the highest earning porn stars, but in 1986 the authorities discovered she had appeared in pornographic movies underage leading to her arrest and the closure of several distributing companies and film makers. This ruined the pornographic industry overnight as many outlets were obliged by law to remove hundreds of thousands of her videotapes, films, and magazines from store shelves to avoid the risk of prosecution for trafficking child pornography. Coincidentally, it also just so happened to fall in line with Traci Lords opening her own publishing house. As all previous Traci Lords material was deemed illegal it seemed the only person who was now able to legally produce and distribute Traci Lords films was Traci Lords. Hmm. It has since been alleged that it was Traci herself who had tipped off the authorities in the first place…
The layers of double meaning are amplified by James Dean Bradfield’s vocal performance. Despite James Dean Bradfield later delivering a song in the first person as a woman (on the brutally nihilistic “4st 7lbs”), here James’ role is confusing. Opening with the observation “No one likes looking at you,” the line between who is holding the misogynistic thoughts is blurry. Is it JDB as narrator? Or the men he may be criticising? Either way, it’s shaky ground when a man is saying “Your beauty and virginity used like toys” to cock rock. But, was this yet another layer? The fact that the chorus of “Used, used, used by men” is slightly reminiscent of Mötley Crüe’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” suggests so. Further confusion surrounded the video with James Dean Bradfield being the only person on the record to actually appear (the band is played by Dead End Dolls and Traci Lords by a model called Blanche), amidst a series of women against communist phrases. Lords’s vocals impress with a nice new-wavey twinge that recalls Go-Go-era Belinda Carlisle. Despite singing back-up for the Ramones and releasing several albums under her own name, she never had the same impact again.
6. Was (Not Was) f/ Ozzy Osbourne and Kim Basinger: “Shake Your Head (Let’s Go To Bed) (Steve “Silk” Hurley Remix)”
(Polygram Records; 1992)
Although a huge hit in the UK, Steve Hurley’s reworking of the 1983 electro-funk original failed to chart in the US and Canada. It’s hard to understand why; 1992 was definitely Hurley’s year, gaining him Timbaland-style ubiquity given his trademark production skills featured on some of that years’ big hitters—for example, Kim Syms’ “Too Blind To See It” and Ce Ce Peniston’s “We Got A Love Thang,” just to name a few.
And, although nearly 15 years on from “Disco Clone,” ZE Records is again the starting point for this strange collaboration between the Prince of Darkness, the freaks of disco, and the star of 9½ Weeks. Before her breakthrough single, Madonna was the drummer and singer for new wave also-rans the Breakfast Club with her friend Stephen Bray. Through his connections at ZE Records, where the Breakfast Club were originally signed, Madonna was invited to do backing vocals to the original version of “Shake Your Head” to Ozzy’s lead. Unfortunately, Madonna’s label was about to release her debut album and so refused the right for her vocals to be used. Long time Was (Not Was) collaborator Kathy Kosin’s demo vocal for the track was restored and the album was duly despatched for release.
Fast forward 15 years and Was (Not Was) were touting round a greatest hits album. Hoping to garner some extra coverage for the album Was (Not Was) intended on issuing the original Madonna tracks in order to be remixed. This would have been a coup for Was (Not Was), but this time Madonna requested that her original vocal not be used, having turned into the business-minded bore we know and love today. Bafflingly, Kim Basinger was invited to add the new vocals on the proviso that she could star in the video to drum up some sales. Kim’s half of the bargain allegedly was that she wanted cut her hair shorter and see if she would still considered sexy—which she did in spades.
Bizarrely, Kim Basinger’s voice is actually richer and more sonorous than Madonna’s and, whilst this song is a vanity project in a very literal sense, there’s a genuine sense of enjoyment. The lyrics are ridiculous, typical of Was (Not Was)’s surreal sense of humour (“You can’t sue Buddha for libel”), whilst Kim’s groaning and flirting reminded a legion of teenage boys of her pin-up status. She needn’t had worried so much.
As a footnote 2008 saw this song rearing its shaking head yet again as in April, Madonna’s vocal take was finally leaked on the internet…the same month as Was (Not Was)’s comeback album.
5. Baz Lurhmann/Lee Perry: “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”
(EMI Music; 1999)
OK, so Baz Lurhmann’s not really an actor, but the narrator Lee Perry is a voice actor, so there. “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” is, outside of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life,” the only international hit that was based on a newspaper article. Riding high on the success of Romeo + Juliet and its genre hopping soundtrack which created a crossover hit for the Cardigans and kick started a re-evaluation of Candi Station, Baz Lurhmann had been working with Puretone’s Josh Abrahams and music producer Anton Monsted on an album of remixed tracks made famous by Baz Lurhmann’s films. Whilst working on Quindon Tarver’s cover of Rozalla’s early ’90s hit “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)” they came across an article on the internet attributed as Kurt Vonnegut’s graduation speech to MIT students.
Titled “Wear Sunscreen,” the 1997 speech was in fact an article by Chicago Tribune journalist Mary Schmich called “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young,” although in the opening paragraph she said she would use it as her key-note if she were ever approached to give one. The article itself was a mixture of both Buddhist-lite statements like “Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults,” practical advice like “Get plenty of calcium,” and witty observations like “Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.” Undeterred by the fact the words were not Vonnegut’s, Lurhmann still found inspiration in the text and approached Schmich for permission to use the text. Schmich, a fan of Lurhmann’s work, readily agreed.
Plodding with the same sunny laziness as UK electronica act Lemonjelly’s debut The Bath EP (1998), “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” and its popularity are still something of a mystery. It could be down to Lee Perry’s gravelly drawl which recalls Morgan Freeman’s trustworthy tones in The Shawshank Redemption, nostalgia for the Rozalla song, or the fact it was released during the height of chill out’s popularity.
Alternatively, among the landscape of pre-millennial, post OK Computer (1997) Sturm and Drang it just made everyone feel a little bit better.
4. She & Him: “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
From the album Volume One
(Merge Records; 2008)
Although it may not have inspired Jessica Faulds earlier this year, Zooey Deschanel’s musical venture is, like the scene in the grotto she shares with Will Ferrell in Elf, crammed with tiny delights. Zooey’s voice has all of the subtlety of a car horn but—and warning: this may sound jarring—it has a jazzy edge on the country tinged “Take It Back,” hinting towards the Billie Holiday styled intonations of Karen Dalton, and in the opener “Sentimental Heart”—which goes to the very top of her register—it begins to a take on Joanna Newsom touches.
The biggest shocker is that although her cohort here is the seemingly unstoppably prolific M. Ward, Deschanel took a risk and put her songwriting skills up for judgment. Crazy actor. Did she not see what happened to Minnie Driver? Her most immediate track is the bedraggled stomper “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” which recalls the Travellin’ Wilburies and the New Pornographers with its electro-acoustic swagger. Definitely, while nothing close to original, undeniably better than Scarlett Johannson’s Tom Waits covers.
3. Jamie Foxx & Kanye West: “Gold Digger”
Unarguably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, urban hits of 2005. “Gold Digger” is West’s monster. Taking it’s framework from Ray Charles’ all-time stone cold classic “I Got A Woman,” Kanye flies in the face of any classicists with an audacity that almost makes him likeable. “What? I can’t touch Ray Charles? Fine, I’m just gon’ get the motherfucker that played him in the film.” Thank fuck Jamie’s voice is, while not exactly like Ray’s, worth sampling.
The only thing that jarred about this on release is despite Kanye’s protestations that he isn’t saying she’s a gold digger, he kinda likes saying how she’s a gold digger. To be honest, asking for child support and using the money for liposuction doesn’t make you Mother Theresa but still, a man gotta look after his kids—pre-nup or no pre-nup. And if you don’t want someone grabbing at your money, don’t be showing it off at every available opportunity. That’s just ignorant. Anyway, West’s fucked up worldview is not the point here. It was Foxx’s bluesy loop we were really dancing to and although a million white guys had to make do with singing the MTV version of the chorus, “Gold Digger” was West’s true crossover moment, appearing on endless “best of year” lists and driving Chris at GorillavsBear to muse: “Remember when Jamie Foxx was on In Living Color?”
2. Dudley Moore: “Main Theme”
From the Bedazzled OST
The late great Dudley Moore was, during the ’60s, constantly under the shadow of his comedy partner, the satirical powerhouse that was Peter Cook. He was never as funny, as quick witted, and he was over a foot shorter as well. Even in the casting of their British cult classic Bedazzled, Moore plays the unfortunately named Spiggot struggling to keep up after Cook who takes on the role of the devil as they relive Faust through ’60s London and beyond.
There was one area where Dudley did excel and that was in music. His talent scored him a scholarship to Oxford (where he met Peter Cook) but it was jazz that was his true love and one which he returned to time and time again, releasing records until the effects of progressive supranuclear palsy made it impossible for him to play.
Mostly covering standards with British jazz luminaries like Cleo Laine, Moore’s songwriting ability had only been flexed with the novelty hits he had released with Peter Cook off the back of the success of their comedy show “Not Only, But Also”—the vaudeville silliness of “Goodby-eee” in 1965 and the psychedelia lampooning “The L.S. Bumble Bee” in 1967 (which was rumored to have been written with John Lennon due to the archaic song structure, clavinets, and surreal imagery).
In 1968, Moore triumphed with the soundtrack to Bedazzled; each track was written, arranged, and produced by Moore working both with full orchestra but mostly just as part of his beloved jazz trio with Pete McGurk on bass and Chris Karan on drums. Purposefully kept light and airy, it’s the John Barry-esque opener “Main Theme” that surprises the most. The melody makes appearances constantly throughout the film, and Moore manages to bring into bloom a new and fascinating twist on his melodic leaps. Filled with classical motifs and lounge jazz touches “Main Theme” would only hint at his growth as a pianist, arranger, and songwriter.
Sadly, Moore died at home New Jersey in the spring of 2002, increasingly unable to speak and being rendered practically immobile. His final reported words were “I can hear the music all around me.”
1. Bridgitte Bardot & Serge Gainsbourg: “Bonnie and Clyde”
Bridgitte Bardot was one of the sexiest women to walk the earth; she also had a singing voice that could spoil milk. Tone deaf and emotionless, Bardot had relied on her personality and joie de vivre to deliver her songs—a ragbag mix of bossa nova covers and bouncy Yé-yé-styled trivialities like “Moi Je Joue.” Skip forward to 1968 and enter the incongruous, walking penis Serge Gainsbourg. Having shocked the country by having teen sensation France Gall sing about blow jobs, the idea of Bardot’s body channelling Gainsbourg’s increasingly salacious words seemed too dangerous for some. Even though the partnership did culminate in the pornographic “Je T’aime…Moi Non Plus” (sample lyric: “I come and go between your kidneys,” …nice), it is on “Bonnie and Clyde” where Bardot’s recorded output finally matches the sexuality that entranced millions when she appeared on the big screen.
Panoramic in scope, “Bonnie and Clyde” follows the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, two love struck outlaws that were public enemies during the Great Depression in the 1920s. Based partly on Bonnie’s own poem about their exploits “The Trail’s End,” Bardot’s voice is measured, sweet, and tender, which downplays Bonnie’s bitterness against the media lending gravitas and romanticism to the lyrics “when I knew Clyde formerly, he was a loyal guy, straight and honest.” When Gainsbourg counters with “You have to believe that it was society that ultimately ruined me” it’s uncertain if he is trying to convince us, Bonnie, or himself.
As the story continues, the relentless pummelling strings act as an aural signifier of both their endless search for the “chance to settle down” and, like a heartbeat, marks each treasured moment they have with each other in face of impending death. As the music fans the flames to the intensity of their relationship, Gainsbourg and Bardot’s vocal rendition—cold, despondent, and distant—hint at their ability to “quiet anyone who yells” and the acceptance of their fate with dizzying proclamations: “What does it matter if they do me in / Me, Bonnie, I tremble for Clyde Barrow.” And it’s the decision to use the words “I tremble” which fascinates, suggesting both the fear of losing their loved one and the unbridled physicality of their love for each other.
Released a year after the film of the same name, Gainsbourg and Bardot manage with a few breathy exchanges to encapsulate and supersede Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s Oscar nominated performances. Simply put, this is one of the most majestic songs of the ’60s.